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How to Shoot Into the Sun and Produce Beautiful Lens Flare

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Related course: Wow Factor Photography

Why You Should Shoot into the Sun

Spring and summer are great times to be outside. You have plenty of opportunities to use the light of the sun. One of those is to shoot into the sun, and it is a really creative way of capturing photos.
Shooting into the sun produces lens flare. Instead of damaging your photos, you can use this creatively for spectacular results.

Avoiding Silhouettes

Silhouettes, whilst fun, are not what shooting into the sun is all about. To really make the most out of a situation, you want to try to shy away from capturing these. Focus instead on more evenly exposing the skin tones of your subject.
Silhouettes are caused by your camera trying to expose the whole photo rather than just your subject. Seeing as it’s common to see a lot of sun and sky in these photos, you’re likely to get a silhouette.
To avoid silhouettes, change your metering mode to ‘Spot’.
Spot metering means that your camera will expose whatever is in the centre of the shot, rather than the whole photo. This is likely to lead to blown out, overexposed backgrounds. But that’s part of the effect of shooting into the sun.
Have a look at these two photos below. The first one was shot on partial metering mode and created a silhouette. The second was shot on spot, resulting in a much more evenly exposed subject.
silhouette photo of red-headed woman shot in partial metering mode
portrait photo of red-headed woman in a field of yellow flowers
Another great way of avoiding silhouettes is to use an external flash.
Now, a lot of people might find the idea of using a flash in daylight a little odd. It’s actually one of the best times to be using it.
Here I used a transmitter so that I could send the flash signal to flash a few feet away at the side. This produces a much more natural effect whilst maintaining some of the natural shadows on the face. Take a look:
portrait photo of red-headed woman wearing a white button down shirt, standing in a forest

Focus

When shooting into the sun, your camera will struggle to focus on the subject, even when you manually select the focal points inside the camera.
I recommend that you use the focal lock by pointing the camera at your subject with the sun hidden behind them to autofocus easily. Then move back to how you want the shot composed. Be careful when shooting on a wide aperture though. The depth of field will be very shallow, meaning the slightest movement will send the photo out of focus.

lens flare photo of smiling red-headed woman holding a yellow flower while standing in a field

I actually sometimes quite like it when the subject is slightly out of focus. I feel it adds to the effect. Play around and see what works for you.
lens flare headshot of a red-headed woman

Location and Time

Consider what time of year it is and how you can make this relevant to your photos. Spring flowers? Autumn leaves?
In the set of photos I took, the beautiful rapeseed crops were in bloom and really add to the colour of the photos.
Try to find somewhere a little more interesting than your back garden. Time is one of the most important considerations when composing a shot as it dictates how high the sun is in the sky.
Ideally, you want the sun at about head height to really get the best shot. The sun’s position will make it easier for your subject to play with it.

lens flare portrait of a red-headed woman in a field of yellow flowers

Depth of Field

Depth of field is a great way to add another interesting element to your photos.
Here are 2 photos: the first was shot at f/4 and a lot of the rapeseed crop is in focus with very little contrast. Compare that to my second photo that was shot at f/1.4.
You’ll see that to the left of the subject the crop is in focus, but after the path, all you see is a smooth blur of the bokeh.
This is a really nice touch and ended up being one of my favorite photos of the set.
portrait of a red-headed woman in a field of yellow flowers
portrait of red-headed woman looking over her shoulder while standing in a field of yellow flowers

Work With the Surroundings

Now that you know how to get the shot, it’s a good idea to try and experiment a little by playing with the surroundings.

Find items that the sun can shine through and get your subject to move so that their body can work with it. This is a really good way to include basic composition into your photos, improving them greatly.

Both of these photos were taken at ISO 250, f/4.5, at 1/250 of a second.

lens flare photo of a red-headed woman playing with her hair
lens flare photo of red-headed woman sitting in a field of yellow flowers

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22 comments
    1. I don’t typically, no, but it’s something worth trying. High ISO always makes images noisier, but there’s no reason to have it too high in this instance.

  1. I thought direct sunlight going into your camera would damage the camera? How much of the sun should be captured?

  2. I take pictures for fun- great stress reliever- and have been shooting into the sun. Some pictures have turned out better than expected and with these tips I should be able to get good ones. Very helpful hints. Thank you!

  3. This is so great, I always wondered how people got these sorts of images, seen some great wedding shots using this technique. Would I need to remove my UV filter for this Josh?

  4. Josh, this is a great photographic technique, and digital makes this sooooooo easy to do. When I shoot into the sun, I tend to play around with my color temperature (anywhere between 5600 K and 9000 K), all with the goal of imparting a golden hour-ish tone to my shots.

  5. <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/aaaaaarko/9234286462/” title=”DSC_0416 by /iewFinder, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7321/9234286462_c17d8623f2.jpg” width=”500″ height=”333″ alt=”DSC_0416″></a>
    when ever i want to shoot the setting sun i end up getting a picture like this.I want to capture the sunwhich isround in shape not like this.please advise.

  6. Thanks Josh. It was really helpful. In just a couple of hours I must do a shoot for a couple in open fields with the sun in backgroup. This helps a lot.

Comments are closed.
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