When shooting the sunrise (or sunset), I love to capture the sun itself as much as I’m trying to capture the spectacular effect the sun has on the scenery.
I just can’t resist the temptation to go for a nice sharp sun star as the glare from the sun get’s clipped by an object in the foreground of my composition. These days it’s something of a cliche but it still looks pretty awesome when you get it right.
There are two major technical challenges you’ll need to come to terms with if you intend to shoot directly into the sun.
- Lens refraction or lens flare
- Extreme contrast
1 – Lens Refraction
I’m really not intelligent enough to go into the why’s and wherefores of lens refraction (lens flare) but in layman’s terms it simply means that light bounces around inside your lens causing uncontrolled bursts of light within your image. Sometimes this can be used creatively to great effect, other times it’ll ruin your shot. To read more about what causes lens refraction read this article by clever people.
My philosophy is that if you are not 100% sure that your lens flare effect looks really cool you should probably try and shoot a few shots with zero lens refractions just to be on the safe side. The aim is to tweak them later in Photoshop to get the best overall effect.
Introducing ‘The Finger Filter’
I’m probably not the first photographer to come up with a technique to completely avoid lens refraction but nevertheless it works a treat and I call it ‘The Finger Filter‘.
Basically what I do is take multiple exposures of my composition while making sure that at least two of those shots include my finger or fingers placed directly over the sun. This enables me to re-adjust my exposure to let in less light and completely eradicates the lens refractions in my shot.
But there’s a big ugly finger in the middle of your shot – I hear you say!
Correct, luckily though this is 2012 and we can easily wipe that out in Photoshop instead of spending days in a dark room burning and dodging while inadvertantly getting high on fixer fumes.
2 – Extreme Contrast
With this type of shot you’ll notice that the brightness of the sun causes your foreground object to become more silhouetted. Sometimes you might like that effect and other times you might prefer it if your foreground retained some of its light and detail.
You’ll also notice that the sky is completely blown out in the areas close to the sun which bleaches out all of the colour in the sky and doesn’t really resemble what you saw with the naked eye.
We can fix those particular technical limitations by using manual exposure blending or HDR. Personally I prefer to use a little bit of both these techniques.
Manual Exposure Blending and HDR
I’ll go into more detail in articles dedicated to both these topics but for now here are the basics.
Take at least 3 different exposures of your composition:
1 – Expose for the sky so that you retain colour and avoid blowout from the sun. This will be your darkest exposure and the foreground might appear completely dark. That’s OK.
Notice the colours are still there and sky is not blown out by the sun. The foreground area is almost completely black.
In this exposure I’m paying attention to the rocks on the right hand side which face the sun. I like the way the sun puts them into relief and defines all the edges.
This exposure will most likely be your brightest with the sky totally blown out and devoid of colour while your foreground retains it’s light and detail. I’m concentrating on getting enough light into the camera to light up the rocks closest to me on the left of the image.
Our objective here is capture enough exposures at varying levels so that we can put them all together to make a composite image which closer resembles what was seen by the naked eye. A digital camera cannot handle the dynamic range like that of the human eye so we use these techniques to make up for the limitations of our current equipment.
Now that you’ve learned how to shoot into the sun without messing up your shot with rampant lens refractions let’s move on to ‘How to Blend Exposures‘ where we blend our exposures together in Photoshop to make a composite image. In that article I even included a free download PSD with the layers ready for editing so that you can try this technique out for yourself.
For more info on the location read my article Los Arcos – Cabo San Lucas Mexico.
If you enjoyed my article or have any suggestions on how to make it better please leave a comment below.