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How to Photograph Solar Eclipse: A Comprehensive Guide for the D-Day

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A solar eclipse is the celestial phenomena that commands the awe and admiration of almost every person on this planet. To be able to witness the bright sun gradually being hidden behind the humble moon is an experience that many of us wish to have. But we should not view a solar eclipse directly with the eye because the sun’s rays may permanently damage our sight. Photographing the various stages of a solar eclipse is a great way to witness this natural marvel. But there are certain points to remember while photographing an eclipse. Let us have a look at the methodological way of how to photograph solar eclipse.

Before you set out to capture photographs of the next solar eclipse, make sure that you have read this piece of information. You will require specific equipment and would have to take care of many factors. This will enable you to capture breathtaking solar eclipse pictures without damaging your eyesight. This article guides you through the various aspects you should know about the phenomenon of eclipse and how to photograph solar eclipse.

Different Types of Solar Eclipse

The scientific definition of a solar eclipse is the phenomenon of the moon’s shadow falling on the Earth. This is only possible when the moon passes between the Earth and the Sun. Solar eclipses are a fairly common occurrence, but their proper and complete view from Earth is not that common. This is why an event of a visible solar eclipse generates so much excitement in photographers. They start their preparation on how to photograph solar eclipse well in advance. Discussed below are the main types of a solar eclipse that can be photographed:

1. Total Solar Eclipse

This kind of eclipse happens when the moon fully covers the sun. This event is extremely rare because it requires the perfect alignment of the Earth, the Sun and the Moon. The distance of the moon from the earth is crucial for a total solar eclipse to happen. It is not surprising that photographers wait with bated breath to be able to capture a total solar eclipse from their lenses. To be able to capture the grandeur of a total solar eclipse, one must stand in the centre of the moon’s shadow.

When a total solar eclipse happens, the sunlight is obscured completely for a few seconds. During these seconds, it is even possible to visualise other stars in the sky. The periphery of the moon seems to have developed a levitating ring of fire. The whole view is surreal and worthy of the hype.

total solar eclipse
Total Solar Eclipse (source)

2. Partial Solar Eclipse

As the name conveys, a partial solar eclipse happens when the moon is unable to completely cover the sun. This is because the Sun, the Moon and the Earth are not in perfect alignment. In this case, the Sun assumes a crescent shape that is usually depicted for the moon.

partial solar eclipse
Wonder of Nature- Partial Solar Eclipse (source)

3. Annular Solar Eclipse

This kind of solar eclipse happens when the sun, the moon and the earth are in perfect alignment but the moon is very far from the earth. This manifests as an almost total solar eclipse but since the moon is far from the earth, the ring of fire is broad. Nevertheless, this is a great opportunity for photographers to capture a brilliant shot.

annular eclipse
Ring of Fire- Annular Solar Eclipse

4. Hybrid Solar Eclipse

As the name suggests, this type of solar eclipse doesn’t fall into a clear category. It is in most respects a total eclipse, but can also appear as an annular eclipse from different regions on earth. In other words, it appears as a total eclipse from some places on Earth and as an annular eclipse from others. Hybrid solar eclipses are extremely rare.

hybrid solar eclipse
Mix of total and annular eclipse (source)

Now that you know about the different kinds of solar eclipses that you can capture, the obvious next step is to gear up and read on safety precautions to photograph the solar eclipse. The sun is a huge mass of energy and radiates a lot of rays, some of which are very harmful. Therefore, one should know everything about the specific equipment required for photographing the sun. This will not only ensure the safety of the photographer but also yield better quality solar photography pictures. 

Solar Eclipse Photography Done Right

The importance of basic safety and photography gear should never be taken lightly. It is advisable to practice clicking the sun without eclipse with all the recommended gear before the actual eclipse takes place. This will ensure that the photographer knows about the right settings of the camera and proper usage of the various accessories. This in-turn will yield the perfect shot. Let us have a look at all of these considerations one by one.

Safety Considerations

The first and foremost consideration that a photographer must have before capturing a solar eclipse is to ensure safety. Let us know more about how to photograph solar eclipse without damaging the eye or the equipment.

  • The sun is too bright to be visualised directly by the eye. Direct exposure to the sun’s rays has the potential to cause permanent blindness. So, before prepping up your camera, you should buy a certified pair of solar viewing glasses for yourself. You will have to look at the sun before, during and after the eclipse and these glasses will come in very handy at that time.
  • Like the human eye, the camera also should not be pointed directly towards the sun. Cameras that are not fitted with certified solar filters are extremely susceptible to damage of their parts of exposed to direct sunlight.
  • One must never look at the sun through the camera. The optics fitted inside the camera might magnify and intensify the solar rays and cause permanent damage to the eye as well as to the camera.
safety during solar eclipse- solar eclipse glasses
Watch the wonder with safety

Since solar eclipses make excellent shots for photography, one must not miss them. But at the same time, one should not forsake our safety for the thrill of capturing an eclipse. When you are wondering how to photograph solar eclipse, it is worthwhile to first make a list of all the safety gear.

How to Photograph Solar Eclipse: A Checklist

After you have decided to photograph a grand cosmic event like a solar eclipse, you should know what all equipment is required before you start clicking the sun. Fundamental differences exist between normal photography and solar photography. Therefore, the use of specific equipment is necessary to capture the solar eclipse in full glory. Here is a comprehensive list of gear required for taking pictures of a solar eclipse.

  1. Solar Viewing Glasses- A pair of certified solar viewing glasses is the first gear that you will need for photographing the sun, whether capturing an eclipse or not. During the photography session, you will have to look at the sun directly many times in order to locate the sun and decide the best angle for taking a picture. Solar viewing glasses will ensure that you do not fry your retina by the direct rays of the sun.
  2. A Camera- The obvious item on your list of gears for photographing the sun is the camera. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a very expensive or special camera for capturing the sun. In fact, any camera is good enough, as long as you will use the other safety gear as is recommended below.
  3. Solar Filters- An item of utmost importance is the solar filter. If you are still contemplating how to photograph solar eclipse without a solar filter, you will most likely damage the camera lens. Although many online tutorials say that a Neutral Density (ND) filter is sufficient for sun photography, experts like NASA recommend the use of dedicated solar filters. Please do not play around with polarizers and ND filters to capture a solar eclipse. Spending a few bucks on a solar filter is totally worth it!
  4. A Tripod- Technically speaking, a camera support is not an absolute requirement for capturing a solar eclipse. But in case of total solar eclipse, there is momentary darkness as the moon completely engulfs the sun. In those few seconds or minutes, a camera support might be required. Also, since the solar eclipse will occur over a stretch of time, you might want to consider having a tripod just to avoid lifting the camera for so long.
  5. Remote Shutter Release- This is another optional item on the list, but having a remote shutter release mechanism might help in getting clearer pictures. This is because it will make it unlikely that your camera will quiver while clicking.
  6. Screw-on Filters- These are a great way to capture coloured photographs of the sun during an eclipse.These are white light filters that can be easily threaded on your camera lens. Depending on the type of this filter, the colour of the sun can be either yellow, orange, greenish or bluish.
  7. Intermediate Filters- These filters are specially designed for viewing the fine details on the sun surface. Intermediate filters are mounted between your camera and your lens and yield much more detailed pictures of the sun than standard white light filters.
  8. Digiscoping Devices- A very recent innovation on how to photograph solar eclipse is the use of a digiscoping device. This essentially means that the camera is attached to a telescope or spotting scope. One can also use binoculars for this purpose. This is a simple way to get a great magnification. This is also an economical alternative to a telephoto lens. Another cool thing about it is that even a smartphone camera can be used to capture eclipse photography using this technique. Again, the digiscoping device should always be fitted with a solar filter, unless is certified for solar viewing. Another option is to use a filter sheet instead of the filter in front of the digiscoping device.
  9. The Right Lens- The focal length of your lens will determine the proportion of the sun’s image in your frame. Wide angle lenses would make the sun appear too small in the frame. Telephoto lenses will magnify the image of the sun a bit, but still not enough to fill the frame clearly.
solar eclipse filter
Solar Eclipse filters to safeguard your camera (source)

If you want the photographs to have an image of the sun that fills the frame nicely, you will have to get a lens with a focal length of at least 300 mm. Going between 500 and 1000 mm will further increase the size of the sun’s image and present its surface features more clearly.

Basic Camera Settings For Solar Eclipse Photography

With all the necessary gear in place, you should now be clear on how to photograph solar eclipse. But there are still a few things left to be kept in mind. You should know the basic settings of the camera and the accessories that you are going to use. It is a great idea to read up a bit on the technical details of each of the gear you are going to use. The following sections will give you an insight into these settings.

One must keep in mind that during a solar eclipse, especially a total solar eclipse, the light conditions will vary. It is vital for the photographer to quickly change the settings accordingly in the camera so that the shot of the complete eclipse is captured in best possible way. Here are the basic settings that will guide you on how to photograph solar eclipse.

  • Shoot the photographs in RAW format to make post-processing easier and more effective.
  • The ISO settings of your camera should be kept to the lowest possible value. This value will vary with the brand of the camera. For example, for Nikon and Fujifilm cameras, this value is 200.
  • The mode of the camera should be turned to ‘Manual’. Automatic mode should not be entrusted with capturing a rare and valuable event like a solar eclipse.
  • The lens aperture should be adjusted between f/5.6 to f/8, at least in the beginning. Then you can alter it a bit to suit your preferences.
  • The shutter speed is critical. It is advisable to have the fastest shutter speed for the first few shots and then altering it is required. It is to be kept in mind that the shutter speed should be fast enough not to cause any vibration in the camera. In general, the shutter speed varies with the progression of the solar eclipse. The relative position of the sun and moon will guide you how to photograph solar eclipse with different shutter speeds.
Camera Settings For Solar Eclipse photography
The right camera settings for solar eclipse photography (source)

There is no well-defined guide to help you how to photograph solar eclipse with the right exposure time. You would have to bracket continuously and take a lot of shots of the event and later decide which one works best for you. Exposure will vary if the eclipse is not in a clear sky and the clouds become a source of light reflection.

Livingit Tip-
Please remember to turn off the flash function as it does not serve any purpose when you click pictures of a solar eclipse.

How to Photograph Solar Eclipse Using a Solar Filter

No instruction manual on ‘How to photograph solar eclipse’ will be complete without including the details of solar filters. Solar filters are the lifeline of solar photography and it is crucial that a photographer knows in detail about the types of solar filters and their utility. In the following sections, we will read about the key considerations while choosing a solar filter.

Basically, solar filters allow or restrict certain wavelengths of light to pass through them. Most beginners choose solar filters that transmit white light, that encompasses the visible spectrum of light. White light filters can be of different kinds like Silvered and non-silvered filters, metalized sheets and black polymer films. Each of these filters has its own set of specifications that the reader is encouraged to go through.

Advanced photographers who know how to photograph solar eclipse and wish to capture the details of the solar surface use special filters known as H Alpha filters.  These are quite expensive as they allow visualization of specific surface details of the sun that cannot be captured otherwise.

H alpha filter for solar eclipse filter
H Alpha Filters (source)

In order to make the choice of solar filters easier for you, here are some key points to remember:

  • Non-silvered glass solar filters are only suitable for taking eclipse photos and produce a bluish while solar disk in the photographs. Please remember not to use this type of filter for direct viewing of the sun through your camera.
  • Full aperture filters or large lens filters are the solar filters that are mounted in front of the camera lens. They are suitable for photography as well as direct solar viewing by the user.

How to Photograph Solar Eclipse: Final Tips and Tricks to Back On!

While all the basics have been covered above, there are just a few more tips and tricks that help you on how to photograph solar eclipse:

  • Always carry enough memory cards so that you never run out of storage space. You cannot predict how many pictures you will click, and it is prudent to be well prepared with extra room for storing pictures. 
  • Check the exposure values frequently. Though it is not absolutely necessary to have a fixed range of exposure, it is good to know the range you are working with.
  • Experiment with the positioning of the eclipse within the frame. Sometimes, not keeping the sun in the centre can add volumes to the photography effect.
  • Keep a set of spare batteries. You don’t want to lose the opportunity of clicking the solar eclipse because your camera had no power left.
  • Practice makes perfect! Don’t wait for the day of eclipse to put all your skills to use. You should practice how to photograph solar eclipse even without an eclipse. The sun is out there. Go ahead and shoot.
  • It is a good idea to select a good location for shooting the solar eclipse a few days in advance. Having a place selected will make it easier for you to set up your equipment and shoot easily.

Honestly speaking, there is no magic formula that tells you how to photograph solar eclipse. Of course, experienced photographers and experts have been able to identify a few factors that help you to get good photographs of a solar eclipse. But you will have to make sure that you do not compromise on the safety aspects and pay proper attention to the details of the recommended settings. Don’t forget to share your eclipse photography experience.

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