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5 Killer Ways to Shoot Into the Sun and Get Beautiful Flare

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5 Killer Ways to Shoot Into the Sun and Get Beautiful Flare


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Shooting Into the sun….flare baby!

I believe that every little trick you have up your sleeve as a photographer can give you an advantage in your market.  Do you feel like sometimes all your work starts to look the same?

You know…vertical…….even tones…..smiles………50mm….you get the point!  Shooting into the sun is not rocket science, and neither is flare, BUT it is one more tool that you can add to your bag of tricks to offer a different perspective to your photo shoots.  (Hopefully I can do a post one day about perspective… because I love to talk about it ;), but for now, I’ll just stick with the sun.)

It’s so important to constantly change things up, give your viewers and your clients something new to look at and hopefully something unexpected.  Flare is technically something that is incorrect.  The people who make our lenses do everything they can to prevent us from getting flare!  What do you think those horrid lens hoods are for??  (And, no, I do not use them…I always say, they are for men who want to make their lenses look bigger☺) When used correctly, flare can be a beautiful thing that adds romance and mystery to your images!   Flare is also a great technique when you are in situations where the scenery isn’t ideal.  The sign of a great photographer is being able to take a terribly ugly place and transform it into something  magical just by using creative lighting.

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Below are 5 killer tips that will hopefully help you to master flare and shooting into the sun.

1.  Exposure:  The number one question I get when talking to people about this technique is how to correctly expose for your subject.  It is really important that you shoot in Manual mode to achieve this look.   Many people say they shoot manual, but actually don’t.  If you are using manual, but you are still determining your iso, shutter speed & aperture by the meter in your camera….you are still letting your camera tell you what to do!  You’re camera’s meter is great, but not always correct, especially in a backlit situation.  When you are pointed into the sun, you’re camera thinks you are overexposing, so if you set your settings by your meter, you’re subject will be grossly underexposed.   In this situation, ignore your meter and just go by you display and histogram.  I always expose for my subjects skin.  To achieve creamy, beautiful skin, I am just a stop or 2 below overexposing their skin.  Make sure that you are using your camera’s highlight indicator.  I just make sure that my subjects face is not blinking.   In a backlit situation, it is ok for your background to be completely overexposed.  This is actually what gives you the dreamy look you are going for.

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2.  Focusing:  Focusing when you are shooting directly into the sun is close to impossible!  Again, you are asking your camera to do something that it’s not meant to do.  I go ghetto…I use my hand to help me focus.  I always center focus, so I will put the red focus area on my subject, then I use my hand to cover as much of the sun coming into my lens as possible.  This should get rid of the flare for a second.  Once I’ve locked my focus, I remove my hand, recompose, and shoot!  Works every time…well not really….Another trick is to use a higher aperture in these situations than you normally would.  This allows you some wiggle room if you’re focus isn’t dead on.

3.  Time of day:  When I first started experimenting with this technique, I pretty much ended up mad a lot.  I, for the life of me, couldn’t figure out how to get that blasted sun behind my subjects….duh.  I finally realized that for me, I get the best flare when it’s later in the day.  If you wait until an hour or so before the sun goes down, you don’t have to lay on the ground to get the sun behind your subjects.  I’ve said this before, but the sun seems to have a softness about it as it moves down on the horizon.  Of course, I don’t always follow this rule.  I will lay on the ground at 3:00 to get the sun behind my subject if need be.  One more thing:  remember that you don’t necessarily have to be outside to use this technique.  You can be inside and have a person’s back to a window or door.  I’ll give you several examples below.

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4.  It doesn’t have to be perfect:  Remember that the fun of this technique is not knowing what will happen.  As you can see in some of my sample images below, it’s not always necessary to see a person’s whole face.  Don’t analyze this too much!  If it makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, go with it.  When you shoot into the sun, and get crazy flare, your image might not be perfectly sharp….who cares.  Again, this is about creating something fun, and pushing yourself into unknown places.  Don’t get caught up in wondering what your clients mother might say if she can’t see her son’s whole left eye!  Relax, you gave the 567 perfectly exposed smiling images.  Being a photographer is not only about pleasing your clients, it’s about shooting for yourself.

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5.  Different lenses, different flare: Keep in mind that different lenses produce different results.  I’m not an expert on this, but It seems that the nicer the lens, the harder it is to get good flare.  I’ve also found it almost impossible to get it from my canon 85mm 1.2.  I usually stick to my canon 24mm 1.4, and my canon 50mm 1.2….and if you really want some sweet crazy results, throw on a tilt shift!  I’ve been able to get a really neat rainbow effect.

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Thank you to Kelly Moore Clark of Kelly Moore Photography for this amazing guest post on Shooting in Sun and Flare. If you have questions for Kelly, please post them in the comment section on my blog (not Facebook) so she will see them and can answer them.

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94 Comments

  1. sara
    August 25, 2009 at 7:14 am —

    Kelly your work is so beautiful.
    I love to play around with sun flare but I have trouble when I come to editing. I seem to loose my flare or something else.
    How do you edit a sun flared photo?
    Keep up the fantastic work.

  2. August 25, 2009 at 3:32 am —

    I love Kelly’s blog, I’ve been following it for months… and this article was absolutely fascinating for me. Definitely going to try it out this weekend.

  3. August 24, 2009 at 11:37 pm —

    Hey Guys!
    Thanks again for having me here! I’m really enjoying being able to put my thoughts on paper…or blog:)
    Toki-
    I meant, I used a tilt shift lens to get that type of flare.

    Thanks!

  4. August 24, 2009 at 5:52 pm —

    Thanks so much for the tips Kelly! Gorgeous photos all around. Now I’m all inspired! 🙂

  5. August 24, 2009 at 5:47 pm —

    GORGEOUS images! Wonderful info too.

  6. August 24, 2009 at 5:11 pm —

    These images are breathtaking!! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. A couple of times, I “accidentally” produced sun flare in my images and now I’m completely hooked! I have a dumb question though… what exactly do you mean by throwing on a tilt shift??

  7. August 24, 2009 at 4:30 pm —

    Great tips and beautiful images!

  8. August 24, 2009 at 4:21 pm —

    Love these images! TFS

  9. August 24, 2009 at 3:43 pm —

    Kelley you’re awesome! Such a great post! I totally agree with tiltshift flare! i love it!!

  10. honey
    August 24, 2009 at 12:46 pm —

    Love this advice … I’ve been practicing and this gave a ton of great advice!

  11. Adrianne
    August 24, 2009 at 12:30 pm —

    What a creative post for the day. I love trying things that are different once in awhile to keep things fresh and fun. Thanks for all your tips and pix.

  12. August 24, 2009 at 11:54 am —

    gorgeous!

  13. August 24, 2009 at 11:53 am —

    congrats! gorgeous work!

  14. August 24, 2009 at 11:27 am —

    Wow, thankyou so much for these tipS! So selfless and wonderful of you guys to help us photographers here. Much appreciated!

    • Jessica Dunagan
      February 3, 2012 at 7:12 pm —

      I agree! Very nice of them and I’m excited to get out there and try out these tips!!

  15. Katy Geesaman
    August 24, 2009 at 11:22 am —

    I have used some of these techniques before, but have a problem w/ a weird purple color that lines my subject when it’s overexposed behind them. I’ve read that my camera sometimes will cause this (I have the 5dMarkII). Any suggestions as to how to fix this?

  16. August 24, 2009 at 10:26 am —

    Shannon ~ you can get the star shape from the sun by stopping way down to f/14 and higher. The same effect works with long exposures at night to turn street lights and other light sources into stars. The number of points in your star will be determined by the number of blades in the lens, so each lens will have a slightly different result.

  17. August 24, 2009 at 10:17 am —

    Kelly..that 3rd pic down is one I’ve never seen. Amazing shot!!!! Your just stupid good. Period. I’m signing off!!

  18. August 24, 2009 at 9:53 am —

    Wow, this was exactly what I’ve been looking for! I have a couple questions though. First how do you get that wonderful star shape from the sun? All I ever get is is a blown out sky! And second, I get a weird green flare on my pictures when I’d like the nice warm yellow, does thisw depend on the lens? Thanks!

    • Joni
      March 16, 2013 at 3:22 pm —

      Shoot at a smaller aperture like f11

  19. stephanie
    August 24, 2009 at 9:50 am —

    I think it is so RAD in the Photography community that people are so willing to share their tips, thanks for your abundant knowledge, you ROCK at what you do!!!

  20. Alysha Sladek
    August 24, 2009 at 9:45 am —

    Stunning photos!! Thanks for the tips! Can’t wait to give it a shot 🙂

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5 Killer Ways to Shoot Into the Sun and Get Beautiful Flare