How To Take Sun Flare Pictures – Lesson
| by Dawn Danko | Pictures By Mom | Learn How To Take Better Pictures |
In this lesson, I am going to explain how to take sun flare pictures.
Sun flare pictures are typically bright and warm and convey a relaxed, soft, reflective contented feeling. Sun flare pictures are very popular right now, and once you figure out how to nail one sun flare picture, taking sun flare pictures will be easy as pie!
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No special gear is required to take sun flare pictures, but you will have to have a decent knowledge of your camera’s operation and menu functions.
Camera Required: DSLR or Mirrorless System
You will have to use a camera that can be operated in manual mode (aaaahhhhhh manual mode – don’t worry, I’ll walk you through it!), That means a DSLR or mirrorless system camera will be needed to take a sun flare picture. Some higher end point and shoot cameras (like a Canon G15) also have manual mode, but most point and shoots don’t.
You might be able to do something similar with a phone camera, but without the control of manual, it will be hit and miss.
Examples of Sun Flare Pictures
Here are a few examples of sun flare pictures showing the style of picture that we want to create.
Sun Flare Picture Concept
All of the above sun flare pictures have a few details in common. They are all taken looking into the sun!
The sun can be fully in the frame, just to the side of the frame, or partially blocked by something within the frame, but the bright light from the sun is used to create a gorgeous warm glow throughout the picture.
Taking pictures looking into the sun gives your subjects a beautiful glow – or what photographers call a rim light.
However, using your camera normally and taking pictures into the sun would result in a silhouette of your subject and not the fabulous sun flare pictures we are after.
In order to take sun flare pictures, we have to set our camera to expose for the front of our subject that would normally be in shadow. Or, thinking about it another way, we are going to take a picture that is much brighter than our camera thinks it should be.
Light for Sun Flare Pictures
For pictures with sun flare, we are only using the sun for lighting. It is possible to combine sun flare with on camera flash, and that is something you might like to try once you master your natural light sun flare technique. You could also use a reflector if the shadows are too deep on your subject.
The most critical component for a good sun flare picture is the warm, glowing light that happens when the sun is low on the horizon, just after sunrise and just before sunset.
You need a relatively sunny day with the sun low enough in the sky so when you compose your picture, the sun is between the head and waist of your subject. When the sun is this low in the sky, it generally has a beautiful warm light – which is exactly what we want to capture.
Camera Position for Sun Flare Pictures
First of all, you will be shooting INTO the sun – which is the opposite of what you’d normally want to do to create a good picture.
Where the sun is in your picture will control how strong the sun flare ends up being. You can see in the samples above that the sun is usually off to the side, or partially blocked by some part of the scene.
If you put the whole sun right in the frame, it tends to be too bright and will overpower everything else in the picture. If the sun is too bright, it also tends to erase your subject by overpowering the foreground.
If you put the sun to the side, you can let only the edge of the sun flare into the frame, which tends to look a lot better. You can also position your camera so that the sun is partially blocked by something in the picture. For example, I love to put the sun at the small of the back of my subject, using the glow from the sun flare to make my subjects waist look thinner.
Positioning your camera for sun flare pictures is a game of inches. Moving just an inch up or down, left or right will have a big impact on where the flare is in the picture, and how powerful of a flare you let into the scene.
It will take some experimentation, but once you get it, you will know what you need to do to crate the style of sun flare picture you want.
Camera Settings for Sun Flare Pictures
Because you are taking a picture into the sun, you camera will not be able judge an acceptable exposure. Generally, your camera will expose for the bright sun light, leaving your subject a silhouette.
To make your camera expose for your subject, you have to use manual mode (M).
Once you set your camera to manual mode, you will have to choose an ISO setting. Sun flare pictures are usually pretty bright, so start with the lowest ISO (least sensitive to light) that your camera has – usually ISO 100 or ISO 200.
You can use auto white balance, but we are going to make some white balance adjustments in post processing, so its best to set the white balance to daylight (the little sun icon).
Next, set the lens aperture you are going to use. I usually start at f5.6. The lower aperture you use, the more your background will be blurry which is desirable to create a separation between your background and your subject. (Photographers call this bokeh, but thats a whole other lesson).
Finally, set your shutter speed. We will use the shutter speed to control the amount of light we are letting into the camera.
A shutter speed between 1/60th of a second and 1/500th of a second usually works well. It will also take some experimentation to figure out what shutter speed you need to use – basically, you want to let in enough light that you can see the features of your subject.
If your shutter speed ends up being slower than 1/60th of a second, you can’t shoot hand held (with your camera in your hands as opposed to on a tripod). In this case, I would either increase your ISO to 400 to make your camera more sensitive to light, or use a larger aperture such as f4.
Once I have my ISO and lens aperature set, I try to start with a shutter speed around 1/125th of a second or 1/1250th of a second. That way I have some latitude to adjust my shutter speed down to 1/60th of a second or up to 1/500th of a second without changing the ISO or aperature.
As discussed in camera position, the amount of sun flare light in your picture depends a lot on your camera position – so you have to be careful that once you have your camera settings locked down, you don’t change your camera position too much.
Camera Focusing for Sun Flare Pictures
Your camera will have a hard time focusing shooting straight into the sun.
To use automatic focus, you have to find a location of high contrast on your subject, such as at the hairline for someone who has dark hair and light skin. Try to find an area of high contrast as close to your subjects face as possible and use that to focus.
Alternatively, you can use manual focus.
Post Processing for Sun Flare Pictures
If you’ve done your job correctly, you will have a beautiful sun flare picture with your subject in focus and with a nice exposure. However, your picture will look washed out and dull without post processing.
If you are using an image editor, such as Adobe Photoshop Express, follow these steps:
First tweak the exposure, using the exposure slider. Bring the picture into a range where your highlights are not too bright and your shadows are not too dark.
Use the burn tool – choose shadows, select a large brush and a high change in exposure setting. Paint over your picture with the burn tool to add detail and definition back to into the shadows. You might have to do this more than once for areas of your picture that need even more contrast.
You can also use a white/blacks slider or the contrast slider to do this in more sophistocated editors. The goal is to increase the blacks to darken the shadows and add definition.
Adjust the white balance. Use the white balance tool to select a white balance that will warm up your picture. Usually the “Cloudy” or “Open Shade” white balance settings will give you a nice warm light in your picture.
Finally, increase the saturation to accentuate the beautiful warm light you have captured.
Here is an example between an unedited camera flare picture and a finished picture with full post processing:
If you want to some inspiration, take a look at these great sun flare pictures on 500px.