You might have read my previous post about sunset portrait photography. I wasn’t entirely happy with the results I got. So I did a bit of online research and I went out to Heaton Park to try and get better pictures.
I had posted my pictures on flickr for photography critique. My friend Scott kindly pointed out that in the previous scenario, the sun was setting behind my subject, but not hitting him. This was not ‘back lighting’. To get the type of effect that I wanted, the sunlight would have to be hitting my subject from behind.
Here in England, Golden hour lasts approximately an hour before sunset now, in March. So, if the sunset is at 6.30pm, you can assume the golden hour to be approximately from 5.30pm to 6.30pm.
If you (photographer) are facing eastwards at sunrise and westwards at sunset, then you are shooting into the sunlight. Now if the sunlight is hitting your subject, it is called backlighting.
There has to be a cloudless clear sky and you have to be in a wide open area (eg: a large public park, not surrounded by tall buildings) for this type of effect.
When it is cloudy:
At 5.24pm, with the sunlight hitting the subject, but the sun is not in the picture:
At 5.25pm, with the sunlight hitting the subject, the sun is in the picture (the blown highlights in the top left of the picture) and shot from a low angle. You can see solar flare here.
At 6.06pm and 6.16pm, with the sun behind the subject, the sunlight falling on him and the sun in the frame. You can see hair-lighting or rim lighting as it is called. There is also sun flare in the picture. If you do not like the blown highlights in the sky, you can crop it out in post processing.
An interesting tip that I learned online is that the shape of the solar flare in your picture depends on the aperture you choose. At wide open you get round flares and at small apertures you get star like ones. Unfortunately I was not able to try this on this particular day. So I will have to go back again to test it out.
Like Scott says, depending upon the angle, you might get sun flares, strong rim light, or some other feature. Bottom line: if you cannot see sun light striking your subject when you look through the viewfinder, then you will not get the result.
Do you like golden hour portraits too? I hope you found something useful in this post. Have you found any other technique for sunset / sunrise portraits? Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!