On a recent hike into the high country near Aspen, Colorado, I was asked, “Aren’t you not supposed to shoot into the sun?” I didn’t really know how to respond, so I said that once rules are “mastered” they can be broken. But honestly, I’m not so sure I agree with that. I mean the rule of thirds finds its way into my photography all the time, whether I’m consciously aware I am doing it or not, but like with composition, light looks better at an angle… most of the time. But sometimes a centered shot, is the shot.
Sure rules are meant to be broken, but it must be for a reason. I don’t just shoot into the sun because I love sun-bursts (guilty, I do!), but there really does have to be an aesthetic reason. Not everyone thinks a bright star of light, occupying a third of the frame, is a good addition to photo. But what happens when you place that sun out of the frame and capture the brilliant colors that come from backlit subjects? Especially subjects that are say, translucent? Like, uh, flowers?!!! Or subjects precariously set on the edge of a great landscape?
Shooting into the sun is tricky. Every speck of dust on the lens shines like conspicuous tormentors and lens-flares love to hover over the most beautiful part of the image. Cleanliness is key (which I trouble with coming from a background of journalism) and low-end lenses love to flare. But with a little bit of ingenuity and cleverness, anyone can capture that beautiful light emanating from behind.
The first and easiest trick is to always shoot with a lens hood. But sometimes they’re not big enough to block out the low-light of evening and/or morning. I like to use a hat. When I’m out in the woods, I typically always have a hat, so it’s not like I have to carry anything extra. All I have to do is set the frame, remove my hat and block the light. Crazy, right?!! Another trick is to wait for (if there even are) clouds to pass over me. When timed properly, this has given my shots more contrast to play around with (see first photo above).
Zoom lenses can help with the inevitable dust specks as well (just keep that aperture big). But with a 200 millimeter or something bigger, a tripod is definitely needed when shooting. It’s very difficult to reach around with a hat, while holding a massive lens steady, and snapping the intended composition.
I love rules-of-thumb, but sometimes shooting out of the box (and into the sun) is a good way to begin to separate yourself from the pack.