Confession: I’m obsessed with shooting into the sun.
I always have been.
But it’s not until recently that I really started to notice the trend in my work. In this article, I bring up the reason I believe this imagery became my jam, share images, and mention how to shoot into the sun and get these sun flares or sun stars.
Typically, I don’t get into talking about camera gear. I believe the most important aspect of all photography is getting in front of amazing subjects. But, what if you’re in front of amazing subjects for an engagement photography and you also enjoy shooting into the sun for more dynamic imagery? In my opinion, nothing has helped me more than the EVF (electronic viewfinder) in my Sony A7II mirrorless camera.
My old camera was a Nikon D300 and considered a DSLR. A DSLR has an Optical Viewfinder that allows you to see exactly what your eye sees. This can be super important for wildlife and sports where you need to shoot at high frames per second (although apparently, the new Sony A6300 addresses this issue with a new kind of EVF). I’m not shooting either of these types of photography. As a London Ontario Wedding Photographer and with shooting architecture, real estate, and portraiture I love the Electronic Viewfinder because it is a digital representation of what the camera is actually seeing. It allows me to know exactly what my image is going to look like in terms of the exposure before I ever take the photo. If you’re confused at all, think of your smartphone. The iPhone is a great example of an EVF. What you see on your screen is what you get. It’s an amazing thing for the vast majority of us.
Looking back at Portraits and Shooting into the Sun
Shooting into the sun definitely didn’t begin with the use of my Sony A7II. I always loved chasing dynamic light with my photography; however, it was a bit frustrating using my D300 and it’s Optical Viewfinder. Take a look at a couple images from past engagement photography shoots.
Thinking back, I recall it took me taking more images than necessary to get the look for the image that I was after. Shooting in Aperture or Manual, it took a bit of adjusting and making me feel silly in front of clients. I loved the turnout for the image eventually; however, it was much more difficult to achieve.
Fast Forward to today and my most recent engagement session with Jenna and Colin went awesome. It was also a session that I realized shooting into the sun is my jam. Here are a couple images to share:
But What started the obsession with chasing that sun flare?
That Mexican Sun
To really understand my newly learned obsession, I would like to take you back to Mexico 2015. I got up every morning while on vacation to see the sunrise. As the sun came up over the horizon, I started to play with it and the rocks that were there.
In my opinion, the EVF helps me to shoot into the sun and capture more how the scene feels compared to trying to capture exactly how it might look to your eye. These photos remind me of how the sunrise felt each morning.
The same could be true for photographing some plants later on in that same trip to Mexico. I loved the look of the plants but wanted to play with the light coming through:
Not only do I love getting the burst of sun, I love that end up getting some kind of lens flare that comes with it. Once back home in Canada, inspired, I noticed myself exploring this kind of imagery with my architectural photography.
Shooting into the Sun with Architecture
Back last summer, I explored the architecture of Toronto City Hall. I was walking around the building and the sun caught my eye. Instantly I remembered back to shooting in Mexico. If anyone is photographing with me now, they know the instant I catch this moment:
I get extremely pumped the moment I catch the sun flare and enjoy exploring the light with the architecture. I love the way that it plays with the edge of the building. Here are a few more examples that I’ve since shot into the sun with architecture:
How to get these Sun Stars
I don’t think it would be fair to share these images with you without trying to explain how I get these “sun stars” when shooting into the sun.
I’m not your most technical photographer, as I mentioned before, but I believe the ability to get this kind of look can come down to the lens you’re using with your camera. In my case, I am typically using a Sony 16-35mm f/4 lens. So what. Well, let’s look at what a technical photographer, Colby Brown, has to say from his blog review of this lens:
One question that I received frequently from other photographers with regards to this lens was its ability to create sun stars. Essentially what they are asking is that if you stop down your aperture to f/22, do you get perfect little sun stars when photographing a light source, such as the sun or a street lamp at night. The quality of the sun star comes down to a few different factors, namely the quality of optics used in the lens as well as the number of aperture blades. While it is purely subjective, it is said that you want an odd number of aperture blades to give the best overall look to your star. Luckily the 16-35 f/4 lens has 7.
Essentially, these sun flares or sun stars really come to life when you stop down your aperture to f/22. For this, you definitely need to get out of shooting in Auto mode and into Aperture or Manual mode on your camera. Most likely, manual mode will be the best so that you can play with all the settings to create the exposure you’re after. It is a real balancing act shooting into the sun. You want to get the sun star but you also want to get a nice exposure of the subject that’s typically shaded.
For portraits, many photographers will use a reflector or look to some off-camera lighting. If you don’t have any of those tools, the dynamic range from camera sensors today is actually quite remarkable. Using Lightroom, I’m about to adjust settings like exposure, shadows, and highlights to get it all perfect; however, getting it 90% right in camera is the key and the EVF is a huge help in this case.
The downside about shooting at f/22 is that you’re going to see dust spots and realize how dirty your sensor is at the moment. It’s a good reminder to clean it up or you will spend a while cleaning the image up in post-production.
If you’d like to learn a bit more about sun flares and sun stars, check out this post on digital photography school.
As you can see, shooting into the sun is my jam. I’m sure there will be people that don’t like the look; however, I adore it. I feel it brings a dynamic aspect to the image and shooting like this is definitely challenging compared to an overcast day. But just like shooting into the sun is something I love, there are photographers that love gloomy and overcast days for shooting their work. It all works out. I love it all but I’m definitely drawn to creating brilliant sun flare imagery.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.