Thursday, November 22, 2012

Photograph Into The Sun (Back-Lit Photography)

When I was much younger and first learning photography, someone gave me a piece of bad advice. He said to always have the sun behind you, and really avoid having the sun in front of you. Now this was someone who had photographs published multiple times in a top magazine.
Dandelion Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
I listened to this advice for a number of years. Eventually I figured out that it was complete nonsense (photography "rules" are often nonsense that should be ignored). In photography, back-lit objects are often the most eye-catching--your eyes naturally will gravitate to areas of high-contrast.
Summer Mow - Tehachapi, California
If the sun is at your back, you'll have flat, even light (which may be good or bad, depending on the situation and what you are creating). If the sun is in front of you, you'll have dramatic, contrasty light (which may also be good or bad).
The Silver Lining - Tehachapi, California
It's important to understand that you are not photographing objects, you are capturing light. It is light that matters most. You must have quality light in order to create a quality image.
Wheat Grass - Tehachapi, California
Digital cameras have a difficult time capturing the sun. There are quick transitions of light intensities that digital capture struggles with, and you can get rings or halos in your photographs that you don't want. Film does a much better job with this. Even so, all of the images here are from digital cameras.
Sunrise At Cadillac Ranch - Amarillo, Texas
One way to minimize the digital disadvantage is to partially or completely block the sun in your photographs. This often will reduce the highlights and light transitions to just within the camera's capabilities.
Old Life, New Life - Victorville, California
Another method for reducing the contrast and light transitions is to photograph on hazy days and when the sun is very low to the horizon. The additional atmosphere will diffuse the light, often bringing the dynamic range more within the digital camera's capabilities.
Hazy Canyon - Grand Canyon, Arizona
Something to consider is lens flare. Some people love lens flare and some people hate it. You may want it or you may not want it, depending on what exactly you are trying to achieve.
Fast Slide - Tehachapi, California
You can use lens flare to reduce contrast and add a hazy appearance to your images. Lens flare can also add interesting shapes and color to a photograph, but be very careful and thoughtful of the lens flare placement.
Shadows On Brick - Goodyear, Arizona
Use a lens hood if you don't want lens flare. While a lens hood won't always eliminate lens flare, it often will--especially if the sun is at an angle to the lens. Objects partially blocking the sun in your images can also reduce some lens flare.
Sunset Through Broken Glass - Victorville, California
Pointing your lens towards the sun is a good way to create dramatic, high-impact photographs. If someone says you should follow this photography "rule" or that photography "rule" just ignore that person. You need vision to create great photographs and nothing else.
Contrast Grass - Goodyear, Arizona


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