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How to Photograph Sun Flares: 14 Tips for Beginners

Sun flares can add beauty and drama to your photos. Cameras and lenses are designed to cut down on flare – so when it comes to sun flares, you have to be a rule-breaker right from the beginning.

In this article, I’ll share 14 tips to help you get started photographing sun flares!

photographing sun flares

Photographing sun flares: 14 tips for beginners

There are no rules for sun flare photography; it’s all about creativity. You can capture sun flares at any time of day, and with these easy tips, you’ll be out experimenting in no time.

1. Try various aperture settings

Have you noticed that in some photos sun flares look soft and diffused, while in others they look bold and defined? That has a lot to do with which aperture setting was used.

If you use a fairly wide aperture, like f/5.6, you’ll get soft flares. But if you use a small aperture, like f/22, you’ll get stronger, more defined flares.

photographing sun flares aperture comparison

In the split image above, the f/5.6 shot is a softer-looking flare, and the f/22 shot is more defined. The points of the flare are created by the blades of the aperture inside your lens. When the blades come closer together (as with narrow apertures like f/22), you get more defined points in your flares.

Using different apertures will give you a variety of looks to choose from when you’re editing. You’ll also learn which type of sun flare you prefer, depending on the setting and feel you want in your photo.

2. Use Aperture Priority mode

The easiest way to control the aperture (as discussed above) is to put your camera in Aperture Priority mode (indicated with an “AV” on a Canon camera, and an “A” on a Nikon camera). That way, you’ll be able to easily adjust the aperture setting.

And with your camera set to Auto ISO, it will automatically choose the ISO and shutter speed settings for you.

Now you’ll be able to quickly switch apertures and see the difference it makes to your sun flares.

3. Partially hide the sun

Use an object (such as a fence post, building, or tree, etc.) to partially hide the sun. This will allow you to capture flare while adding an artistic touch to the object you’re shooting.

photographing sun flares

Move around the object and let the sun peek out at different locations as you keep taking photos. I love doing this, and I always come away with something unique.

4. Move around and take lots of pictures

When shooting sun flares, it really helps to move around – a lot. If you are partially hiding the sun (as mentioned in the previous tip), a slight movement to the right or left will cause a big change in the flare. Your photo could be flooded with too much light, or you might miss the flare altogether. But moving could also reveal the flare in just the right spot to create the look you want.

sun flares through leaves

It’s important to take lots of pictures. You’ll eventually learn how much sun to include in relation to the amount of flare you want.

sun flare in forest

Sun flares can be unpredictable; that’s part of what makes them fun to work with.

5. Try using some filters

When photographing sun flares, filters can be helpful. I recommend considering either of the following options:

  • Polarizing filter: You’ll get different effects as you rotate this filter. It can help increase color saturation and decrease reflections. If you have a polarizer, play around with it and see how it affects the flares.
  • Graduated neutral density filter: This filter is darker at the top and becomes lighter near the bottom. It can prevent part of the image from looking blown-out when shooting into the sun.
graduated neutral density filter

I used a graduated neutral density filter for the photo on the right. It helped control the light, which kept the colors richer.

6. Shoot during different times of day

Around sunrise and sunset, the sunlight comes in at a unique angle. This creates a warmer, golden color, whereas during midday, there is a cooler (bluish) or more neutral light.

In the following image, two of the photos were taken around sunset, and the other two were taken a few hours after sunrise. Can you guess when each photo was taken?

images shot at different times of day

I bet you got it right – the images on the left were taken near sunset. They have a warmer feel, don’t they? Whereas the images on the right have a cooler feel.

7. Divide the sun with your camera

You can get a softer, more diffused look by composing your photo so that the sun is not fully in the frame. Try cutting the sun in half, or only including its bottom third.

sun flare cut off at the topic of the frame

Play with it. Create different effects and see which you prefer.

8. Use a tripod and a remote shutter release

As I mentioned earlier, a smaller aperture setting (higher f-number) will give you a sharper, more defined flare.

But using a small aperture also means that your camera will require more time to take the photo. The longer the image takes, the more chance there is for camera shake to cause blur.

If you are handholding your camera, this could be a problem. When your camera is on a tripod, there is much less chance of camera shake.

photographing with a tripod

Using a tripod will help keep your photos looking sharp and your sun flares looking crisp. By using a remote shutter release (or your camera’s self-timer), you’ll reduce camera shake even more.

9. Keep the sun at your model’s back

By keeping the sun at your model’s back, you’ll allow the light of the flare to spill out around them in interesting ways.

sun flare portrait

Depending on the time of day, you might need to lie down, and have your model sit or lie down, too. The image above was taken around 3:00 PM in the afternoon, and I was lying on the ground.

The higher the sun is, the lower you’ll need to be in order to place the flare at your model’s head or at your model’s shoulders. Having your model sit down will make it easier for you.

And when the sun is lower in the sky, positioning becomes easier for both of you.

10. Use a reflector

A reflector is designed to reflect the light back onto your subject. Reflectors are usually made of fabric (white, silver, or gold) and can be handheld, hung from a freestanding base, or placed on the ground.

Using a reflector can be helpful if your model is in the shade. It helps to brighten the face, making the photo look more pleasing.

11. Cover the sun with your hand to focus

It can be hard to focus when shooting sun flares. There is so much light that your camera may struggle to lock focus on the right spot. 

When this happens, hold up your hand to cover the sun, compose your photo, and press your shutter release halfway. Once your camera focuses, take your hand down and press the shutter the rest of the way.

You may have to try this a number of times until you get exactly what you want.

12. Place the sun out of the frame

To get a really soft flare effect without a bright point, try placing the sun out of your frame.

the sun in the upper right corner

I love how this adds soft light (as shown in the photo above), and how the eye is drawn up to the source of light.

13. Use spot metering

Spot metering handles bright light really well, so if you’ve got a choice, go with this metering mode. All but one of the photos in this article were taken using spot metering. 

If your camera does not have spot metering, then partial metering is the next best choice. Note that I use autofocus with the focus point set to the center (as the focus point is where your metering mode will be active).

14. Have fun!

This last tip is probably the most important:

When photographing sun flares, experiment and have fun.

Don’t be afraid to take tons of pictures, try different aperture settings, and move around. Sun flares are wild and unpredictable. Be creative and use different objects to block (or diffuse) the light. You’re bound to get lots of overexposed and underexposed photos, but you’ll get a lot of gorgeous results, as well.

Photographing sun flares: Now it’s your turn

I would love to see your sun flare photos and hear your tips! Please share them in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Dena Haines
Dena Haines

is a photographer and content marketer. She blogs about GoPro and action camera photography on Click Like This. Check out: 32 Cool Things to Do with a GoPro.

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