John D. , Oct 03, 2000; 01:27 a.m.
Every film has a given range of exposure values. If a scene exceeds this range, something will either be blown out or something underexposed. The only way to correct this in the field is with a graduated ND filter. As you say, mother nature does not always cooperate with you. There are filters with a ND "spot" in the center. This might help you for your picture, but you would have to weigh the burden of carrying this filter around with you for the 1% of shots that need it.
It looks to me like this picture is just underexposed. Shots with the sun in them always play havoc on light meters and in your case with the sun towards the center, it was probably worse. The way I solve this is to either meter off the clouds or water immediately surrounding the sun or to hold my thumb up and cover the sun. In general, if the sun is a little too bright, it will not be noticed as much as the rest of the photo being dark. Both of these methods allow for a more accurate averaging of the scene. Also, in these situations, I always bracket, sometimes two in either direction. Even though it wastes film, you end up with one keeper. To me, that is a fair trade.
Hope this helps, Jacob