How To Take Photographs Into The Sun
“Don't shoot into the sun” is a real old chestnut of photography, and one of the earliest lessons you probably learnt from well-meaning parents and teachers. Like many rules in photography, it's there to be broken for creative effect.
While squinting straight at the sun through your viewfinder is unlikely to do much for your eyes – or your camera sensor – there are plenty of creative ways to use direct sunlight...
1) Stylish silhouettes
An obvious way of getting good results by shooting straight into the sun is to create a silhouette. On a purely technical level, the easiest way to get a good silhouette is to use the Exposure Compensation button on your camera and take it towards a minus setting.
Obviously, you are underexposing the whole image so don't take this too far, just enough to throw the shadows into blackness. Much of the success of silhouettes hinges on strong, simple compositions with nice graphic shapes – a stark tree in winter can work just as well as the Eiffel Tower. When photographing people, get them to turn so you can shoot them in profile.
2) Contre jour
This is another good 'into the sun' technique, which translates as 'against daylight.' In essence, you place your subject (be it a person, building, rock, etc.) against the sun so they are covering most of it up, creating a dramatic 'backlit' effect. The first rule is to make sure you use a lens hood to keep unwanted lens flare to the minimum.
Getting the right exposure can be headache too, as the very bright background can fool your camera meter into underexposing the subject. This is OK in straightforward silhouettes, but with contre jour you usually want to retain some highlights and detail in your subject. A good tip is to increase Exposure Compensation to allow for this, but not so far that you end up blowing everything out. Good composition is important in contre jour, as is capturing nicely shaped sunbeams, so be prepared to move around.
3) Backlit portraits
Wedding photographers frequently have to shoot guests on a bright sunny day, so they often position people so the sun is behind them. As well as avoiding ugly squints from your subject, carefully positioning them in this way can nicely backlight their heads, bringing out the detail in hairstyles and hats. Again, make sure you use a lens hood to avoid flare and use Exposure Compensation wisely to avoid underexposing your subject.
4) Capture great sunrises and sunsets
Obviously shooting directly into the sun is not such an issue if it's low in the sky and its glare is greatly diminished – at sunrise or sunset, for example. To get great sunsets, begin by thinking carefully about composition. You don't want the sun to get lost in the frame, but don't zoom in so much that it unbalances the other elements. Experiment with a few focal lengths.
You often need to take control of your camera's white balance to get the best hues and tones; try the Sunlight or Cloudy settings to get the richest colours. To be sure of keeping the colour in the sky, try switching to Spot metering, rather than Centre Weighted or Matrix. It doesn't matter so much if the foreground objects are reduced to silhouettes, so long as the rich sky colours are retained.
If you would like to learn more about exposure why not enrol on Nigel Hicks 4 week online photography course Exposure: Understanding Light or for back lit portraits try David Handley’s online course How to Photograph Children & Babies