Photography & Video
Flashback: Make Your Own Sun
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Ever have the perfect shot framed with the exception that the sun is in the wrong place? Not to worry — you can always fake it. Back in MAKE Volume 13, in the Upload imaging section, Charles Platt taught us the quick and easy way to make your own sun. Check it out.

Make Your Own Sun
Create dramatic back-lighting effects with image editing software.
By Charles Platt

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 (above left). 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.

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Step 1: Block the real sun.
When you’re taking the picture, hide the sun, simply by sticking your fingers into the frame.

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Step 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. 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.

Step 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.

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Step 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.

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.

6 thoughts on “Flashback: Make Your Own Sun

  1. Nice article, and I agree with
    >> digital processing is quicker, cheaper, easier

    but I don’t agree with
    >> and a lot more fun.

    Taking photos with a camera you need to meter and then developing the negs in your own kitchen, in the soup of your choice, is a LOT more fun and immensely more satisfying. Nowadays I take 12 or maybe 24 thoughtful photos in a day instead of 300. I love to turn on the radio, make a nice cup o’ joe, and go through the zen-like process of processing. Loading the film on the developing reel blindly, measuring out my chemistry, thinking about my agitation technique, and the VOILA of the final product is just awesome.

    B&W photography is far, far from dead. It’s relatively inexpensive and a great way to get really involved with your (dad’s) camera. Processing B&W film could be a great topic for a MAKE article.

  2. For those of you on a really tight budget, try the Free stuff from Aviary.com. I’ve been using it for various things since I found out about it, and I absolutely love it. Not being able to drop even $100 on editing software, aviary’s Phoenix and Raven editors let you alter photos or create images from anywhere, save them to your account, and see them from anywhere too. I love it!

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at snowgoli@gmail.com or via @snowgoli.

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