As you know, the Sun is strong, so you should never look directly to it without proper eye protections as it can damage your eyes.
You can shoot Sun Rays any time of the day the only difference is the color of the shot, surroundings, distance between the sun and the earth and so on. So there are no rules about that, just go out there and experiment and find out what you like.
I personally like to photograph the Sun Rays in the morning or evening twilight as the sky is more colorful and it‘s nice to have only half of the Sun in the picture (when it’s peeking over the horizon). It gives the shot a special effect.
Find your right place for your shot and be there at least half an hour to one hour before sunrise and get yourself in place. It’s always good to be ready when you start shooting so you know that the gear is functioning right.
Find out the time of the sunrise or sunset.
Check the weather. If it’s cloudy – Stay home as there will be no sun.
Like I mentioned before, it’s nice to shoot in the golden hour, when the Sun is close to the horizon as the sunlight comes in at a different angle. This creates a warmer, golden color, whereas during midday, there is a cooler (bluish) or more neutral color. The blue hour is a darker and different stage of twilight where the blue light dominates. You should try to shoot during different times of day so you know the difference.
If you can find a place where you have a Lake, or if you can be near to the ocean, you could get a nice reflection in the shot which will pop up the image.
Small clouds in the sky, early morning mist or even fog can add a nice touch to the landscape and sometimes it adds a little mystery or a nice reflection to the shot.
Use the rule of third so the image will look more professional.
I recommend a DSLR Camera.
Today I’m using Canon EOS 5D MK IV but I have been taking shots of sun rays since I had an EOS 300D and it worked quite well.
You will be shooting towards the strong sunlight and it is believed that they will protect your sensor.
There are many brands on the market nowadays and the prices are getting more reasonable. I started out with LEE filters as they were the best ones you could get ten years ago. Since then, technology has been discarded and new filters have emerged.
After testing several types of filters, I came to the conclusion that Kase filters are best suited for me and give me the most natural color scheme. They are easy to set up and it doesn’t hurt that if you drop them onto the ground they will not break or scratch easily. It is a very big advantage because sometimes there can be accidents in the dark or on a windy days. Another advantage is that it is very simple to wipe the dew off the glass, unlike the LEE filters.
Later I will write an article on these two filters.
They will give you different color effects as you rotate them and decrease the unwanted reflection
Graduated neutral density filter:
They are darker on the top and become lighter on the bottom. They prevent the blow-out in the sky as there is so much difference of light between the sky and the ground
Revers Graduated neutral density filter:
They are darker in the middle and become lighter on the top. They prevent the blow-out when the sun comes out from behind the horizon or the mountain. I use it often with really good results.
A Tripod is a must.
Using a tripod will let your camera stay steady and your photo look sharp and the sun rays crispy.
You will face a problem if you are hand-holding your camera, there is much more chance of camera shake.e.
Remote / Shutter:
Also it’s a must have. Use your timer (your camera’s self-timer), a shutter with a cord, or a remote without a cord to minimize camera shake.
I focus near the Sun, not into the Sun so it should not be a problem. Also you can manual focus if you are good at it.
Please don´t forget to take spare Batteries with you. Its frustrating if you are on the field and you are out of power. If that happens, just enjoy the sunrise =:-)
It’s a good choice to use the Spot Metering. It handles bright light really well. If your camera does not have Spot Metering, then Partial Metering would be your next best choice. I use auto focus, with the focus point set a little bit to the aside the Sun.
I always use RAW. It’s an uncompressed format and holds all the information in the photo, so the after-work is easy.
Take more than one shot.
Remember to take a good Flashlight or Head light as it will be dark on the location. I’m using a head light because I need my hands to be free.
Lets Do it:
Let’s start by putting the ISO to 100 (lowest grain in your photo)
I usually put my camera on Aperture Priority Mode (AV on a Canon). This way, I’m able to switch the aperture setting faster to get different Sun Rays. An open aperture, like f/5.6, will give you a soft spread of Sun Rays and a small aperture, like f/22, will give you stronger, more defined Rays.
One thing you have to know is that a small aperture requires more time to take the photo. The longer time it takes, the more chance there is for camera shake. So use a tripod to avoid that..
Different apertures will give you a variety of images to choose from when you’re editing. Play with the aperture, just to see the difference when you come home and find out what settings and combination you like and what kind of effect you want in your photo.
One important thing you should keep in mind is not to overexpose the image if possible. If that happens the pixels have become pure white and there is no way to recover any detail information from them. In some part of the Sun it will be but try to keep it as little as possible. That’s why it’s good to use the filters as described earlier.
When you are at the location, just take your time. Take test shots, move around and find the right composition and make sure everything is in order.
I recommend that you should use the rule of thirds where you place your object off-center either a third or two-thirds into the image. It’s also nice to find a good foreground like lake, river, waterfall or just a nice stone so you get a more 3D effect in your shot, it will make your shot look more professional.
There is also another common trick to use, mountain, tree or what ever to partially hide the sun. This will allow you to capture different rays, or it could put the rays in just the right spot, and create exactly the look you want. This all will add an artistic touch to the object you’re shooting.
Take lot of pictures while you are at it with different Apertures, so you will see all the different shapes of the flares. From sharp to smoothe. Use the Apertures from 22 to 5,6 or 2,8.
Edit your images just as you like.
It is your photo and you can do with it what ever you like. You can crop, add contrast, tweak colors and so much more in some processing software online or bought, to get the tuch you are looking for.