I’ve always wondered what level of risk there is to my vision when I’m composing photographs with the sun in the frame. I use a DSLR camera for all my photography which, unlike point-and-shoot cameras, actually projects the image from the lens onto a mirror and then into the viewfinder. What you see in the viewfinder is exactly what is in front of the lens. I’ve always been somewhat concerned when the sun is in my shot because the sun is being focused by the lens directly into my eye.
Last week I went to the eye doctor for a routine eye exam and I asked him specifically about the risks. He said the most dangerous scenario is when the sun is centered in your photo and unobstructed. The sun can burn the back of your eye just like it can burn your skin, but unlike your skin, your eye will never recover. The damage occurs to your macular and can happen very quickly given the right circumstances. Apparently any past damage to your macular can be seen on a thorough eye exam. My doctor also said that the risk is much less if the sun is near the edge of your composition or is partially obscured by an object such as a tree or cloud. UV coatings on filters, lenses, glasses or contacts can cut down the damaging effects of the sun, but can’t eliminate them.
Most DSLR cameras made within the last few years have a Live View feature where the camera can digitally display what is in front of the lens on the LCD screen. This makes a DSLR function more like a point-and-shoot camera. This is a good way to completely eliminate the risks to your eyes when the sun is in your composition. I use Live View on my camera anytime I’m shooting photos like the one above. Your eyes are too important to risk no matter what photographic opportunity is before you.