How to Shoot Portraits Against the Sun

It’s a common refrain in photography: “Keep your back to the sun.” You generally want to shoot with the light, so it helps brighten up your image. But shooting against the sun—where the sun is behind your subject, or even visible in the photograph—can lead to great results, too, often with stark shadows and awesome contrast. Here’s a brief, five-minute video explaining how it can work:

The video’s host, German photographer Michael Zelbel, walks us through his suggestions for back-lighting models with the sun.

He’s a fan of rim lighting—that halo effect that occurs when light hits the back of the head and lightens it up. In the example below, he uses his model’s light hair to contrast against the dark background, in this case a tree:

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If the model has darker hair, Zelbel suggests you shoot against a bright background, even including a sun flare to create contrast:

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In either case, the trick to shooting against the sun is to use a strong flash to fill the foreground. It’s hard to give specifics as to what type of flash and how strong you should set it; as Zelbel explains:

“The sun in Germany, it’s not all that strong. Even on sunny days. So a little Speedlite might have plenty of power. However, in southern countries….the sun is much stronger, even on hazy days.”

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