If you live in the United States, chances are that you’ve already heard about the Great American Eclipse, coming to a sky near you on August 21, 2017. The reason this eclipse has everyone so excited is that this total eclipse of the heart sun will span the U.S. from coast to coast – starting in Oregon and ending in the Carolinas.
While partial eclipses are fairly common, a total eclipse, where the moon entirely covers the sun is a rare occurrence. The next total eclipse won’t hit North America until 2024, so if you live anywhere near the viewing area, you’re going to want to make sure you are prepared to check this one out.
“Your mother always told you not to look directly at the sun, or you would damage your eyes (and that if you made that face long enough, your face would be stuck that way).”
The total eclipse will only be viewable in areas that fall directly under the sun’s path, but surrounding areas (like Columbus, Ohio!) will still be able to view a partial eclipse. The lucky ducks in Western Kentucky are going to have the best view of the total eclipse, and the totality (fancy word for the time that the moon entirely covers the sun) will last the longest in southern Illinois.
Now, I know your next question. “I don’t just want to watch the eclipse, I want to shoot it! What do I do?” We’ve got you covered with some photography tips below. But first…let’s talk about safety!
Your mother always told you not to look directly at the sun, or you would damage your eyes (and that if you made that face long enough, your face would be stuck that way). And one of those things is absolutely true. ANY length of time looking at the sun can cause permanent damage to your vision, so protect your eyes!
Regular sunglasses are not going to cut it. You’ll need glasses specifically designed for solar viewing, which generally have Mylar lenses. These are a great option. Look for glasses that are ISO 12312-2 or EN 1836: 2005 +A1:2007 certified.
You also will need to protect your camera, lens or any other viewing device you’re using to look at or photograph the sun. A certified solar filter that attaches to the end of the lens is a must. And keep in mind, even if you are not looking through the camera or lens, if it is pointed toward the sun, damage can still occur. These rules even apply if you are shooting with a smartphone!
One other thing to keep in mind – DO NOT look at the sun through a camera without a solar filter ON THE CAMERA OR LENS ITSELF. Looking through any kind of viewing device while you are wearing solar viewing glasses does nothing to protect the camera or lens itself and can still end up in serious damage to your eyes and/or the equipment. And vice versa – make sure that you wear solar viewing glasses even while looking at the sun through a camera with a solar filter on it.
So now, on to the photography side of things. First stop – Gear Town!
As already mentioned, you’re going to want solar viewing glasses to protect your eyes and a solar filter to protect your camera or lens. The most important thing is that you are using a certified solar filter that attaches to the front of the lens or camera, in order to fully protect your gear.
“Also, a regular neutral density filter – no matter how many stops it is – is NOT the same as a solar filter.”
As far as filters go, there are many different options available. Keep in mind that the type of filter and coating will affect the way the sun appears in the image. For example, this Lee filter is aluminized mylar and will make the sun appear slightly blue. This can easily be corrected in post-production, but it is something to keep in mind.
Also, a regular neutral density filter – no matter how many stops it is – is NOT the same as a solar filter.
In addition to the proper protection for your eyes and camera, there are a few other things that will make your time shooting the eclipse go much smoother.
A tripod is a must for stabilizing your camera. The partial eclipse can last for a looooong time, and you don’t want to hold your rig for that whole period. The right tripod for you will depend on your camera and where you are shooting, but the Mefoto range of travel tripods offers a variety of sizes and weight capacities (and fun colors!) for all kinds of set ups.
A shutter release can also help to make sure you get the sharpest images possible. And you get the added benefit of being able to step away from your camera and enjoy the eclipse, while still shooting the images you want.
You’ll want to think about having extra batteries for your camera and memory cards on hand. Having your camera run out of juice, or filling up a card right as the totality starts is an avoidable situation that no photographer wants to deal with.
Finally, one useful piece of non-photo gear to have on hand is a flashlight. If you are experiencing a total eclipse, things are going to get pretty dark, and you’ll want to be able to see your camera’s controls.
So you’re all geared up. You know the safety rules. Now it’s time to actually get shooting. Make sure the first thing you do is put on your solar viewing glasses and attach the solar filter to your lens!
If possible, try to practice ahead of time to get a feel for framing and exposure. Location scouting, ideally at the same time of day the eclipse will hit your area, will give you an idea of the best place to set up your camera to avoid obstructions or unwanted items (like powerlines) in your frame. Check the weather, so you know what to expect on the day of the eclipse.
Once you get your camera set up on your tripod, you’ll want to frame up your image and set focus. The best way to ensure you get focus nailed is to use the manual focus setting on your lens and then set the focus lock.
As far as camera settings go, manual exposure is your friend. A good starting point is ISO 200, f/5.6 and 1/1,000 second. Keep in mind, these settings are entirely dependent on your camera and the conditions where you are shooting. If you are in the path of the total eclipse, your exposure will change between the partial eclipse and the totality. For the technically-minded, this calculator can give you recommended settings for different conditions.
If your camera has the functionality, it’s also a good idea to bracket your exposure – especially during the totality. Bracketing will help to ensure that you end up with some usable images even with the tricky conditions.
Know the timing of the eclipse in your area! Not only will you want to know the start time and duration of the partial or total eclipse you’ll be experiencing, but you’ll want to understand the timeline of the different time periods of the eclipse. We highly recommend this map from NASA, which allows you to zoom in and click anywhere on the map to see the circumstances for your local eclipse. Make sure you make note of the start times for both the partial and total eclipse, if you are in path of totality.
If you are lucky enough to be in the path of the total eclipse, there are a couple things you will need to do differently than viewing the partial eclipse only. The solar filter you are using on the front of your lens will need removed as the total eclipse begins and replaced as the totality ends. You will still need to use the filter during the partial eclipse before and after the totality. Your exposure settings will also need adjusted during this time, to account for the lack of sunlight and the filter being removed.
If you plan on shooting video, the same rules above still apply. Including, be sure to use a certified solar filter! Want a time-lapse of the whole event? Shoot short clips every few minutes leading up to the totality, full video during the totality and short clips following the total eclipse. You can then combine the footage for a compressed time-lapse of the whole event!
You’ll also want to plan to record audio for hearing those crowd reactions (ooooooohhh, aaaaaaahhh) to the totality.
One last tip – whether you are shooting stills or video, be sure to turn your camera off when you’re not shooting. This will help avoid damage to the sensor from prolonged sun exposure. Plus, it will help conserve the battery life of your camera!
If you want more information on the Great American Eclipse, check out the American Astronomical Society for more shooting tips and info on eclipse-related events. Or NASA, for live video streams and a special Eclipse Flickr Gallery where you can share your images! Or check out the Eclipse Megamovie 2017 Project and share your images and video to help SCIENCE!
The MPEX Learning Studio has two great eclipse classes designed to get you prepared to plan, shoot and then process your eclipse images! Register now for Shooting the Upcoming Eclipse + Eclipse Post Processing Workshop.
Some information obtained from: