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Nature's Image Photography Workshops and Tours

THE SUN BEHIND YOU – OR BEHIND THE SUBJECT?

November 2021

As photographers, there are certain things we quickly learn about light. High contrast light can be a curse, so we often look to shoot in low contrast conditions. Cloudy days or shooting in the shade are great for many subjects, but we tend to be out and about with our cameras more often on sunny days. In that case, we are often best to shoot in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low, the colours are warm and the contrast is soft.

This much we know instinctively, or we soon learn. Yet there is one mistake I often see people make, and it’s about where to stand in relation to the light. Even in the soft light of late afternoon (let’s face it, I see so few sunrises I am rarely talking about early morning!) if you position yourself in the wrong place you can still struggle to get a good shot.

SHOOTING WITH THE SUN BEHIND YOU

This is the simplest rule to get you good results most of the time. If the sun is behind you, then it’s shining on the subject. So if you’re shooting in the warm light of late afternoon, all that glorious sunshine is working its magic on what’s in front of you.

This is a great situation to shoot in and gives you the best chance of an easy, well exposed shot.

SHOOTING WITH THE SUN BEHIND THE SUBJECT

If the sun is in front of you, then it’s behind the subject. And even when the sun is low and the light is relatively soft, that means you are looking at the shady side of the subject, most likely with very bright light shining from behind. You find yourself in what I call a ‘silhouette situation.’ To correctly expose the background, you end up with a very dark – often totally black – subject. And if you change your settings to brighten up the subject, then you are going to massively overexpose the background.

That’s not to say you can’t get good photos shooting into the sun…in fact, many of my favourite photos are taken this way. You just have be be a bit more ‘choosy’ about where and how you shoot.

EMBRACE THE SILHOUETTE

 

Silhouettes are going to happen. So I look for subjects that create a striking outline, so people can identify what they are looking at without needing to see details. That’s why I often shoot into the light near water, because the light can illuminate the entire scene, giving me all the warmth and illumination of sunlight, even while the subject itself is dark. Just be sure that the entire silhouette outline can be seen against the background. Note that if the kookaburra (below) was sitting on a big heavy branch, then everything below the feet would disappear into the black silhouette of the branch itself.

LOOK FOR WAYS TO DIFFUSE THE LIGHT

Even in the dying minutes of the day, looking directly into the sun can be very harsh. I look for ways to diffuse the sun, shining through sea mist as in the shot above, or partly hidden behind clouds or branches…anything to prevent looking into the full glare of the sun.

MANIPULATING / BALANCING THE LIGHT (PORTRAITS)

There’s a reason so many portrait photographers carry around lots of lighting gear. It’s so they can control the light themselves, and if the sun is behind the subject, they will use flash or other means to send some light back the other way. I rarely use flash, but I often use a reflector to bounce some of that sunlight back towards the model. Even if the brightest light is coming from behind, there is enough light illuminating them from in front to create something special – lit from both sides.

Now – with all that said – I still seek to shoot with the sun behind ME most of the time. But in rare situations, shooting with the sun behind the subject is an opportunity to watch out for.

 

 

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