Taking photographs directly into the sun can create dramatic effects, but typically causes lens flare and tends to disrupt the color-balance circuitry in a digital camera (Figure A). How can we keep the highlights on the rocks and the backlighting of the cactus spines, while eliminating solar effects and restoring the blue sky? The technique described here won’t salvage any pictures that you’ve taken already, but it will help you to avoid the problem in the future.
1. Block the real sun
When you’re taking the picture, hide the sun, simply by sticking your fingers into the frame (Figure B).
2. Erase your hand
After taking the picture, open it with a photo-editing application and replace the fingers with blue sky, using the Clone tool followed by the Gaussian Blur filter (in Photoshop) or any other technique that creates a smooth result (Figure C). If you’re on a budget you may find that Photoshop LE is affordable, especially on eBay.
The foreground looks unreal without any source of light, so with the next step let’s make our own sun, which we can keep under control so that it doesn’t ruin the picture.
3. Insert a fake sun
If you have Photoshop, use the Marquee tool to select the upper two-thirds of the sky, and use the Feather option to soften the edges of your selection. Now go to Filter ⇒ Render ⇒ Lens Flare. A little flare will help to make the picture look realistic.
4. Adjust the brightness
Make a circular selection, centered on the fake sun, and feather the edges a lot. Increase the brightness of this area. You can make repeated selections of different sizes and adjust their brightness until everything looks right (Figure D).
Some will say this is cheating, but old-school photographers used all kinds of fakery with an enlarger in a darkroom. The difference is that digital processing is quicker, cheaper, easier, and a lot more fun.