Using the Sun as a Backdrop

In photography it is common advice when shooting into the sun to have the sun behind the photographer to light the subjects from the front. Yet there are times when breaking this rule can create a unique image with nice shadow or backlit effects.

Instead of taking a picture with the sun behind the photographer, try taking a picture with the sun behind the subject. Generally when taking a picture with the sun behind the subject the subject will appear dark while the background will be washed out. Yet done correctly, it can also create some sparkle from the corner of the image, and unique effects with the shadow.

Setting the Camera

The camera’s auto light-meter will need to be shut off and the photographer will need to manually adjust the settings as the sun can throw the reading off. This will need to be done by manually adjusting the aperture and shutter settings. The in-camera light-meter will either underexpose or overexpose depending on if it is picking up on the subject or the light behind.

Since this does involve shooting into the sun, it is difficult to focus manually. If users find it difficult to look through the lens with the sun in the background, a trick with auto focus is to aim at the subject with the auto focus on, let it focus, then turn the auto focus off when composing with the sun.

Playing with Light

If the goal is to avoid having the subject appear overly dark, it will be necessary to add some light on the subject. This can be done via a flash on or near the camera, or some type of reflector. By reflecting some light back on to the subject, it will counterbalance the bright sunlight behind.

Leaving the subject in silhouette can also create a nice effect as well. By shooting towards the sun with the subject in the dark, it can create a moody effect. It is also possible to catch the shadow dropping in front of whatever is being photographed.

When shooting with the sun behind the subject, it is a good idea to shoot when the sun low in the sky such as mornings and evenings. Not only will you not be dealing with the poor light of the sun overhead, the image can also get some nice color glows from the setting or rising sun.

In Summary

It might take some practice, and thanks to digital cameras it is easy to take the time and number of pictures to get some practice. But, when it’s done correctly shooting into the sun will add a new light or shadow to pictures. Shooting with this method requires more thought and planning, as well as multiple test shots but the results are usually worth the extra work.