There are many challenges which we face when shooting against the sun. The brightness of the sun in contrast to the shadow side of a landscape creates a dynamic range, which even our eyes can’t manage at times. Additionally, we have to deal with flat colors and sun flares. Shooting against the sun is anything but easy. It’s at least hard, if not impossible to shoot a “normal” looking landscape against the sun. Here are some tips on how you can deal with the sun shining into your face.
You should screw your lens hood on and maybe even block the sun in front of your lens. Your photograph will become more saturated when you block the sun – even if it’s not in the frame. The reason is the different elements inside of your lens. When sunlight enters the glass from a flat angle, it becomes diffused within the glass and flattens the whole photograph. There is hardly a case where we want to have that effect. On location, use your hand, a filter bag, or whatever you find to block the sun. Sometimes, you can wait until the sun gets naturally blocked. Even though the area is blown out, the bright light adds to the image.
The high dynamic range of a photograph with a bright sky and a dark foreground is a big challenge, which you can work around with filters (graduated NDs) or HDR photography. In many cases, it isn’t necessary to work around it, when you can use the contrast for your purposes.
Silhouettes don’t show a lot of structure and detail, but our brain is smart enough to understand simple shapes. Usually, the simplicity of a silhouette is just beautiful. Plus, they are easy to create.
There are two easy ways to capture a silhouette. You can photograph against the sun and keep it outside of the frame, or you can place the sun directly behind your subject. In this case, you’ll get a nice rim light on the edges of your silhouette.
You need a small aperture. The blades inside of your lens give shape to your sunrays. The smaller your aperture, the more defined your sunrays. You’ve got to try a bit with your own lens to figure out what suits you best. For me, it’s all the way down to f/22. F/16 still works great, too.
If we photograph right into the full sun with f/22, it will still appear quite messy rather than defined. Hence, we need to partly obscure the sun for the best results. That might be done by a tree, the edge of a rock, or simply the horizon. But be aware: Especially in the case of the horizon, you need to be quick. The sun rises and disappears faster than it seems at the horizon.