Sun flare portraits can be quite tricky to get right but your perseverance is rewarded with beautiful images when you finally manage to catch one just right.
Shooting with the sun as a backlight to create sun flare portraits creates all sorts of problems. For a start your camera is thinking “what the hell is going on here” when you point it anywhere near the 20 Zillion candle power brightness of the sun. It’s metering system goes AWOL and you can forget auto-focus giving you anything like an accurate result. All that light bouncing around inside the lens (especially at a wide aperture) will cause you major problems.
Anyone who has shot photos in a studio using high-key lighting and a white background will know that overexposing the background too much will mean a lot of glare entering the lens which has the effect of lowering the contrast of your subject, sometimes quite drastically. But it is this exact same effect that gives sun flare portraits their dreamy washed-out effect
The Technique For Sun Flare Portraits
Well in a nutshell you plonk your model down in a setting where the sun is behind them in relation to the camera. In the above example the sun isn’t directly behind the lovely Amy, it’s about 25 degrees to my right, so not as dramatic effect, but still loads of direct sunlight flooding into the lens.For this to work the sun needs to be fairly low in the sky (which it is almost all winter,) and you can control the amount of flare you get with the aperture setting of your camera. The example shot above was shot at f5.0, ISO 100, 125th of a second exposure with a focal length of 90mm on a cropped sensor.
You are really going to need to shoot in RAW as you will need as much latitude as possible in post processing to drag those highlights back and to bring your subject out of the shadows. It helps to know whether your camera handles highlights better than shadows in order to set your exposure correctly.
Sun flare portraits look a bit iffy straight out of the camera so you will almost certainly want to enhance them in post-processing. Lightroom is ideal for this purpose and it won’t take you long before you can get that late summer’s evening look to your photos… even if they were taken in February as was the photo above.
I have saved the settings I used to create these images as a Lightroom preset that can be downloaded below (this is FREE to registered site users only, register on the home page.)
This tutorial will show you how to do a fairly simple Photoshop skin smooth but this technique does not leave the skin looking fake and plastic-like as seen a lot in these kind of tutorials.
The image used for this tutorial can be downloaded here
1. The Image
When you have downloaded the image open it up in Photoshop, you are going to be using the surface blur filter and I believe that this wasn’t available in older versions so hopefully you’ll have a recent copy. As always when you have loaded the image your first step is to hit Ctrl-J (Cmd-J Max) this duplicates the background layer and gives you a fresh layer to work on. This is good practice for virtually all Photoshop work as you always have a copy of the original image unmodified. Usually you would clear up any major defects with the clone tool or healing brush but there is nothing to do with this one so just skip that step.
2. Surface Blur
For this tutorial we are going to use surface blur. If you have done tutorials like this before you will know that Gaussian blur is widely used. Surface blur is better in this case and gives us better control over what we are going to do. Make sure the top layer is selected and then hit fliter/blur/surface blur and the settings dialog box comes up. The settings you use will vary from image to image, it’s a matter of playing with the sliders until they produce the required amount of blur, for this image use the settings as shown below.
3. Adding a Layer Mask
Although surface blur tries to be selective in what it blurs it is still not accurate enough for what we need so we have to control what parts of the image are blurred by using a layer mask. Go to Layer/Layer Mask/Hide All to create a mask that hides all of our blurred layer. We are now going to paint back in the part of the layer that we need, hit ‘B’ to go to your brush, hit ‘D’ to select default colours (white foregound,) select a soft edged brush and using the [ ] keys to change the size paint on to the layer mask to reveal the blur. Make sure your brush opacity is set to 100%. At any point you can hover your mouse over the mask’s icon in the layer pallet and ALT+click and you will get a display of the actual mask as shown below. ALT+click again to get rid of it. Paint over her skin, avoiding eyes, lips, hair etc. If you make a mistake simply hit ‘X’ to switch the paint colour to black and this will effectively erase your mistakes when you paint with it. Hit ‘X’ again to revert back to white.
4. Adding Texture Back
Once you are satisfied with your mask hover your mouse over the mask icon and hit CTRL-Click. This makes a selection of just the mask, but you need to transfer this selection to the background layer so click on the bottom layer in the layer pallet. Click CTRL-J to make a new layer from the selection and then click on filter/other/high pass. Move the slider all the way to the left and then feed the effect in gradually until a slight glow appears, I found this to be at about 3.8, click ok to apply the filter.
5. Finishing Touches
Grab the layer that you have just created and drag it to the top of the pile so it’s the top layer, change the layer blending mode to Soft Light. Now play about with the opacity of the top layer until you get the desired effect. I thought 62% looked about right. And that’s it, a nice skin make over that looks natural too.