Solar Eclipse Photography: Tips, Settings, Equipment and Photo Guide

Eclipse sequence

Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre

If you're thinking of photographing the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, check out this guide from eclipse photography experts Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre. Here is a photo guide with some of Joson and Aguirre's work, and tips for getting the perfect shot.

This panel shows the various stages of the solar eclipse. The so-called diamond ring marks the beginning of totality (third from the left) and the end of totality (third from the right). Joson and Aguirre assembled this sequence from individual still frames they took of the March 29, 2006, total solar eclipse near El Salloum, Egypt.

Image scale for DSLR cameras

Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre

Joson and Aguirre created this photo illustration, which is adapted from the diagram by Fred Espenak, an astrophysicist emeritus at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center who specializes in eclipse predictions (earning him the nickname "Mr. Eclipse"). The diagram shows how the size of the sun's image varies in the frame of a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera with a full-frame (35-mm format) sensor, depending on the focal length of the telephoto lens or telescope used. In DSLRs with smaller, APS-C sensors, the relative size of the solar image will appear about 1.6 times larger because of the cropping of the camera's field of view. As a result, you can use a lens of shorter focal length to produce the same image scale of the sun as in the full-frame version.

White-light photography setup

Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre

To image the sun in "white light" (plain visible light), Joson and Aguirre use a DSLR camera coupled with a 3-inch (7.6-centimeter) apochromatic refractor telescope (apochromatic telescopes use special glasses to eliminate color fringes in the image). The telescope is shown fitted with a safe solar filter, in this case, a metal-coated glass filter, on the front (objective) end. This setup is ideal for capturing the partial phases of the eclipse. A solar filter is necessary only when any portion of the sun's disk is visible. At the start of totality, sky watchers can remove their solar filters (and solar viewing glasses). But be sure to immediately replace the solar filter (and solar viewing glasses) once totality ends.

[How to View a Solar Eclipse Without Damaging Your Eyes]

Helpful imaging accessories

Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre

The best way to attach your DSLR camera body securely to the telescope focuser is to use an appropriate T-ring for your camera brand (check with your local camera retailer) and a 1.25-inch (3.2 cm) nosepiece adapter. To minimize vibrations, use an electronic cable release to operate the shutter.

Point-and-shoot digital cameras

Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre

If you don't have a DSLR camera, don't worry — you can use your automatic point-and-shoot pocket camera to take decent pictures of the partial eclipse through a properly filtered telescope. With the solar filter mounted securely to the telescope, insert a wide-field eyepiece, and hold the camera lens close to it. Use the camera's built-in LCD screen to center the sun. Zoom in as needed. WARNING: Attempting to photograph the sun without a proper solar filter can cause eye damage, and can also ruin your telescope and/or camera.

Smartphone eclipse photography

Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre

You can also use your smartphone camera or other mobile devices to take decent shots of the partial eclipse through a solar-filtered telescope. That way, you can text, email or share those images with friends via social media. Joson and Aguirre captured this snapshot of the sun using a Samsung Droid Charge smartphone's 8-megapixel camera. They held the phone over the eyepiece and used the camera's autofocus and auto-exposure modes to take the shot. Note the tiny sunspots visible on the solar disk.

Smartphone telescope adapter

Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre

A better and steadier way to secure your smartphone to the telescope eyepiece is to use a commercial bracket to attach the phone to the eyepiece. Shown here is the Smart Phone Adapter from Meade Instruments, which can accommodate several models of the iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy, and retails for $19.99. Do-it-yourselfers can 3D-print their own homemade brackets.

Solar projection method

Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre

The simplest and safest way to observe the partial stages of the eclipse is with a pinhole camera. The tiny solar image projected by the pinhole onto a shaded white piece of cardboard will be safe to look at. You can also use your unfiltered telescope (or one side of your binoculars) to project a magnified image of the sun's disk onto the cardboard that you can safely view and photograph. Be sure to cover the telescope's finder scope and the unused half of the binoculars, and do not let anyone look through them. This scene was taken in the suburbs of Boston during the partial solar eclipse on Dec. 25, 2000.

A very long total solar eclipse

Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre

During totality, the sun's outer atmosphere, called the corona, blazes forth in all its glory. Joson and Aguirre captured this view of the corona on July 11, 1991, along the eclipse track's central line in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Their observing site was located in Cabo Pulmo, a small coastal community facing the Gulf of California and situated northeast of Cabo San Lucas. The duration of totality there was an incredible 6 minutes and 53 seconds, with the sun 83 degrees high in the sky. (The point directly overhead from the horizon, called the zenith, is 90 degrees.) That was the longest total solar eclipse that Imelda and Edwin will ever get to see in their lifetimes. They used a Meade 1,000-mm f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and a Nikon F2A manual SLR camera for this 1-second exposure on 35-mm Kodachrome 200 slide film.

Blackout over the Caribbean Sea

Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre

Joson and Aguirre photographed the total solar eclipse of Feb. 26, 1998, in the Caribbean Sea, between Aruba and Curaçao, from the deck of the MS Veendam, a Holland America Line cruise ship. They enjoyed being immersed in the moon's dark shadow for nearly 3 minutes and 43 seconds, with the sun about 61 degrees high in the sky. Imelda and Edwin used a Meade 1,000-mm f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and a Nikon F2A manual SLR camera loaded with 35-mm Kodak Royal Gold 400 color print film.

Last total solar eclipse of the 20th century

Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre

From a crowded mountaintop in Harput, Turkey, Joson and Aguirre captured this view of the sun disappearing behind the moon on Aug. 11, 1999, using a Meade 1,000-mm f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and a Nikon F2A manual SLR camera loaded with 35-mm Kodachrome 200 slide film.

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