For many avid skywatchers, witnessing and photographing a solar eclipse is a moment awaited with anticipation. It is a celestial occurrence where for a brief minute, the sun and moon appear to become one.
A solar eclipse is present when the moon appears to cross in front of the sun. While a total solar eclipse happens when the moon blocks 100% of the solar disk, resulting in darkness. A partial solar eclipse occurs when the moon only covers a part of the sun. Although solar eclipses happen each year, the location of where you can view them will change.
According to the Solar Eclipse Guide provided by Space.com, this year of 2019, a partial eclipse occurred on January 5 and 6 in northeast Asia and the north Pacific. On July 2, there is expected to be a total solar eclipse over South America. Lastly, an annual solar eclipse will occur over Saudi Arabia, India and southeast Asia on December 26 and will be viewed as a partial eclipse over Asia and Australia.
As a photographer, documenting a solar eclipse can be an exciting endeavor. Not only will you be able to create an incredible image, you will be capturing a slice of celestial history.
Capturing a solar eclipse isn’t exactly a simple task. For such a photo to be taken, you will need to consider the equipment, positioning and camera settings needed. Here is the breakdown of how you can photograph a solar eclipse.
What Equipment Will You Need?
When photographing a solar eclipse, using the proper equipment is essential to avoid damage to your gear and to your eyes.
The moment when the moon and sun cross paths is called totality. This process is fairly quick, lasting only a few minutes, so it is important to be prepared in order to capture your image.
The most important factor to consider before photographing a solar eclipse is safety. You should never directly look at the sun with your eyes or through an optical viewfinder. Looking at the sun through a viewfinder without properly blocking any of the light can lead to extreme dangers such as loss of vision.
For photographing the solar eclipse, you will need glasses for viewing and your camera equipment.
For viewing, you can purchase specific eclipse glasses with dark enough filters to pass little amounts of light. You can also use a telescope with solar filters or solar binoculars.
To capture the solar eclipse, you will need the following items of photography equipment:
- Digital Camera: This can be a DSLR, mirrorless camera or even a point and shoot.
- Telephoto Lens: This is a super zoom lens that will allow you to get close up to the eclipse and capture the most amount of detail. An ideal length for your telephoto lens should be anywhere from 200 mm to 2000 mm. Which lens you choose will ultimately come down to availability and the price you are willing to spend. (Remember you can always rent lenses for a one time use*).
- ND/Solar Filter: This is going to be placed over the lens to protect you eyes and your gear.
- Tripod: To hold and stabilize your camera and lens.
- Shutter Release: You can do this with an external device or even a programmed switch through your camera’s mobile application.
In the case of photographing a solar eclipse, the lens is the most important aspect of your gear. With the lens, you will need to ensure that a solar filter can fit over the top. You can check out a selection of these white light filters here.
The best telephoto or zoom lens for this event would be one with a 300 mm focal length. Although this won’t allow the sun to completely fill the frame, it will still be isolated and sharp. You can then decided to zoom and crop in post production. You can also increase your focal length as you see fit.
Here are some recommended lenses for photographing the solar eclipse.
How Should I Compose My Image?
Composing an image of the solar eclipse depends on the type of eclipse that is present. For example, in a total solar eclipse there are 5 components that each last for a short amount of time.
In a total solar eclipse you will witness:
- The beginning of the partial eclipse: The moon starts to appear over the sun’s disk.
- Total eclipse begins: The entire disk of the sun is covered by the moon
- Totality/Maximum eclipse: The moon completely covers the sun and this is when the sky goes dark.
- Total eclipse ends: Moon starts to move away from the sun.
- Partial eclipse ends: The moon no longer overlaps the sun’s disk.
With this, you should position yourself to capture these 5 steps as they are occurring. The best way to ensure you are properly composing your shot is to give yourself enough time to align your camera with the sun. As the eclipse begins to happen, start to capture each phase.
The Proper Camera Settings for a Solar Eclipse
Considering that the light of the sun can potentially cause damage to your gear and eyes, you need to set very specific settings to your camera during the solar eclipse.
First, you will be using a tripod to stabilize your image from any kind of shake or movement. Due to this, remember to turn off any settings of image stabilization. A personal choice will also need to be made of whether to use auto or manual focus.
As for ISO, you will want the ISO to be low to capture all light that comes from the eclipse. Therefore, set the ISO of your camera at 100 or 200. Additionally, you will want your aperture to stay at a mid-range point to let in little light, but still retain high quality detail. Depending on the lens you use, it is advised that you set the aperture to f/5 or higher.
Your shutter speed will be the most crucial element to set properly for the eclipse. Since the sky will go dark, only allowing the sun to provide light – the shutter speed will need to be altered during the eclipse. You can do this manually on your camera body or through a bluetooth connected app.
For the shutter speed, let’s assume you have your ISO at 100 and your aperture set to f/5. Consider these values during each stage:
- Complete Sun: 1/1000 or faster
- Partial Solar Eclipse: 1/500 – 1/250
- Right Before Totality: 1/250
You will need to understand how your ISO, aperture and shutter speed rely on one another and adjust accordingly during the shooting process. The final camera setting that should be adjusted is your white balance. For the eclipse, you will want to change it to daylight mode.
Always remember to use recommended settings as a basis to work from. Depending on your lens and environmental conditions, you may need to divert from the outline above. As long as you have a basic knowledge of the exposure triangle, you will be able to capture the solar eclipse with ease.
As you can see, photographing a solar eclipse can be an exciting moment to capture. With utilizing the proper gear, understanding how to compose each phase of the eclipse and achieving the correct camera settings, you can effectively capture this inspiring celestial event.