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How to Photograph a Total Solar Eclipse

On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will cross North America. It will be visible in Mexico, the United States, and Canada. If you want to take the best possible photos of a solar eclipse, this is the perfect time to learn!


How to photograph a total solar eclipse

In 2019, Erez Marom and I travelled to Argentina to photograph a total solar eclipse. It was an amazing experience that required a lot of scouting and planning. Watch the video below to find out more about our adventure and learn about photographing a solar eclipse. And keep on reading to find out how you can take amazing photographs of the April 8 eclipse!



What is a solar eclipse?

A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, partially or totally obscuring the view of the Sun. In partial and annular eclipses, only part of the Sun is obscured, but in a total eclipse, the Sun is fully obscured by the Moon (this is known as "totality"). Totality can only be viewed from a relatively small area of the world, which means that for most people on Earth, total solar eclipses are rare events.  


What You Need for Solar Eclipse Photography 

You won't need much to photograph the solar eclipse, although there are a few pieces of photo equipment that you will find helpful:


  • Eclipse app - There are many apps that can help you figure out where the sun will be in the sky when the eclipse occurs, such as Solar Eclipse Timer (general photography planning apps such as Photo Ephemeris or Photo Pills can also show you where the eclipse will be).

  • Solar filter - To photograph the sun before totality occurs, or if you are witnessing a partial eclipse, you'll need a solar filter. Without a solar filter, shooting directly into a bright sun with a telephoto lens can damage your eyes and your camera sensor. Just make sure to remove the solar filter during totality, as the sun will get much darker.

  • Eclipse glasses - Never look directly at the sun without eclipse glasses! These are a cheap but necessary safety device.

  • Telephoto lens - A long focal length will make the eclipse look larger in your final shots. The wider your focal length, the smaller the eclipse will look in your images. I recommend at least 500mm (full frame equivalent) to capture a large eclipse, although if you have a shorter focal length you can always crop. As for me, I'll be using my Tarmon 150-500mm lens on my Sony a7RV camera (which at 60 megapixels gives me plenty of options for doing a tighter crop later).  


Find the Perfect Location

Before the eclipse occurs, you should find a suitable location for your eclipse photoshoot. First and foremost, you should choose a location that is within the path of totality, which is the narrow strip of land where you can witness the total eclipse. Click here for a link to an interactive Google Maps display of the path of totality so you can select the best location near you. If you are outside the path of totality, you can still witness and photograph a partial eclipse using a solar filter.


Path of totality for the total solar eclipse

Second, you want to select a location with a good chance of having clear skies. If all you want is pictures of the eclipse, then you are done. Just go to your location and be ready when the eclipse is scheduled to occur there!


Finally, if you want to include anything on the ground within your composition, you need to scout carefully. As you look for locations, use an eclipse or photo planning app to figure out where the eclipse will be in the sky. Visualize the final photographs and try to get the best composition. For this photo below taken during the 2017 total solar eclipse, I backpacked twenty miles into the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, and then when on location, I carefully scouted for an interesting wide-angle composition. It can be very challenging to visualize what the final image might look like, as you can only really see how things come together when the sun nears totality.


How to photography a total solar eclipse

Camera Settings for Solar Eclipse Photography

Make sure to have everything set up and ready to go before the eclipse begins. Totality usually doesn't last longer than one or two minutes, and that time will go quickly when you are in the moment. For telephoto shots of the eclipse, handholding is easiest. Since you won't have much time to optimize your settings when totality occurs, preset the settings I recommend below. You can shoot with the widest aperture your lens supports. During totality, the brightness of the sun is considerably reduced, so don't be shocked if your camera needs a high ISO to give you a good exposure; setting your camera to auto ISO means you have one less thing to worry about when taking photos.


  • If you have been using a solar filter to photograph the eclipse before totality, make sure to take it off when totality nears.

  • Use a 1/500 second or higher shutter speed to ensure sharp images when handholding a telephoto lens. You can get away with a longer shutter speed if you have image stabilization in your lens or camera, but why take the risk of having blurry eclipse photos?

  • Use Auto ISO to account for the rapidly and dramatically changing light during totality. Use exposure compensation to adjust your exposure value if necessary.

  • Set your camera for continuous shooting at your fastest frame rate. You don't need to shoot in burst mode all the time, but a rapid burst is especially helpful when trying to capture the "diamond ring" phase of the eclipse (more on that below).

  • Consider using automatic exposure bracketing. There is a lot of contrast during the eclipse, and an automatic +2/-2 exposure bracket will help ensure you have a proper exposure. The dark parts of the scene should be black, and you want to ensure that you don't overexpose the bright parts of corona. Some overexposed highlights are inevitable (the sun, after all, is very bright), but if you can retain detail in most of the corona, you'll end up with very nice eclipse photos.


You can coax more detail out of the corona by shooting a wide exposure bracket and doing an exposure blend (such as by using HDR Merge in Adobe Lightroom or Camera Raw). For example, with my Sony a7RV camera, I plan on using automatic exposure bracketing with a +3/-3 5-shot bracket (so I'll get one exposure at neutral, one exposure at -3, one at -6, one at +3, and one at +6). This will give me a 12-stop exposure bracket; I plan on combining these exposures using Merge to HDR to reveal more detail of the sun's corona.

 

Options During the Totality Phase of a Solar Eclipse

Your first basic option is to photograph totality when the sun is perfectly blocked behind the moon. All that will be visible is the sun's corona spreading out from the shadowed moon. Here is an example below:


How to photograph a total solar eclipse

Your second option is to photograph the eclipse at the edge of totality, when the sun is barely peeking around the moon. This is known as the "diamond ring" phase of the eclipse, and it occurs twice, once just before totality begins, and once just after totality ends. To make effective photos, only a small sliver of the sun can be revealed. If there is too much sun you'll end up with lots of lens flare and potentially can damage your eyes and equipment

(remember, you took off your solar filter and eclipse glasses for totality). So, your chances to get the diamond ring last only a few seconds on either end of totality. When the sun is mostly blocked, start shooting in continuous shooting mode until totality occurs (and do the same when the sun just starts to reemerge after totality, but stop before the sun gets too bright), this will increase you chances of getting a good diamond ring image.


How to photograph a total solar eclipse

Conclusion

Solar eclipses are incredibly fun to photograph, but preparation is key. Use the tips above to take impressive photographs that you can proudly share with your friends, family, and followers!


Are you looking forward to the next solar eclipse? Let me know in the comments.

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Great Video Ian--gave me goose-pimples!

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