Shooting into the sun: how to capture the perfect picture

Whilst some photographers will avoid photographing the sun for several reasons, Canon EOS retailer Clifton Cameras explains that it is actually safe than you think.

Although you can damage your eye if you look through the viewfinder of a camera directly at the sun, utilising and creating sun-flares within an image can add an extra layer of light and depth to your photographs. If you’re looking for an image that will add real flare to your portfolio, take a look through our simple-to-follow guide:

Finding the right aperture setting
Altering the aperture setting on your camera will be the difference between a photograph where the sun-flares look soft and undefined and the others where the sun-flares will look defined and boldened within the image. This is all to do with the aperture setting on the camera.

Don’t get too confused by this – although a large aperture will allow lots of light through the lens, the more light that is allowed through the lens is identified by a lower ‘f-stop’ number. So, if you want soft-flares in your photo, go for an aperture setting of around f/5.6. If you’d like defined flares within your photograph, then you should opt for a setting of f/22.

Remember, the aperture setting that you use will depend upon the maximum amount of light available in the shot, so use these ‘f-stop’ numbers as a rough guide when taking your shot. The flares provided by the sun are created by the blades of the aperture within the lens; during a low aperture shot, as the flares of light close, the light becomes more defined in its direction to the lens within the frame – thus creating the flares.

Getting the right composition
It is important to master the composition of the image when photographing any shot, however when photographing the sun within your frame, its vital to get the right amount if light intensity. When it comes to your finished photographs, adjustments to the angle of the sun or the amount of sunlight streaming into the image can make all of the difference. It’s therefore important to keep in mind and not settle for the first composition that you create. If there is anything blocking the sun and lessening the intensity of the light within the frame, take a few steps back and you should see a dramatic difference.

How can filters help with sun photography?

UV Filters
A film camera can be sensitive to the UV light from the sun so it is necessary to use a UV filter. However, most digital SLRs are fairly insensitive to light, so some argue that there isn’t any need for a UV filter when using a modern camera. Although, what a UV filter can do is reduce the amount of longitudinal chromatic aberration within a shot. Put simply, when a lens is exposed to a lot of light in the shot, purple fringes can occur in the image because the lens cannot display the spectrum of light in focus. So, if this is happening you should use a UV filter as a prevention technique.

Graduated neutral density filter
These filters help to control the amount of light exposed in the image. They will usually make your image darker at the top and lighter at the bottom, where the sun is at the top of your image, whilst keeping the various colours in the frame rich. This ensures that the vibrancy and saturation of colour within the image remains in a photograph where the exposure to light is high, reducing the amount of over-saturation in the image while retaining the brightness of the sun within the frame.

Consider timings
The time of shooting will depend on the finished image – different times of day will create a different finished picture as the lighting changes throughout.

The sun is at different angles when rising and setting so during these times, you are able to take photographs that capture sun-flares that literally cast a burst of light over the composition. At dawn and dusk, the colour of the sun is a warmer-golden hue, whereas during the day it is a more neutral colour and can usually disperse blue shades as a result of chromatic aberrations from the light source.

Generally, photos which are captured during a sunrise will have a softer, warmer feel than those taken at sunset which will have a cooler feel. Depending on your preference you can experiment during both times in the day to capture your most intense sun-flare.