Photographing Sports by Shooting into the Sun
Everyone loves to shoot with soft, warm sunlight at their backs. We love the images that can be obtained from either golden hour sunlight or the sunlight that is filtered through puffy cumulus clouds that form a giant soft box in the sky.
But what about those days when the sun is harsh, with no clouds overhead and the athletes are wearing a helmet, cap or visor? The shadows can detract from what would otherwise be a good photo.
The solution can be to shoot into the sun. When the helmet or visor puts the athlete's face in total shadow, the harsh shadow lines are eliminated.
Compare the harsh facial shadows in this image:
With this image shot into the direction of the sun.
Compare this shot with the sun at my back:
With this shot into the setting sun:
As you look at the images shot in the direction of the sun, you will notice that the shoulders and the top of the head appears over exposed or even completely burned out. This is the unavoidable consequence of the over exposure (as metered by the camera) required to properly expose for the face which is now in full shadow. How much exposure compensation is appropriate? Since I often shoot football at +1/3 EC (exposure compensation), I will usually shoot Aperture preferred at +2/3 or even +1.0 EC when shooting into the sun. I use the histogram, the "blinkies", and the LCD to get the exposure correct. A light meter can be used as well. If the light levels are static, you can shoot Manual once you've figured out the proper exposure.
1/3200 sec. f/2.8, 400mm, ISO 400, Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS
The bottom line? If the shadows are harsh consider shooting into the sun. Boost the exposure as necessary to properly expose the face. Shooting tight will help the shot. This is an ideal technique when the athletes are wearing head gear but can be used when none is worn as well. Since the athletes are not looking into the sun, their eyes will be wide open. Let the top of the shoulders and head burn out if necessary.
Sometimes I shoot into the sun by choice and other times by necessity. Either way, it is a good technique to have available and a must to have as part of the complete photographer's bag of tricks.
Philip S. Zivnuska