Chasing the sun

My techniques for chasing the sun

As photographers, (hobbyist or pro) I think most all of us have a certain love affair with something we see everyday, sunrise and sunset. They can also be the toughest photographic events to capture and print, as our eyes see them.

Everyone who has picked up a camera of any type to capture an image of a heart wrenching sunset with all the colors reflected in the clouds has dealt with this.

What follows are my techniques for dealing with the difference between the brightness of the sun and everything else. Do you have a technique I didn’t list, Leave a comment with what your technique is:-)

We love to include the sun in our shots and if the sun is obscured we can include it in our images (as seen here and I’d love to hear your thoughts) but we’re not always that lucky. I’m making the following assumptions:

  • You know that by having the sun in the image, the surrounding landscape will be silhouetted 
  • If there are clouds you can use them to filter the intensity of the sun
  • If you have a nearby object (a tree) you can use the branches to block some of the suns light
  • Sometimes its best to wait until just after the sun sets or just before it rises to catch it…

    The sun slipping slowly through the clouds on it's way to setting over the Salem skyline
    Visit image in my gallery

Normally you will set the set the exposure for either the sky (results in everything else is black) or expose for the ground and the sun is a white disk so long colorful sky.

We strive to render an image the way we see it. I use three techniques to do this. Filters, HDR and blending two imagesFirst off, not all techniques will work in every scenario so you may have to try different ones and with practice you will learn what works in each circumstance (I still can get it wrong, so I try several different each time I go out).

Techniques for balancing the light

  • ND grad filters:
    • Neutral Density, Graduated filter
    • The big stopper!
  • Post processing to include: (Will be covered in a future article)
    • HDR
    • Blending exposures

 Getting it right in the camera

I really hate when a photographer tells me that they always get it “right” in the camera, like any other technique is a substandard one. I have to ask them, If you forgot to pack your filters, would you just go home?

We all try to get it “right” in the camera but I like to try other techniques, so this article will talk about balancing the light at the time you take the picture and the next article will address, post processing techniques to balance the light in the computer.

ND grad filters

I have the Lee ND grad and big stopper filters. The Lee system consists of a filter holder and rigid plastic rectangular filters. (see my gallery below) They slide in front of the lens and you can stack up to three to increase or combine effects like I demonstrate below.

If you are new to photography and don’t understand screw on versus bayonet mount or gels versus resin then I’ve included a link to a tutorial on the B&H audio/video website to get you familiarized with what filters are.

This is not a paid ad for lee filters, it’s just what I use and I’m very satisfied with them (nuff said). Instead of telling you how to use ND grad filters I will ask you to watch this video on the Lee website and then please come back…

Ok, now that you know how ND grads work here are several images. The first is with no filter, The second is with the Lee filters and 5 stops of ND Grad and the Third is adding the Big stopper to the stack the others show me using them during a windy day on Stramsky beach. Take a look and I’ll talk about my lessons learned below.

As you can see I got a bit of sun flair with no filter and I doubt anyone would want to buy it. The ND grad shot had more color and I’m sure if I went into a photo editing program I could tweak it a bit and make it more wow.

In the last one I used the big stopper (and two ND grads) and I let the exposure go for 60 seconds. Here you can see I knocked down the sky.. (maybe too much) but the water achieved the ethereal foggy feel that I personally love to see in a shot.

Even the Lee folks say it’s a matter of practice with the big stopper. If I’m shooting at noon I can make a 15-25 second exposure on a bright sunny day. So the take away for you is to go out and play with it. You can always delete the horrible ones and study the remaining ones that make the grade or come close.

To me the most important aspect of learning to use these filters is to know when to use them and be comfortable with them. When a really important moment happens you don’t want to be looking for a guide on what setting to use.

The same applies to these filters. If you use them each time you go out, then you will be familiar with them. It also doesn’t matter what filter system you use. I could have just as easily purchased Cokin, Singh-Ray or some other brand. Check your photographer friends or join a photography club and see what others in the group use. You will probably be able to try theirs out and see what you like before purchasing.

Jeff “Foliage” Folger
Salem MA
New England Stock photos and Artwork
My online gallery
Jeff Foliage Autumn Resource page

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