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 sometimes breaking this rule can create a unique image with nice shadow or back-lit effects.

Instead of taking a picture with the sun behind the photographer, try taking a picture with the sun behind the subject. When taking a picture with the sun behind the subject, the subject will appear dark while the background will be washed out. 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 you as 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 built-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 involves 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 autofocus is to aim at the subject with the autofocus on, let it focus, then turn the autofocus 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.

The Sun as a Backdrop
This image is made more dramatic by the light reflecting around the head and the dark body.

When shooting with the sun behind the subject, it is a good idea to shoot when the sun is 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 images. Shooting with this method requires more thought and planning, as well as multiple test shots, but the results are usually worth the extra work