You’ve heard the news. The Great American Solar Eclipse is the biggest solar event to hit North America in decades. If you’re in the line of a fire (a 70-mile stretch between North Carolina and Oregon), then you are in for almost three minute of totality. That’s total darkness, man!
For photographers, preparation is key to capturing stellar celestial images during the eclipse. Even if you’re not in the direct line of fire, most places in the United States are set to view at least partial darkness. Wherever you shoot, show up a day early to take a good look at your surroundings. Follow the path of the sun for practice, and take a look at these tips.
Before we delve into the specifics, we need to talk sun protection. We wrote a whole article about it here, but safety bears repeating. Even the perfect shot isn’t worth damaging your retinas. If you’re looking for astrophotography-level detail, then Celestron and Meade make several sun-safe telescopes with solar filters. If you want something a little less heavy, then regular solar filters are fine. You might even get a pair of solar-safe sunglasses to enjoy the eclipse without a camera, too.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you need a tripod. (Hint for future tutorials: you almost always need a tripod.) If you’re using a regular DSLR without a telescope, then consider getting a telephoto lens with a teleconverter – we’re talking like 300 to 500mm. If you don’t want to blow all your savings on a telephoto lens, then try renting one. You’ll need to mount the telephoto lens on a tripod and point it upward like a telescope. You might also want to use a wide angle lens with a second shooter to capture the eclipse to capture the whole landscape.
Arrive a day early. Really. Three minutes isn’t a lot of time, and it’s even less when you’ve got a bag full of lenses and no experience. Plan your shot using the Photographer’s Ephemeris, a map-centric sun and moon calculator. The PE lets you predict where the sun will be in the sky during the eclipse, based on your coordinates. On the day of the eclipse, you can also use the Sun Surveyer app an hour or so beforehand to confirm. Use the Live Camera View in your exact spot to see where the sun will fall into eclipse at your position.
Turn off your image stabilizer and set your focus to infinity. During partial eclipse, use short exposure times since the sun is still visible. However, when the eclipse goes into totality, then change your settings to resemble night photography. Since no specific exposure can capture the full spectrum of the corona, you should try bracketing your image with shutter speeds from 1/1000 second to 1 second.
Once you hit full eclipse, remember to remove all solar filters to capture the faint corona! Then, stand back and witness a once in a lifetime shot. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the technicality of a perfect picture, but it’s equally important to enjoy the whole eclipse experience.