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.)