When starting out with photography you will often hear that you should never face into the sun when taking photos on a sunny day. This isn’t though a ‘rule’ but until you learn all the settings on your camera and understand how light works it will make your job far easier. To be able to successfully ‘shoot’ into the sun it’s important to understand what your camera sees and what photos it will produce both with and without the right settings.
The main reason why people are told not to face into the sun is due to how modern digital cameras expose a scene. The camera ‘meters’ how much light is hitting the sensor and unless shooting in full manual the camera will make a decision as to how much light it lets in. There are normally several types of metering that can be used, including spot, partial, centre-weighted and evaluative. The default for most cameras is evaluative metering which takes in to account the amount of light across the whole picture whereas spot metering is on the other end of the scale and looks at only the light at the very centre of the image. When shooting into the sun no matter which metering mode you use, you will have a large amount of light hitting the sensor, this will make the camera mis expose the photo normally under exposing. The problem is this then actually results in an under exposed photo to varying degrees dependent on where the sun is in the frame and which metering mode you are using.
You can correct incorrectly exposed shots in three ways, firstly in post processing (not advised!), or alternatively in camera either by shooting in full manual or using exposure compensation. Personally I prefer to use exposure compensation as I often shoot in situations where the light changes second by second so I find it easiest, but many others will shoot in full manual mode. Neither method is wrong, you just need to use the one that best suits you and your camera. To use exposure compensation correctly you basically tell the camera to over or under expose the photo. You have to decide and therefore tell the camera by how much though, which is a learnt art. Normally I can make an educated guess but will often take a test shot to get a more accurate level. Full manual mode works in very much the same way but you decide all three settings (shutter speed, ISO & F stop) yourself whereas the camera decides 1 or 2 of the 3 if using exposure compensation.
To view the exposure in both exposure compensation (and where you also amend it) and full manual you can view it in the display panel at the top of the camera and also through your view finder. You can also adjust it via the rear LCD panel through the settings. How you amend exposure compensation will depend on how you have your camera set up but it can be as simply as turning the rear dial.
Another issue with facing the sun is that your camera may struggle to focus. The focus system relies on areas of contrast to correctly judge the distance of the object and therefore correctly focus. Shooting towards the sun creates a haze which can easily cause the camera to lose focus. You can guarantee you will lose focus when photographing a one off event such as a horse jumping a fence!
The haze the sun creates can create some lovely photos if you are looking for a soft look, but in turn can make competition photos look washed out. Lightroom does now have a dehaze tool but this can only retrieve an image so much.
If wanting to maintain contrast and shadows in the photo then under exposing the scene can work well to create near (like the featured tank image) or full silhouettes.
Another major issue is lens flare, it can make or break an image. Lens flare is created when direct sunlight hits the lens at just the right (wrong!) angle. You can reduce the chance of lens flare by using a hood, cleaning your lens and using as few filters as possible. Sometimes it is unavoidable though so either move slightly to adjust where the flare falls in the photo (a few inches can literally be enough sometimes) or move yourself or your subject so you are not shooting into the sun. It is no good a photo being otherwise perfect if it is ruined by lens flare.
Without doubt if shooting into the sun the best time to do so is the golden hour. There are actually two per day, the first the hour after sunrise and the second the hour before sunset. At this time the sun is low in the sky creating longer shadows. The light is softer with an orange glow quality which results in particularly striking warm images.
Once you know how to control how your camera exposes, you can look at the results that you can produce by facing into the sun. Below are some good and bad examples of what can be achieved.