The Light, She Blinds Me!
August 14, 2006 5:49 AM   Subscribe

How do I take sunrise/sunset photos with a DSLR without blinding myself? I've heard that looking through a camera at the sun is bad for your eyes since it's magnifying the light. So how do I safely take pictures of a sunrise or sunset with a DSLR? Is it really that dangerous to look through the lens? Am I damaging my eye by doing so?
posted by aceyprime to Media & Arts (12 answers total)
Doesn't your DSLR have an LCD view screen? Try that?
posted by JJ86 at 5:53 AM on August 14, 2006

It's not wise to stare at the midday sun through a lens, no, but at sunrise/set the intensity is vastly, vastly reduced. You'll be fine.
posted by bonaldi at 5:58 AM on August 14, 2006

Most DSLR cameras don't have an LCD preview mode, although you can review images that have already been saved. Instead, they have optical viewfinders that instantly replicate the image "seen" by the camera. It's much more difficult to take a good motion shot with an EVF.

That said, I think a lens hood would probably help to solve aceyprime's problem. It would also provide the camera lens with additional protection from bumps and scratches. And, of course, it would make it a lot easier to take a good sunrise or sunset picture.

Best of luck!
posted by scoria at 6:16 AM on August 14, 2006

As bonaldi says, sunrise/set isn't as intensive as daytime sun - I've not damaged myself (yet, and as far as I'm aware!) but if you're really concerned, one way would be to set the camera on a tripod, pointing the right direction, and take a shot.
Review the photo after taking it, and adjust the settings accordingly - longer exposure, smaller aperture, lower ISO setting if your camera supports it.

You could also try using a filter if your lens allow such a thing. I think that this is what scoria means, as a lens hood will only stop incidental light hitting the lens from an angle - it will do nothing for shooting directly into the sun.
posted by Chunder at 6:23 AM on August 14, 2006

Best answer: You need not worry about the sun, it's not a problem to look at the sun during the periods when it's near the horizon - there's plenty of atmosphere to block all the harmful stuff.

As for getting a good shot, you might want to try (if you can afford to lay out for one of these) a graduated ND filter. It's basically a filter that's a few stops darker on one half than the other. This way you can expose the entire scene correctly, and get a nice image.
posted by god hates math at 6:27 AM on August 14, 2006

Capturing Sunsets with a DSLR can be an exciting moment and really isn't at all difficult to accomplish. The magnificent colors available make the effert wothwhile. Here's a tutorial from an outstanding photography site that explains the whole process. Have Fun.
posted by xenophanes at 7:09 AM on August 14, 2006

Look at the sun at noon. Hurts, doesn't it? Don't do that.
Look at a large white wall in the sun at noon. Hurts, doesn't it. Don't do that.
Look at the pretty sunset. It doesn't hurt does it. Do that.
posted by caddis at 7:21 AM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

By default the camera leaves the lens's aperture open as wide as possible so you can see to focus and frame. However, most SLRs have something called "DOF preview" which temporarily sets the aperture to the f-stop that will actually be used for the shot (probably f8-f11 if you're shooting outdoors). This is ostensibly to allow you to see how aperture setting will affect the depth of field, but it also has the effect of making the viewfinder much, much dimmer. So, do that if you're really worried. As others have pointed out there's not actually much to worry about, but if it hurts your eyes the DOF preview may help.
posted by kindall at 7:25 AM on August 14, 2006

If the sun is still so bright that is uncomfortable to look at, the dynamic range will be so great as to make it nearly impossible to get a decent shot. Many good sunset/sunrise pics are from when the sun is below the horizon.

Shoot RAW, so you can recover blown details from the clouds or other objects and so you can more easily adjust the color temperature.

In most good sunrise/sunset pictures, the sky is manually darkened relative to the ground, so as to bring out the colors in the sky. You can do this by 1.) dropping the money on a graduated ND filter or 2.) manually doing this in Photoshop with a Curves adjustment layer with a gradient in the layer mask.
posted by alidarbac at 7:32 AM on August 14, 2006

god hates math nails it - use an ND filter.

They are not that expensive, but they are a bit complicated to buy. You need to know your lens' size (eg, how many mm atYou need a ring for your lens size (it's about $3), you need a filter holder (standard - no need to size it) and then you need the actual filter itself. The Cokin System is what I use. My filter holder was about $20 and then I can buy each filter individually (about $20 each).

So - filter holder and lens ring, about $23, then each filter is about $20. Cokin has some beautiful special effects filters for sunsets and daytime sun as well.
posted by seawallrunner at 7:35 AM on August 14, 2006

Kindall has the right idea. If the sun is in the frame, I assume you're stopping down enough so that you shouldn't blind yourself should you use the DOF preview (provided your camera has that feature). Still, I've looked directly at the sun through the viewfinder on multiple occasions and haven't gone blind yet. It makes for interesting shots in certain situations.
posted by jal0021 at 12:42 PM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the input everyone - glad to hear it's not dangerous to view the sun during sunrise/sunset. I'll look into getting an ND filter sometime in the future - thanks for the recommendation. Doing some quick research I found my DSLR (Nikon D50 doesn't have DOF preview capability). Thanks again!
posted by aceyprime at 4:25 PM on August 14, 2006

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