Diagram of a Zeiss 21mm 2.8 Distagon lens © Carl Zeiss
In short, when I point my lens at the sun, I know it can handle it. It maintains beautiful contrast and when I step the aperture down to f10 or higher, it will create perfectly formed sun rays (see image 1 for an example).
This doesn’t mean you can’t use cheaper glass — just be aware that it can react quite differently and you need to be able to manage that through positioning, exposure, and time of day.
One trick for managing unflattering lens flares is putting the sun in one corner, just outside of the frame. Which brings me on to my first in-field tip….
3. For sun haze, put the sun at the edge or outside of the frame
When shooting into the sun, one of the best effects you can create is a beautiful atmospheric ‘sun haze’.
To do this, put the sun just outside the frame, and take your lens hood off. This will allow the sun to filter into the edge of the lens glass and reduce the contrast of the scene, giving it a really atmospheric look.
For really thick haze, keep the aperture wide open (see below).
4. For sun stars, stop down the aperture
This one’s pretty straightforward. If you shoot into the sun wide open, you will get a big, overexposed blob where the sun is.
Wide open means a lens is at its lowest “f-stop” number (e.g. f2.8).
Stepping down, paradoxically, means bumping the “f-stop” number up. I usually recommend about f10 for good sun stars.
f10 is also where most lenses perform best in terms of distortion, vignetting and edge softness (which are generally all bad things, particularly for landscapes). So it’s a win-win!
What happens when you stop down the aperture is that tiny little blades in the lens close inwards to reduce the light hitting the sensor (hence the exposure is reduced).