Using the Sun As A Compositional Element in Photography

Using the sun in your photographs for great composition

For the most part, as photographers, we avoid shooting into the sun for fear that we’ll get some unsightly flaring. The sun DOES present some exposure challenges, and of course, flare is a concern, but by carefully composing your shot, and properly exposing, including the sun in your images can create stunning results.

The first secret to using the sun is about positioning. When you can, position the sun behind something else in your image. In the image of the photographer above, this gives the effect of a halo, helping create the silhouetted image. By using exposure compensation to darken the exposure, I kept the sun from blowing out, and darkened the main subject into the silhouette. I then adjusted the white balance and color saturation to get the final result. Because the image was shot at f/2.8, the sun appeared as a giant ball in the image. In another example, the image of the daisies, a wide angle lens was used to make the sun smaller in the image, and was then positioned just behind the stem of the daisy. Because the image was shot at a smaller aperture, f/22, the sun appears as a star rather than a ball. One of the cool things that happens when shooting into the sun with a wide angle lens at a small aperture is that the light falls off in the areas away from the sun, creating dramatic skies that go from near white by the sun, to deep blue in the corners.

Shooting into the sun does pose some exposure challenges. Shooting into such a bright light can cause underexposure. That’s not necessarily a problem if you’re going for a silhouette, but if you want some detail in the subjects that are backlit by the sun, you’ll need to dial in some exposure compensation to counter the brightness of the sun. In the image of the Elm In Cook’s Meadow, the image at what the camera said was the proper exposure was a bit dark, and devoid of shadow detail. Thankfully, for this image, I shot several images at varying exposures (also called bracketing). The image you see here was shot at +1.6 exposure compensation, in aperture priority mode. This allowed for a level of detail in the shadow areas, while not allowing the highlights to blow out.

Continue reading article: Using the Sun As A Compositional Element.