One of the strictest rule when shooting film was “you never shoot against the sun”.
People, and negatives, get ‘burned’ when that happens. I learnt this the hard way. In my younger and foolish days, I shot against the sun once. And I found (somewhat a few weeks later) a huge orange and black mark appearing in my pictures. I never shot against the sun ever since. I was never the same man again.
But things are different now in the digital age. It’s a brave new frontier. People are shooting against the sun, all the time. Why is that?
First of all, we now have the live-view. This means we can actually see how a picture would look before it comes out. You can adjust the exposure on the fly, and control how much of the sun will get in the picture. And secondly, with the technology, people have found out that shooting against the sun, have often enough resulted in some really nice photos. Picture it. The sun as your backlight, is peering just behind your subject, giving him/her/it a glow around it, all the while casting a dramatic flare streaking across the picture. Of course, typically you wait till the sun is lower in the sky, like around 3-6pm. But If you have never shot against the sun, take your camera now (assuming it’s after 3pm), and go out and shoot. But wait, maybe you should read the next paragraph too.
There are still some caveats in shooting against the sun, however, especially when you are dependent on only the sun for lighting. When you shoot against the sun, colors become muted, contrast will be lower, and whichever part of your subject facing you would be in the shadows. Moreover, if you take a look at your histogram, the bottom left of your curve will not reach the left end of the x-axis. That’s because there is no true ‘black’ in the picture, causing your picture to appear softer. But don’t let all these stop you from dreaming BIG. Just be aware of the effect of shooting against the sun.
When you shoot against the sun, use a fill or a reflector where you can. Your reflector could be a Styrofoam, or a white wall, or the thing that flaps open like a prata dough. And when you edit this pictures, be aware of the low contrast. Some people will like it, some people will want more ‘black’ in it. Similarly, also pay attention to the saturation and find a point where you are comfortable. Shooting against the sun will also make white balance more on the warmer side. There is no right or wrong way to edit your pictures, but again, just be aware of what are the things you should be more aware from shooting a certain way.
Personally, I find shooting against the sun is great for portraits. The soft and warm glow is flattering for anyone. And there is enough drama to play around with the flares, the sun shining on your subject’s hair, and the silhouette cast by the shadows. Flowers can be great for shots like these too. And I’m sure there are plenty more of other things to try shooting this way. Go out and do it.
As a commercial photographer, Elliot sells ideas; whether in shooting spaces, people, or still life. He works alongside both global brands and local icons, establishing himself as one of Singapore’s leading photographers. Right now, as Elliot keeps up with his passion, he is also one of the guest instructors in Nikon School. More of Elliot’s works can be viewed at Elliotly.com.