How To Photograph The Solar Eclipse

Photographing a solar eclipse isn’t as easy as shooting a lunar eclipse. Getting quality shots requires special equipment and planning. Its not as rtricky as it looks, so let’s go…

Even if you don’t have the time or cash to spend on big lenses and fancy filters, you can use these techniques to create memorable photos of these rare events. Modern cameras can do so much and witha little efort, quite satisfactory results can be obtained.

Your camera lens is not protection enough

The biggest challenge with photographing a solar eclipse is that this is the sun itself that you’re looking at. As we’ve all been told since we were little, looking directly at the sun is a bad idea. Not only can doing so permanently damage your eyes, it can also damage your camera’s image sensor. For that reason, you need to take special precautions to protect both your camera and your eyes. Never, ever look directly at the sun without looking through a filter.

Your camera’s optical viewfinder does not offer any protection from the sun’s harmful rays, so you can’t just watch through your camera. If you have a compact camera with an LCD screen, you could, in theory, watch the eclipse on the screen, but it will still probably damage the camera’s image sensor, so we wouldn’t recommend it.

The easiest and cheapest filter you can get that will allow you (and your camera) to safely view the eclipse is a simple pair of eclipse glasses. If you have a point-and-shoot camera, get two pairs — one for you and one for the camera. Then you can attach one lens of the camera’s pair to the camera’s lens, and you’ll be good to go. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it works.

If you’ve got a DLSR camera, things get a bit trickier, since the lenses of the eclipse glasses probably won’t be big enough to cover your entire camera lens. You’ll need to find a special solar filter for your particular lens size. These are usually made of Mylar or glass and can be purchased through various dealers, including Amazon.

How to Look at a Solar Eclipse Without Going Blind (Infographic)

Setting your settings

The best advice we can offer about photographing a solar eclipse is to practice before it happens. For many people, a solar eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and you’ll only have one chance to get the photos you’re hoping for.

What you can do, though, is go out and take some photos of the sun on a non-eclipse day. Make note of which settings work best, so you can easily go back to them when the big moment comes. The settings you use for pre- and post-totality will be different from those you’ll use for the brief time when the sun is completely eclipsed, so practice switching between them — or better yet, have two cameras available.

When it comes to choosing a lens to use, remember that the sun is, of course, extremely far away. Even when viewed through a 200mm telephoto lens, the sun itself will still look pretty darn small. Ideally, you should aim for around an 800 to 900mm focal length so that the sun’s disc fills a good portion of your viewing area.

Using your camera’s manual settings will work best, since your camera will likely be very confused about what to focus on and what aperture and shutter settings to use. Since the sun gives off plenty of light, set the ISO to a low number such as 100. Before and during the period when the sun is only partially eclipsed, use a small aperture such as f/16. When the eclipse reaches totality, the intensity of the available light will drop dramatically, so try using larger apertures.

What eclipse types mean to your photography

The eclipse that occurs on May 20 is an annular eclipse, which is a little different from a total eclipse. During an annular eclipse, the moon is at the farthest point in its orbit around the earth, and its relative size isn’t enough to completely cover the sun. Thus, even when the moon is dead center in front of the sun, a thin ring of the sun itself will be visible around the moon.

Even during the height of an annular eclipse, don’t take off your solar filter or glasses. The ambient light will go way down, but it’s still not safe to look at the sun because there will still be a ring of direct sunlight. During a total solar eclipse, you’d have to take the solar filter off your camera to get a decent photo, but that’s not the case during an annular eclipse.

While you can plan for and practice your settings for the partial phases of an eclipse, the total phase requires either a lot of math or some guesswork. Both NASA’s and Mr. Eclipse’s websites have extensive tables that will help you figure out the optimum exposure settings for various phases of the eclipse. It can all be very confusing.

The salient point you should remember is bracket, bracket, bracket. For every photo you take, take at least one or two with your aperture and/or shutter speed set higher and lower than the setting you think you should use. Yes, you’ll end up with hundreds of photos you’ll have to sift through when all is said and done, but you also stand a much higher chance of getting that great shot you’re looking for.

Projecting an Image of the Eclipsed Sun

Projecting an Image of the Eclipsed SunCredit: Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre

The safest and simplest technique to observe and photograph the eclipse is to use your telescope (or one side of your binoculars) to project a magnified image of the sun’s disk onto a shaded white piece of cardboard. The projected image on the cardboard will be safe to look at and photograph. Be sure to cover the telescope’s finder scope and the unused half of the binoculars, and don’t let anyone look through them. This view was taken near Boston during the partial solar eclipse on Christmas Day 2000.

Ideas for viewing method alternatives

If you don’t have the time or money to purchase expensive lenses for your camera (and your eyes!), you can still get some great photos of the eclipse. The best way is to use a lens or create a pinhole camera to project an image of the eclipse onto a piece of white cardboard (or any other smooth surface), and then take a photo of the projected image. You can use a pair of binoculars with one lens covered or a telescope, or create your own simple pinhole camera by poking a very small hole (about 1mm in diameter, about the size of a pen tip) in a piece of cardboard.

Take advantage of this rare event

Solar eclipses don’t occur very often — the next total solar eclipse viewable from Australia is 20281 Source: USA Today

 

How to Safely Photograph the Sun (A Photo Guide)

Camera Coupled to a Telescope

Camera Coupled to a TelescopeCredit: Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre

The best way to attach your digital SLR camera to the telescope is to use an appropriate T ring and T adapter for your camera brand. (Check with your local camera retailer.) Other helpful accessories include an electronic cable release to operate the shutter and a right-angle magnifier that attaches to the camera’s viewfinder to assist you in focusing.

 

Holding a Point-and-Shoot Camera to the Eyepiece

Holding a Point-and-Shoot Camera to the Eyepiece. Credit: Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre

If you don’t have a DSLR camera, don’t worry — you can use your automatic “point-and-shoot” camera to take decent pictures of the eclipse through a filtered telescope. Insert a wide-field eyepiece and hold the camera lens close to it. Use the camera’s built-in LCD screen to center the sun and compose your shot. Zoom in as needed.

 

Blue and Yellow Eclipsed Sun

Blue and Yellow Eclipsed SunCredit: Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre

The color of the solar image will depend on the type of solar filter used. Metal-coated glass and black polymer filters produce a pleasing yellow or orange image of the sun, while aluminized Mylar filters show a bluish sun. Welder’s No. 14 glass filters give a greenish image (not shown). Above images : Source Space.Com

 

Some Quick Pointers

Recap: If you’re planning to shoot any eclipsewith a digital camera, particularly a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, here are a few pointers to increase your chances of success:

http://i.space.com/images/i/17515/i02/1994-annular-eclipse-series.jpg?1337265367

Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre captured the May 10, 1994 annular solar eclipse from the eclipse path’s northern limit near Lordsburg, N.M.. They used a filtered 4-inch Meade telescope with a focal length of 1,000 millimeters and Kodak Royal Gold 400 color-negative film. CREDIT: Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre. Eclipse or not, always use a proper filter when observing or photographing the sun. Regular sunglasses and photographic polarizing or neutral-density (ND) filters are not safe for use on the sun.

1. Use a proper solar filter: Never look at the sun with your naked eyes, or through a telescope, binocular or camera viewfinder without a safe solar filter. Failure to do so can result in serious eye injury or blindness. Use a No. 14 welder’s glass filter, or purchase special solar filters from companies such as Thousand Oaks, Kendrick Astro Instruments, or Orion Telescopes & Binoculars, and fit them securely in front of your equipment.

2. Use a telescope or telephoto lens with a focal length of 400 millimeters or more: This helps to get detailed, close-up shots of the eclipse. This will give you a reasonably large image of the sun’s disk in the frame. The best way to attach your digital SLR camera to the telescope is to use an appropriate T ring and T adapter for your camera brand. (Check with your local camera retailer.) Other helpful accessories include an electronic cable release to operate the shutter and a right-angle magnifier that attaches to the camera’s viewfinder to assist you in focusing.

3. Use a sturdy tripod or mount: Make sure your tripod and head are strong and stable enough to support your camera gear. Keep your setup as portable, light and easy to assemble as possible in case you need to relocate in a hurry to escape clouds.

4. Set the camera to its highest resolution: To record as much detail and color information as possible, use your camera’s highest-quality (least-compressed) JPEG setting or “lossless” (uncompressed) image formats, such as TIFF or RAW.

5. Use a high ISO setting: Set your camera to ISO 400 (or higher) to keep exposures very short and prevent blurring from vibrations.

6. Switch to manual: Set your camera to “manual” (M) so you’ll be able to control its focus as well as exposure and white-balance settings.

7. Focus carefully: Don’t let poor focus ruin your images. If possible, prefocus your camera the night before the eclipse using a bright star. Otherwise, focus carefully on the sun’s edge (or on sunspots, if some are visible). Place a piece of adhesive tape on your telephoto’s focus ring (or lock the telescope focuser) to keep it from accidentally being moved during the eclipse. Be sure to recheck your focus as the eclipse progresses and refine it if needed.If you don’t have a DSLR camera, don’t worry — you can use your automatic “point-and-shoot” camera to take decent pictures of the eclipse through a filtered telescope. Insert a wide-field eyepiece and hold the camera lens close to it. Use the camera’s built-in LCD screen to center the sun and compose your shot. Zoom in as needed.

8. Minimize vibrations: The mirror slap in DSLRs can cause blurred images. If possible, use the camera’s mirror lock-up feature before each shot to keep vibrations to a minimum. You should also operate the shutter with an electronic cable release to eliminate camera shake. Lastly, choose an observing spot that is shielded from the wind.

9. “Bracket” your exposures: It’s a challenge to determine the correct exposure beforehand, so shoot the eclipse at various shutter speeds.

10. Use a fresh battery: DSLRs can easily drain their batteries, especially if you use the LCD screen continuously. Make sure you have a fully charged battery right before the eclipse begins, and have a spare one handy, just in case.

11. Test your imaging setup: Be sure to try out your actual setup before the eclipse. This will reveal any potential problems with focusing and vibrations, as well as internal reflections or vignetting in the optics. Take some test shots of the sun to give you an idea of what exposure to use with your solar filter.

12. Try to shoot the sun in hydrogen-alpha: Unlike “white light,” the plain, visible light from the sun, H-alpha is the red light given off by hydrogen atoms in the sun’s atmosphere. A portable H-alpha telescope offers a wealth of stunning details of the sun at a wavelength of 656.3 nanometers.

13. Process your images: Since the camera’s output is already in digital format, it’s easy to enhance the images’ brightness, contrast, sharpness and color balance using image-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. You can also “stitch” the frames together to create a movie.

Shooting the Eclipse with Video

As with digital cameras, you need a proper solar filter over your camcorder when recording the sun.

Blue and Yellow Eclipsed SunThe color of the solar image will depend on the type of solar filter used. Metal-coated glass and black polymer filters produce a pleasing yellow or orange image of the sun, while aluminized Mylar filters show a bluish sun. Welder’s No. 14 glass filters give a greenish image (not shown).Credit: Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre.

Today’s camcorders have zoom lenses with up to 40x (or more) optical magnification. To videotape the eclipse, simply mount the camcorder on a tripod and zoom in on the filtered sun to the lens’s highest power. (Hand-holding the camcorder can result in shaky footage.) High-end camcorders have manual controls for adjusting the gain, f-stop and shutter speed so you don’t overexpose the sun’s disc.

Again, it is best to test your setup before the eclipse. On the day of the event, be sure to use a fully charged battery and bring a spare one as backup. Take two- to three-second clips every two to five minutes to produce a time-lapse sequence that compresses the eclipse’s hourlong partial phase into just under a minute.High-end DSLRs are capable of shooting HD video. (Check your camera manual.)

In a pinch, you also can use your cell phone camera to shoot video (or still images) through a filtered telescope.

Low-cost webcams can also be useful.Good luck and clear skies on E-Day!

Image credits for the above: Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre. They are veteran eclipse chasers with nine successful expeditions to date (eight total solar eclipses and one annular).

 

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