If you use social media of any kind, you’ve seen tons of articles about how to take a photo of the upcoming eclipse. Some of them were created by true experts, while others were cobbled together from bits of information found hastily on Google. But photographing a solar eclipse is actually rather complicated--if you want to maximize your chances to get a good image and minimize the possibility of frying your eyes into scorched Ikea meatballs. Here, I’ll help cut through some of the noise to what’s really important for a good eclipse shot.
Here are four things to keep in mind while reading this article:
- The suggestions offered here are intended mainly for digital camera users; some comments won’t apply if you’re shooting with film or recording on tape.
- Comments about shooting totality apply only if you’re within the path of the Moon's umbra, or dark inner shadow. On August 21, 2017, this path is only about 70 miles wide but stretches from the Oregon coast to the South Carolina coast. Outside the path, you’ll have only a partial eclipse.
- You should practice before August 21, 2017, by shooting the uneclipsed Sun (filters on, of course) in the days or weeks leading up to the eclipse.
Things you will need:
1. Cell Phone With a decent camera
3. Sun filter (Filters should fit snugly over the front of all camera lenses and telescopes, but not so tight that they’re difficult to remove quickly at the start of totality.)
4. Pocket Zoom HD
Before pointing your camera at the Sun at any time other than during totality, remember to put a special-purpose solar filter over the camera lens. This will protect your setup.
Now it is very important to use a tripod on stable earth because we need the camera especially on the cellphone to be absolutely still.
Once the camera is perfectly still the manual focus on the Pocket Zoom HD is extremely important. This will make or break the shot. Don’t leave the job of focusing to your phones autofocus system. Manual focus is the way to go, and most the Pocket Zoom HD provides this option. As soon as you’re set up at your eclipse-viewing location, attach the solar filter to the lens, aim at the Sun, and focus. Take a couple of test shots to ensure that the solar limb looks sharp.
The next setting you want to adjust is your exposure on your phone. Some phones have this feature while others are completely automated. You'll really want to play around with these settings before going on site. We would recommend practicing a couple days before the big day as for some this is only a once in a lifetime event.
While the total phase of a solar eclipse always seems to pass quickly, there are sights and events within totality whose passage is even more fleeting. The diamond ring fades (or brightens) within seconds, and the red chromosphere and prominences usually aren’t visible for much longer. The challenge of imaging totality is capturing these sights during their brief appearance. Fortunately, the corona is visible throughout totality, and just about any exposure will record some part of the Sun’s pearly outer atmosphere.
But you won’t get any pictures of the total phase if you don’t remove the solar filter from your camera at the beginning of totality! If you forget, all you’ll record is blackness.
The Sun’s atmosphere varies tremendously in brightness. The inner corona shines as bright as the full Moon; the outer corona is less than 100th as bright (in other words, it’s quite dim). One exposure cannot capture this wide dynamic range. That’s why eclipse photographers shoot a sequence of exposures (using a fixed f-stop) that range from very short ones to very long ones. This gives you the best chance of capturing all aspects of the solar atmosphere.
At the short end (1/1,000 second or less), only the innermost corona clinging to the solar limb appears. At the long end (1/10 second or longer if you can hold sufficiently steady), the inner corona is burned out, but the faint tendrils of the outer corona show up nicely. There is no single correct exposure for totality, so your best bet, at any f-stop, is to shoot a sequence spanning the full range from the short exposure you used for the partial phases to the longest exposure you can manage without blurring (perhaps a few tenths of a second).
Odds and Ends
- Make sure your camera’s flash is turned off. Flashes are an annoyance and, if nothing else, spoil the mood of the spectacle.
- Some cell phones have digital zooms. Turn off the digital zoom; it’s basically useless.
- Shoot at the highest image-quality setting your camera supports.
- You may want to bring a back up battery as sometimes keeping your phone on for that long with the screen going can be battery draining.
- If you’re in the path of totality, bring a flashlight. It can get dark enough during totality that you won’t be able to see your camera settings without one!
Practice makes perfect and Solar Eclipses make killer photos. Have fun and keep shooting!