How to (safely) photograph a solar eclipse

-Abhilash Pavuluri

As people in the United States are gearing up to witness one of the most historic solar eclipses of all time, you may be wondering if it’s possible to capture this phenomenon yourself. It certainly is, but it’s not as simple as pointing your camera at the sun and hoping for the best. Here’s a short guide to capturing a solar eclipse.

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WARNING: Directly looking at the sun (even during an eclipse), even through your camera’s viewfinder, is extremely dangerous and can cause serious damage to your eyes. If you must look at the sun, use medically approved equipment or, in the case of your camera, only on the LCD screen. Bear in mind that it’s possible that pointing your camera directly at the bright sun can damage its sensor as well. You are solely responsible for the safety of your eyes and of your camera equipment. Take appropriate measures to protect yourself.

Let’s have a look at what you can do to photograph the eclipse. This article assumes you have a DSLR camera, but you can always attempt this with other cameras (as long as you follow the safety precautions).

  1. Switch to Manual mode: Manual mode is almost imperative in capturing a solar eclipse, since you are photographing a very bright object that becomes dark and then bright again. Hence, you can’t always rely on automatic modes to do the guesswork for you.
    With solar eclipses, you’ll have to set a high shutter speed, and even a narrower aperture if need be. Keep ISO low since we don’t need the extra sensitivity.
  2. Use a Solar Filter: Solar filters can greatly reduce any potential risk to your camera from direct exposure to the sun. They’re not the same as the UV filter you get with your DSLR, or even ND filters. Solar filters are widely used in astronomy but manufacturers also make them for cameras as well.
    While you can always buy a readymade filter, you can also prepare a rough filter yourself. Solar filters are primarily made by a company called Baader. You can buy the material in bulk and also make solar goggles for your eyes from the same material (do be careful that no light passes through the finished DIY).
    Bear in mind that with a solar filter on, the sun is pretty much the only object you can photograph as everything else will appear too dark or invisible.
  3. Lenses and stability: While the standard practice in photographing an eclipse is to use a zoom lens and zoom into the sun to get that detail, you can also create some interesting perspectives with wide or medium telephoto lenses. This also applies to smartphone cameras or cameras with a short focal length like point and shoots.
    Especially when using a zoom lens, a tripod is essential as there is a lot of shake that gets detected at long focal lengths. Tripods help eliminate most of that. You can read about tripods in our “Camera Essentials” article from last week.

Published Date: Aug 03, 2017 10:45 pm | Updated Date: Aug 03, 2017 10:45 pm

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