Q) I’ve always enjoyed dramatic landscapes featuring a big sun. What kind of lens should I use to achieve this effect?
A) The longer the lens, the more dramatic the effect. On a digital camera with a smaller sensor, it usually takes at least a 300mm lens to give the effect of an oversized sun in a landscape. With a full-frame sensor or film, you’ll probably need at least a 400mm lens. Adding a tele-extender will enhance the effect.
Usually, the image will be accomplished at sunrise or sunset, when the sun is positioned very low on the horizon. Look for brilliant clouds, foregrounds of interesting rocks or flying birds in silhouette to add drama to the image. But be sure your foregrounds are far enough away to be sharp; an out-of-focus foreground is distracting.
Determine your starting exposure by taking a reading on a portion of the sky near the sun, then bracket—a number of images in half-stop increments so that you can pick the right exposure combination during your edit. Proper exposure will generally entail small lens openings and fast shutter speeds. Be sure to monitor the exposure as the sun’s position to the horizon changes because the light will change rapidly. Use a tripod to ensure that your images are crisp and well detailed.
The big sun was produced with a 400mm lens on a Canon EOS 5D near Morro Rock, California. The exposure was determined by spot-metering the orange sky near the sun and then bracketing. I checked my LCD and histogram to determine which exposure would be best, having determined that I was ready to capture the birds flying through the image without bracketing.