How to Shoot a Photo With Sun Flare

Emily is in the middle of a cotton field wearing a floral dress and a sweater falling off the shoulder. This is a great image to show how to shoot a photo with sun flare.

This is by far the most pinned photo from I Do Declare Boutique, so I decided to ask my photographer (hi, mom!) to write a tutorial about how to shoot a photo with sun flare.

Typically when we take photos for the boutique we make sure that our photos are sharp and clear so that people can really see the clothes. However, this particular day I had an exact vision of what I wanted from this shoot in a cotton field and it was all about getting a soft, pretty, hazy look.

This particular photo has mostly been pinned to boards with ideas for senior photos, but just imagine how pretty this effect would be for engagement shoots, or a bride, or a maternity shoot, or….just something special for your blog or Instagram!

Shots that incorporate the soft backlit feeling can be a great addition to your photography repertoire! So here you go – how to shoot a photo with sun flare!

  • Choose the perfect time of day. The best time is when the sun is going down, but before you hit the golden hour. You want the sun to be above the tree lines or buildings or whatever might be behind the subject, if the sun is too low you won’t get the flare effect.   Try a couple of hours more or less before sunset. We have also tried getting shots like this early in the morning and although those morning shots are gorgeous in their own way, morning light has a bluer, clearer, less glowy quality than late afternoon light. Afternoon works best.
  • Choose the perfect positioning. Your subject should have their back to the sun, but other than that you need to try a lot of different things. Have them turn slightly, move into different positions yourself, get the subject to block the entire sun with their head or body, let the sun peek out a bit from one side, shoot from different angles to see what looks the prettiest. Experiment and have fun with this!

In this photo (obviously shot the same day as the photo above) the sun was just over Emily’s right shoulder and partially blocked by her hair.

Young woman in a cotton field with an off the shoulder top, great example of how to shoot a photo with sun flare.

And in this shot the sun is off to her right side.

great example of how to shoot a photo with sun flare.

  • Shoot on manual! If you shoot on automatic your camera will want to underexpose the subject. This will cause your subject to be too dark, even to the point of being like a silhouette, not what you are going for in this situation. You will have to shoot on manual in order to adjust your settings so that the subject is exposed properly even if doing so causes the back ground to be over exposed.
  • Your aperture setting matters! We shot these photos with a wide open (low number) aperture so that the sun flare would be soft and hazy. If you want your flare to look more defined where you can see the rays like a sunburst your aperture setting should be much smaller (a high number.)
  • If your camera has a lens hood – remove it. The whole purpose of a lens hood is to prevent sun flare.
  • It can be really difficult for your camera to focus when shooting into the sun. I compose the shot and then just use my hand to block the light momentarily so that the camera can focus and then remove my hand and shoot! If you are shooting with an open aperture you will have to be very careful not to move the camera after you get the focus before you take the shot.
  • We didn’t use a reflector for these shots, but if you are shooting with the sun behind your subject a reflector can give you that extra light you need to make the photo really pop without the background being too overexposed. The problem with a reflector is you either need a third person to hold it or you need to bring a stand for it.
  • The type of cloud cover or lack of clouds can really make a difference. On this day we had high, thin clouds that created a very diffuse light to give us this hazy look. If the day had been cloudless the look of these shots would have been less hazy and we might have captured some typical sun flare circles. We might have needed to shoot at a different angle which is why it is important to be willing to experiment with your particular situation!

All of these photos were taken with an 85mm lens with the aperture set at 1.8.

Here is our most loved Pinterest photo in its RAW form, un-cropped and unedited.

how to shoot a photo with sun flare

And here it is after editing:

Model is in a cotton field with a soft hazy look in the photo. Example of how to shoot a photo with sun flare.

As you can see we didn’t do much to it! We just warmed it very slightly, brightened it a bit and actually took out a teeny bit of the haze so that you could see the details of the clothes a little better.

And just to see the contrast, here is a photo taken the same day with the same lens and camera settings, but Emily is turned so that the sun is to her side and just barely in front rather than to her back. Completely different look!

how to shoot a photo with sun flare

Thanks to my mom, for giving me all these pointers! By the way, she was a photographer long before I became a blogger.

Oh, and if you decide to shoot in a cotton field ask permission from the farmer and wear shoes that will protect you from snakes! I had on cowboy boots!


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