I learnt this lesson pretty late. Since I’ve never really read anything explicitly about it, I thought I’ll share it. When is it OK to shot into the sun? Seems like an extremely important question if you want to take landscapes right? Well it’s best to separate it into two separate times. Golden hour (1-2 hours before the sun sets or after the sun rises) and sunset/sunrise plus civic twilight (20-30 minutes after or before the sun leaves or enters the horizon).
First, let’s look at the sunset/sunrise plus civic twilight (S+CT). The sun here would be very close to the horizon or just below it. At this point the sun isn’t partially strong as the light from it is being scattered quite a bit by the atmosphere. The light from the sun at civic twilight hasn’t quite disappeared; the sun’s just dropped or risen below the horizon, but as the earth is curved, the light is still reaching us, it just has to travel through more of the atmosphere. This scattering (Rayleigh scattering) causes the orange/red color at sunset/sunrise and particularly at civic twilight.
At S+CT it is best to shoot directly where the sun is rising or setting. The most color is going to come from that direction and it best to plan for a shot at a time where the sun will rise or set in the direction you plan to shot.
Now golden hour is something that’s really puzzled me. I always approached golden hour the same why I approached a sunset/sunrise, which has led to some pretty bad pictures. I have until recently just shrugged it off, as most of time I plan for the sunset/sunrise and anything at golden hour is just a bonus.
As you can see the above looks washed out. The sun just overpowers the picture and the colors and highlights look drab and lacking depth. The solution? It’s really simple and I feel kind of stupid not figuring it out earlier: don’t shot into the sun at golden hour. Why? Well the sun is higher up in the sky and more powerful, so aim for a front-lit, or more preferably side-lit subject (your camera pointed perpendicular or in the opposite direction of the sun).
I should now come away with a few more keepers, though I wish I had my head screwed on right and figured it out sooner.