Sun/Cloud Interaction

Without the sun, life wouldn’t exist. Without its light, landscapes and seascapes, as we know them, couldn’t be made. It illuminates the earth in rich, warm tones of orange and red, allows rainbows to bridge the sky, and provides color to paint the clouds. Unto itself, the sun can be a good photographic subject once you learn how to deal with a few concerns. Incorporate sunscapes into your photographic repertoire to add versatility to your portfolio.

Although contradictory for many photographic situations, soft clouds can be your ally when your camera is aimed toward the sun. They can take on color in early or late light, adding impact to an image. Those with rim-lit halos make interesting subjects. Shoot them just as the sun dips behind their perimeters. Getting proper exposures in this circumstance is straightforward in that the intensity of the sun isn't apparent and won't fool the meter into thinking it should underexpose the photo. Another benefit is that when the sun is behind a cloud, it’s safer to study the composition. The danger of retina damage is lessened commensurate with the thickness of the cloud. For safety’s sake, never look directly at the sun even through the viewfinder, especially when using a telephoto lens.

A great time to shoot the sun is just as it begins to crest the horizon. Unless the sky is filled with very thin clouds, pollutants or dust particles, when it gets any higher, flare problems begin to occur. Stop the lens down to f/22 to create a natural sun star effect in the image. This creates a more dramatic focal point. The same effect can be captured when the sun is higher in the sky using a rock formation or tree branch. Position yourself so the sun is barely visible behind the object that blocks it so it just peeks out from behind it.



    I am fortunate enough to live in a place where I see beautiful and dramatic sunrises and sunsets daily, however I haven’t mastered photographing them at all. This is great advice that I look forward to experimenting with. Thanks again, Russ, for your great suggestions.

    I recently purchased a wide angle lens for my next project, learning more about landscape photography. I find it hard to look to the side of a sun in my viewfinder and still compose a good image.

    Good tips: soft cloud cover/haze to block intensity, sun cresting the horizon and avoid flare problems. I am left pondering your advice: “Stop the lens down to f/22 to create a natural sun star effect in the image.”

    Lots to think about here, thanks!

    I often lead workshops here between Boston and Cape Cod, where we’re lucky enough to have a nice lighthouse as our usual subject.

    You can see a couple of images here:

    I find it better to arrive on scene 45 minutes *before* sunrise, which is a few minutes before the colors start to develop.

    Because the light levels are low, tripods are mandatory, but those early colors can be breathtaking – and well worth the effort at getting up early!

    Charlie MacPherson

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