Shoot into the Sun for Creative Effect

Off the Beaten Path

When you were young, your mother probably told you to never stare into the sun. What is often good advice for most people, however, is often bad advice for nature photographers. Although you certainly should still be careful about burning your eyes, shooting into the sun can add drama and power to your nature photographs.

Cormorant Dawn
"Cormorant Dawn" - Adding the sun can spice up your nature images.

The sun is one of nature's power elements, those elements that stand up and demand attention from viewers. Whether shooting sandstone arches, desert blooms, or a flock of snow geese, I am always on the lookout for opportunities to incorporate the sun into my photographs. Shooting into the sun does present some technical and compositional challenges, but if handled properly, the results are worth the effort.

Incorporating the sun in your image is best done at sunrise or sunset when it is low in the sky and less intense, thus increasing color saturation in the image and reducing flare (your lens hood won’t help you when the sun is in the image). Remember that a long telephoto lens essentially acts like a big magnifying glass: if you point your camera at the sun when it is high in the sky, within a few seconds you may find that the sun has burned a hole in your camera’s mirror and sensor! Often, you can reduce intensity and flare if the sun is partially blocked by something else in the scene (such as a tree or a cloud), or if it is passing through a light layer of clouds or haze. When shooting landscapes with wide angle lenses, a small aperture (such as f/16 or f/22) will create an attractive sunstar.

Atlantic Dawn
"Atlantic Dawn" - The sun will become an important focal point of your image, so choose your composition carefully.

Because the sun is so eye-catching, you have to make sure that it doesn't overpower other important elements in the scene. Composition is particularly important to make sure that the resulting photograph has balance. The sun is often best used as a counterpoint element, placed on an opposing diagonal to other elements of the scene.

So whenever you get a chance, think about ways to incorporate the sun into your photographs. It may require some trial-and-error, but once you get the hang of it, you'll find that the sun can add some intensity to your work.

—Ian Plant

Chasing the Light: Essential Tips for Taking Great Landscape Photos: A 62-page downloadable PDF eBook filled with informative text, stunning full-color images, and plenty of insights and inspiration.

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