Sun or No Sun?

In actual life there is no question, like a solar panel I need the rays of the sun to energize me everyday. In my images it is a different story. Having the sun in the frame will burn out the red channel on a digital sensor and leave an ugly yellow brownish/greenish halo around the sun. To my eyes this looks even worse on print than on screen. Film or transparencies have a much nicer gentler curve so they cope much better with the sun in the frame, but digital is unforgiving.

This does mean I delete images that otherwise are quite nice, but have a small burned out area from the sun. As I just started developing RAW files from Namibia, I ran into two of these images. So now I am asking you dear reader, what do you think of having the sun in the frame? Do you like it? Does it distract you? Do you dislike it? And photographers; what do you do to make images like these work – or do you delete them as I do?

As examples I present two sunset images from driving 6 hours through the Namibian desert, from the capital of Windhoek to Swakopmund on the coast. A most special day with beautiful cloud cover (very rare) and 30 seconds of rain in the afternoon (very rare!).

Namib desert into the sun 2. Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Namib desert into the sun 1. Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

My Namibian friends tell me it was a day that happens once in 10 years. I am amazed by the big reflection of the sun in the grass. But, both images also have burned out sun, so please let me know if you think they work as I am not so sure.


30 responses to “Sun or No Sun?

  1. Definitely the first one Flem, my reason being I prefer the road leading from left to right and the light is playing with more shadows give the capture added texture and highlights or m tastes …

  2. Kære Flemming

    Jeg har da aldrig tænkt over dette fænomen før! På billede 1 ( synes jeg at ‘napoleonshatten’ omkring solen er irriterende og trækker fokus væk fra de resterende del af billedet. Min hjerne bliver simpelthen for optaget af dette mærkelige fænomen.

    På billede 2 er solen helt OK.


    • Thanks! I agree with the white spot being too big and annoying in the first image. Completely black or white areas in photos is to be avoided. They are like black holes, they suck the attention of the viewer right away and fixate the eye but there is no detail there for the eye to enjoy.

  3. I was just wondering… this an HDR?
    I think the 2nd one is better compared to the first one (despite the halo) . In the 1st one the sun seems to seek more attention.
    PS- Your tutorials have been very useful. Thank you for sharing.

    • Hello, thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoy my tutorials! No this is not an HDR, I very ever rarely do HDRs. These are cropped single shots, 17mm, just a tiny bit of shadow detail has been recovered using curves but not much.

  4. don’t like the sun in the images mate. I think it might have been better to let it blow even more. This would open up the light in the foreground more and the blown out area might look softer and you would lose that yellow greenish colour.

    • I am with you, don’t like that yellow greenish colour which I why I usually don’t use these shots. It is interesting to get everyone’s opinion on it though.

      Blowing it out more is worth trying, will have a go at that.

  5. great post Flem.
    very interesting in deed.

    personally i think the sun can work in frame.
    when it is right, it can have tremendous impact.
    but it seems that it is a very very fine line between it working, and not working- and when it doesn’t, it does look terrible.

    i’ve got a image from a lil while back where i was asking the same question and been meaning to post it as i really want to hear ppl’s views on it also. been a lil slack lately on the blog front haha

  6. mmmm, that image does make for a top header too!! 🙂

  7. yeah the one ya got there now 🙂

    that worries me if it comes up worse in print too.
    i’ve not printed this one yet, so may need to do a tester me thinks…

  8. Hi Flemming, I prefer the second image over the first, the white hole draws the attention away from the rest of the scene.

  9. Definitely the first one. Burned out sun and cloud are not a problem at all – they look very natural. Also the clouds on the first image are more drematic.

  10. Three words Albert……

    I just shot a pano on the weekend that I really like… except for burt out sunrise, Ill email it to ya and see what you think…. Hope all is cruzy back home in downtown Copenhagen

  11. Burnt out sun does not worry me. In saying that I am only looking at a small image, if it was to be printed large I may change my mind.

  12. i don’t really like they way digital cameras burn out the sun. films handle it much nicer but i still find it distracting with expansive shots. however, using the sun with big zoom lenses and silhouettes can be quite intriguing.

    • Hi Cain thanks for the comment. I agree on the sensor vs film problem, film is much better at handling burnt highlights. Problem with digital sensors is the red channel naturally burns out before the others, so the burned out area is left with a lot of green and blue = ugly.

  13. hey Flem,

    okies – i’ll put my 2cents up.

    I find rarely does inluding the sun benefit or work in landscape photography – it’s strange as a lot of non serious photographers seem to like it – the rest of us generally avoid it. As you mentioned the film/sensor capabilities to handle it play a bit of a role but I think that generally it’s a no go zone – but if you can make it work – then it works ! (these don’t really for me as something I would ‘buy’. )

    Film – 95% of shots, no sun IMO.
    Digital – no sun ever…it should be programmed that if you point your sensor at the sun then it melts.

    Whilst these are both nice shots and compositions and I understand the rariety of the event but my eyes just squirms at that ‘sun’.

    In saying this there is definitely No harm in keeping them for your own reference of your magical trip that is for sure – that’s what I’d certainly do.


    • Thanks for putting up your 2 cents Tony 🙂 I agree with almost everything you say, but like you say, a lot of people buying photos like it where as photographers don’t – so it’s quite interesting to hear peoples reactions to this.

      Oh and when I say ‘deleted’ I don’t actually delete them, I keep them for myself, I just don’t put them up for sale. Perhaps I should, I reckon photographers are the worst at picking what actually sells, I know I am 😀

  14. Neither of those shots particularly bother me,. they are quite nice, they are not stunners but they don’t bother me, although the bottom one is a little to “pink” for me.

    If it works it works, if it doesn’t it doesn’t…simple.

    • Thanks Merv. No they’re not stunners, actually I was not going to use them at all, just keep them for me but I wanted to check how people actually feel about having the sun in the image. Seeing some people like it though, they may find their way to my website, I can never pick what sells anyway!

      “If it works it works” is a great saying. Only what works for some doesn’t work for others I guess 🙂

  15. Flemming, if only you could know what others like, the game would be a giggle.

  16. hey Flem bot

    I finally got around to posting that image with the sun/sunflare I was talking about here- only took 2 months hey 😛

    would love your honest, brutal opinion as always 🙂

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