Whether you want a stunning silhouette, pointy sunburst, majestic sunset, or just need a high-quality photo of a shady scene, I’m here to encourage all photographers to point their cameras directly into the sun.
Tip: But don’t look directly at the sun.
Sun flares are an easy way to make any image more dramatic.
My favorite technique is to hide half of the sun behind a subject. That way, it accents the scene rather than dominating it.
Another fun side-effect of shooting into the sun is that the rays often create rainbow flares of all shapes and sizes. Depending on how you frame your shot, they can be used to draw the eye into a specific part of the photo.
You can use manual or automatic camera settings — it all depends on how much control you want over your image, and whether you plan to edit the photo later.
White Skies and Properly Exposed Foreground
This is probably the easiest method, as it requires no post-processing. Simply find the exposure that best lights the foreground, then frame your shot so the sun is hiding halfway behind a solid object.
Your camera will take care of the rest.
Blue Skies and Underexposed Foreground
If you’re willing to spend some time in the digital darkroom, the possibilities are endless.
Cranking up your aperture will make the sun’s rays far pointier and create a more dramatic effect. It also makes the sun more of a focal point in the photo.
The caveat to this technique is that the foreground will be very dark. Be sure to shoot in RAW, and get ready to pull up the shadows later.
Personally, I use a series of masks and layers to individually adjust each part of the image. However, there are many great programs out there such as Topaz Adjust to take care of the heavy lifting for you.
Using Auto Settings For Sunburst Photography
You can create very similar images without post-processing, using only a point and shoot camera or a dSLR in Auto mode.
For White Skies: Point the center of your camera at the foreground with none of the sky showing, and press the shutter halfway.
After a few seconds, it should lock the exposure in place. Continue holding the shutter, frame the photo as you like and press the shutter the rest of the way.
For Blue Skies and Dark Foreground: Point the center of your viewfinder directly into the sun. Press the shutter halfway until you get the sun flare effect that you want. This might take a few tries.
When it looks right, continue holding the shutter, reframe, and take the photo.
While most people combine silhouettes with sunset photography, it also works extremely well during the day. Simply adjust your settings to have a dark and rich sky, frame the shot with an interesting foreground, and embrace the blacks in your photo.
Tip: Whether you are post-processing or not, don’t forget to experiment with silhouettes.
Perhaps the oldest trick in the book. Simply get your camera ready to take a photo with a dark foreground and properly exposed sky; then turn on the flash.
It won’t be the most balanced shot; but, for things like sunset portraits it’s a great technique.
Do you get creative with light for your images? What are your favorite techniques? Let us know in the comments.
This article is part of Travel Photography Month, with tips and tricks, gear reviews, and advice from several great travel photographers.