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Photographing the Solar Eclipse
August 15, 2017
Aug. 21 is a day that millions in the U.S. have been counting down to, some for decades. In just a few weeks, St. Louis will see its first total solar eclipse since 1442. That's 575 years! The next total solar eclipse here won't be for another 498 years. While we'll see partial eclipses between now and then, a total eclipse is a once in a lifetime experience!
I've been reading up on photographing the eclipse, and I'd love to share with you what I've learned! Depending on where you are located, you only have up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds to view the eclipse, which is not a lot of time. To see how long the totality will last in different areas of Missouri, click here.
Because this is such a unique experience, try to automate your process as much as possible. And be sure to take caution to protect your gear, and, even more importantly, your eyes.
Safety Note: Do not look at the sun directly without accredited and approved solar eclipse glasses. Doing so could result in permanent eye damage or blindness. Additionally, do not point your camera into the sun without a special solar filter or look at the sun through a camera, telescope, binoculars or any other device without an approved protective filter on the front of your camera/lens. This could also damage your eyes, as well as ruin your camera in seconds. The only time it's okay to remove your eclipse glasses or the lens filter is during totality, when the sun is covered by the moon. As soon as the sun reappears, put your glasses and filter back on, even during partial phases of the eclipse.
What Do You Need to Photograph the Eclipse?
If nothing else, you need to make sure you have an accredited pair of solar eclipse glasses. These glasses are vital if you plan on looking at the sun. They are available at a variety of locations, including places like Walgreens (though, the closer you get, the harder they might be to find). We actually got a pair when Jared picked up some pizza from Papa John's the other day!
Camera and lens
If you want to photograph the eclipse, you of course will need a camera and a lens! Common sense, but we didn't want to leave it out. I'll be using my Canon 70D and 70-300mm lens. Because the 70D is a crop sensor lens, we'll get a little bit "closer," because of the crop factor. The recommendation we've seen most places is to use at least a 200mm or 300mm lens. Higher is better, but they're also more expensive. If you don't have access to a longer lens, you could also try to rent one, that way you're not dropping big bucks on something you might not use regularly or again.
This is the most important part of your setup (outside of your eclipse glasses, of course!). If you point your camera at the sun, the rays and brightness will ruin your camera, unless you have a solar filter. You must use a solar filter to photograph the sun, and your filter must go on the front of your lens. These filters will limit the amount of light to enter your lens and gear, which will protect it. There are a variety of different filters available ... there are even some people using solar sheets to create their own. Be sure that your filter is strong enough to protect your gear and your eyes! On a related note, a lot of people recommend — even with the strongest filter! — that you not look through your viewfinder. When it's time to set your camera up, turn on live view and use the camera's display screen to set your focus. It's just one more way to protect your eyes.
Just like in any situation, the darker it gets, the more need there is for a tripod. Even if you're not in the complete path of totality, it will get pretty dark, so you'll need long exposures ... way longer than you can steadily hold your camera. Find a good tripod that will hold the weight of your camera and a lens.
Going along with a tripod, if you are manually pushing your shutter button, you risk shaking the camera when you release the shutter, so your images won't be as sharp. Use a shutter release so you can capture the images without risking the camera shake. Using a shutter release will also allow you look at the eclipse as it's happening, but still grab your photos, so you can experience this once in a lifetime experience, but still get some pictures to commemorate the day!
Fast memory card
Because totality lasts such a short time, it's important to have a memory card that will save your images quickly, so you can take them quickly.
The actual eclipse actually lasts for hours. If you're just using one battery, it's best to switch out your batteries before totality, even if you have near full battery life (better safe than sorry!). If you're using a grip with two batteries, you should be okay, but there's really no harm in switching the batteries before totality with this either.
Again, the eclipse lasts a while, so you are going to be out in the sun for a while. And during the middle of the day. In summer. Be sure to lather up before you go out and while you're in the sun. (If possible, set up a tent for shade if you think it will help.)
Water and Snacks
Similarly, keep hydrated so you don't risk missing this moment! If you're worried about needing a bathroom break, don't skimp on the water ... just plan out your bathroom breaks! Oh, and some snacks, since you'll be camped out for a while, during lunch time.
Shoot in RAW
If you're using a camera that's capable, be sure to shoot in RAW. Doing so will give you more detail in your images, and let you control them better is post processing.
Use manual focus
During totality, your camera will have trouble focusing due to the small amount of light coming through the lens. The best way to easily capture the image is to manually pre-focus on the edge of the sun — with the filter in place — and then tape down the focus and zoom rings so neither shift during the eclipse (especially when it's time to remove and put on the filter at totality). Be sure to take your camera off autofocus for the rest of the day!
Set your settings
So that you don't have to do a lot of fidgeting with the camera during the eclipse, start with some basic settings you can use throughout the day. Start with a low ISO, like 200. The lower the ISO, the less noise. And also set a wide aperture, like f4. This will let in more light to help compensate for the lower ISO as it gets darker. From there, just change your shutter speed as needed. Before totality, change your camera settings, so you can just trigger the shutter, and then look at and enjoy the totality! This site has a great breakdown on what to set your settings at throughout the different phases of the eclipse.
Now is the time to break the Rule of Thirds! Put the eclipse right in the middle of your image! It's the focus, so let it be. (Also, don't forget the sun is still moving during these two minutes of totality, so be aware that you might have to shift your angle at some point to keep the eclipse centered.)
Turn off image stabilization. Since you'll be using a tripod, you won't need it.
Give yourself plenty of travel time. There will be thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people on the road that day. Plan for extra time, and be careful while traveling.
Weather If it's cloudy, you might not be able to see everything. If this is the case, look for breaks in the clouds. If the weather's worse, there's not much else you can do.
This is super important! You can take the filter off about 30 seconds to one minute before totality (for the Diamond Ring) and put it on just after the end of totality. Be sure to have a dedicated place to put your filter so you don't lose it and practice removing it and putting it on quickly.
Practice, practice, practice! Having your plan down is vital, especially with the shorter duration of the totality. Practice on the sun with a safe filter, and practice on the moon without a filter.
Keep it simple
You'll want to really experience the eclipse, not be stuck looking through a viewfinder the whole time. Keep it as simple as possible, and practice. If something happens and things don't got as planned, don't fret, and just enjoy the view. Other photographers will have pictures, and you don't want to miss the real event!
After the eclipse
Download and backup your images immediately. And, for good measure, back them up to a few places, just incase!
According to Apple, you do not need a solar eclipse filter on your iPhone during the eclipse. Their reasoning is that because the iPhone camera is a 28mm wide angle lens, the sun with be a minor part of your photos, and thus won't show much of the sun. A fun way to us your phone is for a time lapse or video (recommendations are to run video for at least 10 minutes before and after totality). Read more about using your phone during the eclipse here.
If you're looking for a timeline of the eclipse in your location, look here. As an example, here's how things will go down in St. Clair, which is one of the towns in the longest path of totality:
This blog post is meant to provide recommendations and tips for photographing the solar eclipse. Please contact an astronomer for more information. We are not liable for any injury or damages that you may experience while photographing or looking at the eclipse.