Total solar eclipses happen once in a lifetime — so you're going to want your own pics.
Image: AFP/Getty Images
People living across the continental U.S. will have a chance to see a total solar eclipse for the first time in 99 years next week on Aug. 21, so you might be thinking about taking some pics.
An event of this scale won't happen again until 2316 so it's understandable to want to whip out your iPhone and start shooting. (Another total solar eclipse will take place in 2024, but it won't cross the entire contiguous U.S., like this one.) Slow down, though. There are some things you should think about before you point your smartphone skyward and start snapping away. After all, you shouldn't even be looking at the eclipse with your naked eye.
If you’re going to photograph the eclipse on your smartphone, no need to worry about getting a solar filter to protect the camera. Your phone’s lens doesn't have enough magnification to harm the sensor because it's wide angle. The downside of this of course is that the eclipse will be tiny in the frame. Think of the times you’ve tried to take a photo of the moon on your phone, the eclipse will be the same size.
The moon passes in front of the sun, creating a solar eclipse visible in the southern hemisphere, seen from from Sao Paulo, Brazil Solar Eclipse, Sao Paulo, Brazil in February of 2017.
Determined to use your phone to photograph? There are myriad lenses you can use to enhance your phone's abilities. If you are going to buy a mobile zoom lens it might be worth finding an extra pair of eclipse glasses or a filter to protect the sensor since you will be working with stronger magnification. A tripod is a great piece of gear to have as well — it will make sure there isn’t any shake from your hand, and you can easily set it up to shoot a time-lapse and not have to think about it, giving you more time to enjoy watching.
Unlike shooting with a phone, any non-phone camera needs a specialized filter. You might be able to find some online still or by hunting through a local photo store. If you’re in a pinch a sheet of No. 14 welder's glass might work.
You’ll need to buy a long lens that’s at least 300mm to get a clear, detailed shot of the corona as well as a tripod and remote or cord shutter release.
Like your phone, though, the best image possible won’t come from the lens that comes with your DSLR. You’ll need to buy a long lens that’s at least 300mm to get a clear, detailed shot of the corona as well as a tripod and remote or cord shutter release. The tripod and shutter release will minimize camera shake which will be much worse with a long lens. If you’re thinking about doing a time-lapse with a DSLR, get an intervalometer — that way you won’t move the frame accidentally and you don’t need to remember to press the shutter every few seconds.
Regardless of how you want to shoot the eclipse, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Scout out a location this weekend so you have a game plan, check what time totality is happening where you are and make sure you have a clear view of the sun from where you want to shoot. If the sun is hidden behind a tree or building this weekend, it will be on Monday too. Take photos of the moon with whatever camera and lens you’re planing on using to see how large the eclipse will be in your frame.
Think about what photographs will capture the moment best. The moment of totality might be the most obvious thing to photograph, but it might not be the best. There will be countless photographs online and in print of the moon's journey across the sun’s path taken by professional photographers for large publications. Photographs of the things happening around the eclipse, the people you’re with watching in awe or the huge crowd gathered will be more interesting years from now. Keep in mind that, as with a lot of events, the most interesting imagery isn’t going to be the thing itself, the image might be what’s behind you.
Most importantly, don’t worry too much about getting a great shot, just enjoy the damn thing!