Into the Sun

Published on: 14th Mar 2015
In Tutorials

When judging photo competitions I very often see photographs taken towards the sun at sunset or sunrise - with the sun in the scene. I think these photographers are very brave!

I must admit, I very seldom take a photo with the sun visible in the scene. I think there are a few reasons for this.

  • Firstly, when I started photography, I worked exclusively in black and white, and sunset or sunrise scenes very seldom had the same appeal in monochrome as in colour.
  • Photo taken at sunset at Nan Hua Temple in Bronkhorstspruit [259]
  • When I was a teenager, water colour posters of sunsets were very popular, but all these paintings showed the sun as a red ball in the sky. This image left a lasting impression on me.
  • The first digital cameras did not have a good enough dynamic range to successfully capture a sunset or sunrise with the sun in the scene.
Taken at St. Lucia in 1986. (The visible grain/noise is most likely an artifact of my not-so-good early negative scanner) [253]While preparing this article, I had to dig deep into my archives to find sunset or sunrise photos with the sun visible. As mentioned, in my early photography days, I shot exclusively in monochrome, but there were a few occasions where I did venture into the colour photography world, and interestingly enough, each one of those experiments included sunset or sunrise photos with the sun visible (most likely because this is one of the themes I did not photograph often in monochrome). Sunset photo taken near Bray in the Northern Cape during a stargazing weekend - with highlight recovery in the raw converter [257]And even those sunset/sunrise scenes, after scanning the negatives (this was only done in the late 90's though) rendered the sun as a white ball in an orange sky.

As an experiment, I tried to "fix" this white sunset ball in the raw converter using highlight recovery, but I think that we are now so used to the totally blown out sun, that this recovery looks unnatural to me. I am including both versions for you to decide which one you like better. Sunset photo taken near Bray in the Northern Cape during a stargazing weekend - without highlight recovery [256]

I sometimes shoot towards the sun, but most of the time this is done after the sun has disappeared below the horizon - in that magic time called twilight (about 20 minutes after sunset).

Shooting towards the sun without including it will very often create a nostalgic mood. The photograph at the bottom of this article is a good example showing how the dust in the air created a Sunrise photo at "the dammetjie" outside Fouriesburg [258]warm feeling. Eliminating the horizon also lowered the overall contrast contributing to the nostalgic mood.

Having fog during sunrise, shooting towards the sun will render the fog as a golden haze. A Typical Baobab tree in Limpopo [254]

When you are out in the field and you are lucky enough to have clouds, look towards the horizon where the sun will set. If you see a gap between the horizon and the clouds, there is a good possibility that the clouds will turn orange or red about 15 to 20 minutes after sunset. (This only happens to the patient photographer who lingers at the scene long after the sun has set!) The clouds in the photo of the baobab tree is a good example of this phenomenon. As a matter of interest, the baobab tree in this photo, is the one we use on the correspondence!

(If you have read up to here and did not click on a photo yet, do so to see them in larger format and also to browse through the rest of this gallery)