The solar eclipse is coming. Get your cameras ready.
On Aug. 21, 2017, the “Great American Eclipse” will cast its shadow across the continental United States, carving out a path from Oregon to South Carolina. Oregonians are in a unique position to witness this rare celestial event as the moon passes in front of the sun, sending those of us along the path of totality into complete daytime darkness. In other words, photographic gold.
As Portland based astrophotographer Jake Breed puts it, “Photographically speaking, it’s too rare to miss; and personally speaking, it’s too beautiful and amazing not to see. And if you’re going to see it, you might as well document it.”
There’s no need to panic if you do not have a high-end gear; most of these tips apply to whatever camera you plan to use. Creativity and vision are often just as important to getting amazing results as the gear you use.
1) Protect Your Eyes:
There’s only one thing that can be harmed by a total solar eclipse, and that’s your eyes. Looking directly at the eclipse without proper protection (eclipse glasses with ISO 12312-2), can lead to solar retinopathy — damage to the eye’s retina, according to Dr. William Dean Pesnell with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. You’d do best to avoid that since there is no cure for solar retinopathy. It’s also critical to use a solar filter on your camera to protect your eyes, as well as the camera’s sensor, from sun damage.
2) Scout Out Your Location:
Do your research and pick a spot that’s in the path of totality and away from city lights, with a clear, unobstructed view of the daytime sky. Oregon will be the first state to see the total eclipse at approximately 10:15 a.m. Space.com provides detailed information on when and where you can see it.
3) Don’t Forget Your Tripod:
4) Go Long: Use A Telephoto Or Zoom Lens:
Using a lens with a focal range of 100mm-400mm is optimal so you can fill the frame with the eclipse. Be wary of using what’s called “digital zoom” on point-and-shoot cameras and cellphones; it crops away the image and reduces image quality.
5) Turn Off Image Stabilization:
If your lens has image stabilization, turn it off to avoid it trying to correct for motion that isn’t there. A steady tripod also helps you avoid image blur.
6) Avoid Using In-Camera HDR:
In-camera HDR, or high-dynamic range imaging, takes too much time to integrate. Set up bracketed exposures instead to maximize the limited time you’ll have to capture totality.
What’s one of the most important tips to shooting the eclipse? According to photographer Stephen Johnson, practice. Know your camera well, think about the shots you want to take, the settings you plan to use and practice, practice, practice before heading out on the big day.
8) Avoid Bringing New Things To The Shoot:
Johnson also suggests not bringing any equipment to your shoot that you haven’t used a lot before. The more familiar you are with your equipment and the more you’ve practiced, the better prepared you’ll be for fast troubleshooting in the field if something goes wrong during the big event.
9) Have Backup:
If you have one, bring a backup camera. Extra batteries and backup storage are important, too. Aim to have everything you need for your shoot in duplicate.
10) Enjoy The Moment:
Most importantly, don’t forget to take a moment to just sit back and watch the eclipse. As Pesnell advises: “Take a picture or two with your camera. But the important thing is to just stand there and just be amazed at what the sun looks like when you get rid of all that stuff that heats us up and keeps us warm and grows our crops.”
For more detailed information, including formulas to help you calculate the best ISO, shutter speed, depth of field and focal length settings, How to Photograph a Solar Eclipse is a great reference. NASA offers a useful Smartphone Photography of the Eclipse guide as well.