Disc of the Sun Exposure Explanation « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Disc of the Sun Exposure Explanation


It is Thursday morning 4 JAN 2018 as I begin to type. Tuesday afternoon in central Florida was cold and rainy and windy. My nonstop flight to PHX was long for whatever reason, the plane seemed as cold as it had been in Orlando. I picked up my rental car and made it to David Rosenberg’s house just after 10pm Mountain time after waking at 3am Eastern time. It was a very long day. We woke early and photographed with friend and skilled photographer Bryan Holliday at the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch. It is a tough place to shoot but with patience we did well. After my first physical therapy session and lunch at Whole Foods, we headed back to the preserve and did well again with some elegant Black-necked Stilts. I will likely give it another shot this morning …

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The Streak

Today makes one hundred fifty-eight days in a row with a new educational blog post! This one took less than an hour to prepare including the time spent optimizing the image. With all of my upcoming free time (or not …), the plan right now is to break the current record streak of 480 … Good health and good internet connections and my continuing insanity willing.


Booking.Com came through for me twice again recently with both the DeSoto Fall IPT and next July’s UK Puffins, Gannets, and Bempton Pre-trip room reservations. And all the rates were great. If you’d like to give Booking.Com a shot, click here and you will earn a $25 reward. Thanks to the many who have already tried and used this great service.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of folks whom I see in the field, and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail. Those questions might deal with systems, camera bodies, accessories, and/or lens choices and decisions.

This image was created down by the lake near my home at Indian Lake Estates, FL on the evening of December 22. I used the Induro GIT304L Grand Series 3 Stealth Carbon Fiber Tripod/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 2X III, and my favorite silhouette photography camera body, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. ISO 200 in Av mode. WB: K7500 at 5:31pm with just a bit of haze in front of the sun.

LensAlign/FocusTune micro-adjustment: -10.

Manual focus with rear focus set. Click on the image to enjoy a larger version.

Boat-tailed Grackle, singing male at sunset.

The Disc of the Sun Exposure Answers

In the Dime a Dozen Part IV: It’s Just a Boat-tailed Grackle. And some really tough exposure questions … blog post here, I asked, with regards to the image above, Knowing that the ISO was 200 and that I was in Av mode, what do you think the exposure compensation was? What do you think the shutter speed was? And what do you think the aperture was?

The Exposure compensation was -4 stops — yes Virginia, many of the current camera bodies can show up to +/- five full stops of EC. The shutter speed was 1/8000 sec. And the aperture was f/16. All that with the sun somewhat muted by a very light cloud on the western horizon …

The Big Lesson …

The big lesson here is not the exposure data, but how I got there. And how I got there is exactly how I get to the right exposure 99% of the time. From experience, I knew that I would need to lower the ISO, use a very high shutter speed, and set a very small aperture. I don’t remember exactly where I started but I do know that the the brightest part of the sun, the yellow in the upper third of the disc, was toasted with totally blinking highlights. So I increased the shutter speed and went to a smaller aperture. Took another image, and then rechecked. And then repeated once or twice more until the blinkies were gone. Same as with every other image, just a bit harder because of the extreme brightness of the sun.

In the Exposure Simplified/Creating 11 a.m. Silhouettes section of The Art of Bird Photography II (ABP II: 916 pages, 900+ images on CD) there is a still-amazing image of a single Snow Goose in flight against the disc of the sun. Here is the caption:

Snow Goose against bright sun, Bosque Del Apache NWR, NM

Canon 500mm f/4L IS lens with stacked 1.4 and 2X II TCs and EOS-1D Mark II. ISO 50. Manual Mode: 1/8000 sec. at f/64. I remember jumping for joy when I first saw this image on the camera’s LCD. In retrospect, I wish that I had pressed the shutter a fraction of a second sooner so that the bird would have been positioned a bit farther back in the frame.


  • 1-I now refer to “11am Silhouettes” as “Blasting Highlights” situations.
  • 2-As far as I know it is no longer possible to focus accurately with stacked teleconverters when using Series III TCs.

If my math is correct, the exposure for the Snow Goose image was five stops brighter than the exposure for the grackle image: f/16 — f/32 — f/64 is two stops darker, ISO 50 — ISO 100 — ISO 200 is three stops darker. That adds up to a total of five stops brighter. What’s my point? My point is that really serious students of bird photography would have stored that exposure information in their heads so that in similar situations they would have a clue as to where to begin when attempting to photograph the disc of the sun …

Here is some safety information adapted from the same section in ABP II:

Photographing the Bright Sun

This is perhaps the most challenging exposure and silhouette situation. Images in this category are created on clear days with the sun up and fully clear of the horizon. The sky around the sun in these situations is an extremely bright white. It appears black in the photographs because we are underexposing as much as possible in an effort to keep from overexposing the blazing blasting sun. When photographing the bright sun on a clear day, care must be taken not to damage one’s eyes. If you look away from the sun and the world looks at all purplish, it is best to cease and desist or risk serious and permanent eye damage. In addition, it is best to restrict such efforts to one half hour after sunrise and one half hour before sunset. If it is hazy or the sun is at all obscured by thin clouds or fog, you can figure your exposures normally.

The text that follows the section above details a technique that allows you to create such images without risking eye damage.

More on Coming Soon

February 2018 Spoonbill Boat IPT (definite!)
Two Fort DeSoto IPTs (April and May, 2018)
Three Gatorland IPTs (March, April, and May, 2018 — including early entry and late stay — tentative)
Three Sandhill Crane chicks and colts Master Classes at Indian Lake Estates (March)

The Master Classes will be small groups — strictly limited to four photographers — with the first folks who register staying at my home and the others staying at a chain motel in Lake Wales. Live, think, and breathe photography from Friday afternoon through lunch on Monday morning; all meals included. We will enjoy three morning photography sessions with the main subjects being tame Sandhill Cranes almost surely with chicks or colts. Also vultures and Cattle Egrets and more. Limpkins possible. There will be three afternoon photo sessions with hopefully glorious sunsets like the ones you have been seeing on the blog recently. I will micro-adjust one of your lenses during a group instructional session and all will be welcome to practice what they have learned during the breaks using my lighting gear. We will sit together around my dining room table and pick everyone’s keepers, enjoy guided Photoshop sessions, and, on Monday before lunch, folks can make a single large print of their favorite image.

Folks who would like advance notice on any of the above are welcome to shoot me an e-mail.

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