Photographing the sun

Sunset over Cook Inlet, Deb Tappen

Sunset over Cook Inlet, Deb Tappan

Taking photos of sunrises and sunsets can be especially rewarding. At these times of day when the sun is lower in the sky, sunlight travels through more atmosphere to reach the earth.

Protect your eyes

When photographing the sun, take every effort to protect your eyes and your camera! The very worst time of day to take photos of the sun is when it is at its strongest: near or at mid-day.

It’s vital when photographing the sun not to stare at it too long through the lens. You can damage your eyes as well as your camera. When it comes to photographing the sun, the most prudent route to take is to treat your camera lens and sensor in the same manner as you treat your own eyes.

Sunrise at Jupiter Island Beach by Gail Bjork

Sunrise at Hobe Sound Beach, Gail Bjork

Many digital cameras have a sunrise/sunset scene mode which is quite effective. However, if you want more control over the outcome of your image, follow these steps:

    • Exposure: use matrix or center-weighted metering. Select a small aperture for maximizing your depth-of-field.Meter for the sky, or near the perimeter of the sun, but don’t include the sun itself. This helps prevent white, blown-out areas, which lack detail (though some blow-out may be unavoidable). This method also helps the rest of the scene from becoming underexposed.
    • Sensitivity: Use the lowest ISO as possible to prevent noise in an image (eg. ISO 50, 80 or 100)
    • Use Exposure Compensation (also known as Bracketing): compensate up to one full stop in both directions (+ and -).
  • White Balance: set white balance to daylight or sunny day
  • Tripod: use a tripod with either a timed shutter release (use the self-timer) or a shutter release cable or remote. This will prevent blur resulting from camera shake and slow shutter speeds.
  • Composition: include the ground horizon or other ground and foreground elements. These will become silhouetted and stand out beautifully against a colorful sunset or sunrise. Applying the Rule of Thirds is great for this type of photography.
  • Horizon line: don’t forget to keep the horizon line straight. A slanted horizon line can be very distracting and is one of the primary visual errors many photographers overlook!
  • The Golden Hour*: optimal shooting is between 1/2 hour before sunset to 1/2 hour after sunset. Don’t forget about “afterglow” and remember to look behind you to notice what the sky is doing there as well.
  • Keep Shooting: don’t just take one shot, take a bunch of them. You’ll never know what you might capture.
  • Flare: watch out for lens flare (don’t shoot directly into the sun) and keep your lens surface and lens filters clean.

*To learn when the golden hour begins in your region, use The Golden Hour Calculator.

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