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Avoid photographing towards the sun is one of the most common tips you’ll hear for landscape photography. In fact, it’s a tip that I’ve shared previously myself.
While it’s not without a reason that’s it’s a well-known tip, it might not be as relevant today as it was several years ago. Today’s sensors and post-processing opportunities are much more forgiving and what once was a bad idea can now be an opportunity.
In this article, I’ll show you how including the sun in the frame can enhance the atmosphere and add an extra dimension to your images as well as sharing my best tips for doing so.
I’m sure that many of you are ready to jump straight into the comment section right now and tell me how much of a bad idea it is to shoot towards the sun. But give me a minute to explain a few reasons why it’s something you might want to consider doing with your landscape photography.
The greatest benefit of adding the sun in the frame is that it adds depth to the image. Take the image above as an example. Remove the sun and the image becomes flat and much less interesting. With the sun included, the image comes to life and drags you into it.
Compositionally it can also be beneficial. Of course, this depends on where you place the sun. In the example above, the bright sun serves as a focal point. Naturally, the viewer’s eye is guided along the cliffs and up towards the bright area.
Keep in mind that our eyes are naturally attracted to the brighter parts of the image.
Another benefit of shooting towards the sun is that you often get beautiful shadows striking towards you. This serves as additional leading lines and benefits the composition.
Now, there’s one thing I need to make clear; including the sun in an image won’t always be beneficial. There are certain conditions or methods you should take advantage of for this to work. Here are some tips.
While there are exceptions, the best images come when the sun is low on the horizon. The sun then creates a soft glow and gives a nicely balanced light.
During midday when the sun is positioned higher in the sky, the light is harsh and less pleasing to the eyes. Generally, this is something you want to avoid.
I’ll start by saying this, there’s no one single correct spot to place the sun within your image. Sometimes it’s beneficial to place it in the center, while other times it’s better to place it on the side.
This is where trial and error, and experience come into play.
In the image above, I chose to place the sun at the very edge of the frame. Partly obscured by the clouds, it doesn’t take too much attention but instead, you’re drawn to the beautiful light hitting the landscape.
If you are familiar with semi-advanced post-processing techniques, you might be aware of a processing style called light bleed. This is a technique that involves heavy dodging and enhancing/creating a light source that strikes through the image. However, this is an effect you’re able to get in-camera as well by placing the sun at the corner or edge of your frame.
Other times, you want to place the sun in the center of the image. In the image above, placing the sun in the center adds a light source that your eyes naturally go toward. Had I instead placed the sun to the side, this image would be less balanced.
In my opinion, one of the most efficient ways of including the sun in your image is by partly obscuring it. Combining that with a narrow aperture, you get a nice sun-star or sunburst.
Since the sun is so much brighter than the surrounding landscape, it can be hard to capture a well-exposed image when including it in the frame. By using a Graduated ND Filter you’re able to darken the sky in your image – meaning that you can capture a well-balanced image even with the sun in the frame.
Unfortunately, a Graduated ND Filter is not always ideal. Since the transition between darkened and transparent parts of the filter is a straight line, it can create some unwanted effects if you’re photographing a scene where something is projecting above the horizon.
Graduated ND Filters are better to use when the horizon is flat, such as the image below:
Another more flexible method of capturing well-balanced images with the sun included is to bracket multiple exposures and blend them in a photo editor. This is the better choice when the sun is at the highest position in the sky, as the contrast is even greater.
For the image below, I captured three images; one exposed for the landscape, one exposed for the sky and one even darker to balance out the brightest parts.
Hopefully, I’ve been able to convince you that shooting towards the sun isn’t a complete no-no anymore. Have you captured any images that are shot towards the sun for your landscape photography? I would love to see them in a comment below!