So I’ve been trucking along with my camera for about six months now and feel like I’m making some solid progress in the quality of shots I am taking and my ability to intentionally take good shots. One of my last hurdles I’m jumping over is knowing how to use that dang ball of fire in the sky to my advantage. My previous belief was if the sun is out its high time to take some pictures. I remember back to what my good friend and wedding photographer, Cory Thoemke, told my wife and I when we were planning our wedding day though. He suggested we take photos during the early morning or later in the evening. Afternoon sun was our enemy. 8 years later I finally understand why :)
Last month when My wife and I were setting up for our family photo shoot we were so excited about the location we chose because of the great beach scenery and view of the olympic mountain range across the Puget Sound at Golden Gardens park in Seattle. We got there nice and early so the beach wouldn’t be crowded and I thought back to that advise about shooting early in the morning. It couldn’t have been a better location to capture our girls as they turned 1 and 4. We had a pretty quaint set up with a beach blanket, a little bench chair and some of their favorite instruments. Man, I was excited. As I started taking a few test shots as my wife was setting up I was not happy with how the lighting was turning out. What the heck? The shadows were harsh and everyone was squinting. This was not going to work. I ended taking a few shots that worked like this one.
After a few more shots I decided to starting moving around the other side of them to see if I could do anything with the sunlight and the shadows. I hit a point where I was looking almost into the sun and every instinct I had told me not to take that shot. I was sure it was just going to be a muddy under exposed mess since my only other point of comparison was taking photos with point and shoot cameras and iphones where this would underexpose the subject and expose the sky. What happened next was nothing short of magic. I started taking a few shots and saw the harsh shadows on their faces go away and the sun gave a beautiful glow to the photos.
I was so excited about how these were turning out and I have a few tips that helped me.
1. Change your camera metering to spot metering (or partial metering if your camera doesn’t have spot metering).
That changes your in-camera light metering to a single spot as apposed to averaging the entire scene and making your camera guess what the best exposure should be. I was pointing the single meter point at their face so I could expose for their skin and eyes.
2. Try to shoot as close to the “golden hour” as possible. This is the time right after the sun rises and right before it sets. The Sun gives a nice golden color to your photos and just plain ol’ looks like magic. You are also able to get a more natural angle since the sun is closer to the horizon.
3. Don’t shoot directly into the sun. Now that I’ve said that let me immediately contradict myself. you can shoot directly into the sun, it looks amazing. The only issue is controlling the lens flare and potential blowout as well as you cameras inability to focus on anything when its staring directly into a enormous ball of fire in the sky. If you want a bit more of a predictable shot I found shooting with the sun just out of frame or at about a 30 degree angle from the sun worked best.
And with that I will leave you with some of my recent favorite “golden hour, shooting into the sun” shots :)
If you read all the way down here you should high five yourself or someone around you! I hope this inspires you to go out and shoot into the sun!