How to Photograph a Solar Eclipse
The solar eclipse is one of the most beautiful and unique occurrences that happens in nature and many people still dont know how to photograph a solar eclipse. If you aren’t already familiar with the solar eclipse and what it is—it occurs whenever the moon’s shadow falls on the earth.
A solar eclipse can only happen during the New Moon when the moon passes between the sun and earth. In short, there are only about two or three solar eclipses a year, if we’re lucky—and these are mostly only partial eclipses.
While solar eclipses don’t happen every day—but when they do, any adventurous photography is obviously going to want to take as many images as they can of this unique natural phenomenon.
A great photo of a solar eclipse is one of the most beautiful things you can take an image of. A not so great photo of a solar eclipse is just going to look like nothing but darkness.
The good news is, we can walk you through a few steps and some pointers that will help you photograph a solar eclipse the right way and to make sure that you come away with fantastic looking photos. After all, it is important that you are able to capture your photos right the first time, as it will be a while before the next solar eclipse comes around.
With this in mind, here is your ultimate guide to photographing a solar eclipse and getting photos that you will love.
Step One: Protect Your Eyes
This is the most important step when looking at, or photographing, a solar eclipse—and it is not a step that should be taken lightly. You should never look at the sun during a solar eclipse without proper eye protection. It can seriously damage your eyes or even cause blindness.
This does not mean using a standard pair of sunglasses to look at the solar eclipse. There are two different options, you can either project or filter the sun’s rays to protect your eyes. There are many photographers that forget about this step because they are so focused on the image.
There are projectors, professional eclipse glasses (from the American Astronomical Society) and solar filters available to protect your eyes during the eclipse—make sure to use them. Here are a few other safety tips to keep in mind as you photograph the next solar eclipse:
- Make sure that your camera is fitted with a certified solar filter.
- Do not look through the viewfinder of an unfiltered SLR camera when it is pointed near the sun—it can actually increase the intensity and the brightness of the sun due to the magnifying optics.
- Do not point an unfiltered digital camera at the sun even with a live view or electric view finder.
- Remember, the only time it is safe to look at the sun with the naked eye is during the very brief period of totality during the height of a total solar eclipse.
Now that your eyes are protected, it is time to gather all of your gear.
The Right Gear for Photographing a Solar Eclipse: Knowing How to Photograph A Solar Eclipse
Your solar glasses are important when it comes to photographing the solar eclipse—but they aren’t the only piece of equipment that you will need. You will also need the following pieces of equipment.
- A Quality Camera- A professional DSLR camera is preferred when shooting any natural phenomenon like a solar eclipse—but it isn’t necessarily required. As long as you are able to protect the camera and your eyes, most cameras can deliver photos of the solar eclipse.
- A Sturdy Tripod- A tripod is a great tool to prevent camera shake when photographing a solar eclipse. This isn’t as important during partial phases of the eclipse (when the sun is bright and you will be using short shutter speeds) but it is important during the total eclipse.
During the height of the total eclipse, the sun will be completely blacked out, and you will essentially be photographing in darkness. With this in mind, you will want to do everything you can to prevent camera shake so you can use long shutter speeds to capture your images.
- Remote Shutter Release- This is another tool that can help you while shooting in darkness. When it gets dark, you will want to be able to trigger your camera remotely with an electronic or cable release to prevent camera shake which can blur your images. A solar eclipse is not an event where you want even the slightest amount of blur.
- Solar Filters- This is a must-have when shooting a solar eclipse as it will not only help with the quality of your photos, but it will help protect your camera as well. You will need a solar filter for both your camera and your lens.
You should only buy professional-grade solar filters—do not try to make your own. The only time you won’t need to have the solar filter on is when the sun is completely covered by the moon during the totality phase of the total eclipse—during every other phase, you will need the filter.
- Telephoto lens or Digiscoping Equipment- If you have an expensive, professional photographic telephoto lens—then go ahead and use it. The same goes if you have a solar viewing telescope. However, the average photography is not going to have this equipment. In these situations, you will need digiscoping equipment.
There are many spotting scopes and telescopes that allow cameras to be fixed to the end of the scope. Just make sure you have solar filters, and you can achieve high levels of magnification for your shoot.
Practicing Before Photographing a Solar Eclipse
Since the solar eclipse only happens over a very short period of time, it is always a good idea to go ahead and practice shooting the solar eclipse ahead of time.
The first thing you should do is to practice your solar photography in the days and weeks before the solar eclipse. This will be your baseline for your eclipse shoot and will help you determine what settings you need to put your camera on for when you start taking photos.
You should also make sure that you scout your location in the days before the eclipse. This can let you see the path the sun will take across the sky that day. Remember, the more prepared you are the better.
You should also check the weather. The best conditions of course, are clear skies—but if it is going to be a cloudy night, you want to be as prepared as possible to tweak your settings as needed.
Camera Settings for Photographing a Solar Eclipse
The unique thing about a solar eclipse is that it quickly changes from broad daylight to completely darkness. For a majority of the eclipse, your settings can stay the same, but when the eclipse reaches totality, the light is going to change quickly, which means you have to be ready to change with it.
With this in mind, there are a few different camera settings that you will need to keep in mind. These camera settings are the standard for an average solar eclipse—you of course may need to tweak them based on your setting and your equipment.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Set you camera to its native ISO—the lowest un-boosted ISO settings. If you have a Sony or Canon camera, it is likely ISO 100. It is ISO 200 for most Nikon and Fujifilm cameras.
- Do not use a flash. When the sun is out during the flash, it is obviously useless, and when it is dark, your flash isn’t going to illuminate the dark side of the moon.
- Underexposing photos is OK when shooting a solar eclipse—try underexposing by a stop or two. Just make sure to avoid blown-out highlights.
- Bring plenty of memory cards—you are going to have to take a lot of raw images when shooting a solar eclipse, so be prepared. Bring some extra batteries as well so you can take lots of photos.
- Use mirror lock-up on SLR cameras, if you can. This will minimize camera vibrations and make sure you are getting crisp, clear images.
From there, it is time to start shooting. Try to get as many raw photos as you can, and plan on editing them later. Even if you feel like you are taking lots of photos of the same thing, remember, the solar eclipse doesn’t happen all that often, so you might as well get as much raw data as you can so next time you’ll know how to photograph a solar eclipse .