Eclipse Photography, tips and tricks

Total Solar Eclipse, Aruba; Feb. 26, 1998. Photo: Mark D Phillips Total Solar Eclipse in Aruba on February 26, 1998. Photo: Mark D Phillips


Taking photographs of an eclipse is not as difficult as many believe.

There are many ways to document the event, and many of the most interesting photographs are of things other than the sun. But most people want to have photographs of the moon passing into the sun. To photograph the sun itself, you have to use a camera with manual controls and special filters.

The only time that direct photographs of the sun can be taken without a filter is during totality, which is also the only time it is safe to look at the sun without special protection.

Totality will take place on a very narrow band across the United States. Check out your location on this fabulous map produced by Xavier Jubier. Xavier has done the entire eclipse community, as well as the general eclipse-viewing public, a great service by performing all the work necessary to bring us this wonderful tool.

For those on the Path of Totality, you will still need filters for the partial eclipse before and after Totality. Many commercial filters are available for photographing the sun. Be sure to put the filter in front of the camera lens, never between the lens and the camera or between the camera and your eye.

What will be most fun for children who only have automatic and “point and shoot” cameras or cell phone cameras is to look at the way the sun makes patterns on buildings, under trees and from their pinhole projectors.

You must turn off the flash on your camera! If you do not, the flash will overpower the patterns created by the sun. If there is a big tree between the sun and your home, look at the way the sun creates patterns on the building in the shadow of the tree’s leaves. Take a photograph of the building and you will have a special picture of your home to remember this event.

For those who wish to photograph the sun using a manual camera and filters, here are some of our recommendations.

You can use just about any camera and any lens with manual controls. To get a bigger view of the sun on 35mm film, you will need to use at least a 200mm (focal length) lens. To fill a 35mm negative with the sun and its corona at totality, a 1000mm lens will give very good results. Just remember, the longer the lens, the harder it is to move with the sun. Long lenses are heavy and keeping the sun in the frame can be difficult. To get a full frame of partial phases will require a much larger lens or a small telescope. You MUST use filters when photographing a partial eclipse. To fill the negative, a focal length of 2000mm is recommended.

Homemade filter for photographing Partial Solar Eclipse and the sun Homemade filter

You can make your own filter for any size lens using a product like the 8×8-inch Thousand Oaks solar film for Telescopes, Binoculars and Cameras. Once you purchase the film, you can take a regular UV filter and can you talk now? the film to cover it. Make sure and attach it covering the entire filter. There should be NO gaps or areas uncovered. I made mine for a 600mm f4 lens using a cardboard frame that fit tightly over the lens shade.

The best settings to use are low ISO in the ISO100 or ISO200 range. The sun is very bright and the uncovered areas of the sun remains the same brightness. You should bracket (change exposure) but the sun will remain bright until the moon covers most of its surface.

With an ISO100 setting, a starting point for your exposure is 1/1000 of a second at f/11. This is a starting exposure! Your results depend on the amount of filtration you are using. The best way to test your exposure is to go out and photograph the sun a few days before the eclipse with your filter system in place and see your results. You will have a much better idea of your results this way.

At totality, your exposure drops greatly. For those photographing the eclipse where totality happens, once the moon begins to block all the sun’s light, you will need to remove your filter and use longer and longer exposures. When the Bailey Beads happen, exposure is back to the same level as the unblocked sun and must be photographed with filters! Do NOT look at the Bailey Beads through an unfiltered lens!.

Once they disappear and the corona is visible, remove your filters.

The longer your exposure, the more of the corona will show on your film. With a full frame view of the total solar eclipse and ISO100 setting, exposures of almost any speed will give a different view of totality. The longer your exposure, more of the outer corona becomes visible and streamers will carry further out from the sun. On shorter exposures, the inner corona will give a bright, hard edge around the moon.

It is a win, win situation

Visit our store for recommended items for photographing the eclipse! – Our Blog from Brasstown, NC