The Amateur's Ultimate Guide to Photographing the Solar Eclipse

August 09

8 min. to read

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Solar eclipse isn't happening very often - therefore it's not a common photography scene. Find out how you can prepare for shooting the eclipse and stay sure you won't miss any single detail.

You don't have to be a pro or have tons of costly equipment to capture some amazing shots of the upcoming eclipse. This guide is intended for amateurs who'd like to take advantage of a rare opportunity. With it, we hope to help you increase the odds of grabbing some memorable and perhaps valuable photos.

The Amateurs Ultimate Guide to Photographing the Solar Eclipse Image1©Rick Fienberg / TravelQuest International / Wilderness Travel

We're not going to delve into the mechanics of a solar eclipse, when or where to photograph it. There are more than enough resources out there to answer those questions. If you're interested in that information, we'd recommend reading this article.

Required Equipment

Photographing a solar eclipse doesn't require all the gear you might expect. There are a few important pieces of equipment to protect your camera's sensor and your eyesight, but. Let's take a look at the list of equipment you're going to need.

  1. A sturdy tripod with a multi-axis head
  2. A cable or remote shutter release
  3. A DSLR or mirrorless camera
  4. A telephoto lens (maybe): Your 70 -200mm or 75-300mm kit zoom lens will do the job just fine. If you don't have a long lens, don't count yourself out! You can still create incredible images with a wide angle lens by photographing the eclipse over the landscape. (See the example below.)
  5. PROPER Filters: There are several types of solar filters available, from DIY black polymer and inexpensive folding paper ones to pro-level filters at $150 or more each. Don't try your standard ND filters; they don't block enough light. You can start by looking on Amazon.
  6. Eye Protection: While you're looking for filters pick up some goggles or glasses, too.
  7. Fresh Camera Batteries
  8. Fast, formatted memory cards

The Amateurs Ultimate Guide to Photographing the Solar Eclipse Image2©2012, Evan Zucker 

Commons sense should dictate the rest of your list. Know where you're going to be and be prepared for anything.

Taking the Photos

Get to your shooting location early. Attach your solar filter and get the sun in your frame. Set your lens to Manual focusing. Use live view and zoom in. Once you're sure the sun is sharp, lock the focusing ring with a piece of tape or other means. If your DSLR camera has a mirror lock-up option, enabling it can help eliminate camera shake, too.

The Amateurs Ultimate Guide to Photographing the Solar Eclipse Image3

Exposure settings: Here's where things get interesting. Grit your teeth and switch to M. Don't worry; you'll find a good table of exposure recommendations in the “Solar Eclipse Exposure Guide” section of this article, as well as information on bracketing your exposures .

Shoot RAW: Last, but not least, set your camera to record the images as RAW files. Yes, this will use card space faster, but you'll have much more latitude in processing your RAW images.

And... GO!

Once you've completed all the steps above, just keep the sun framed by following it in live view. When the shadow starts to appear, start shooting. Be ready to swap batteries or memory cards quickly if necessary.

About Totality

If you happen to be in a location where you can shoot the total eclipse, you should know that when it reaches totality, the rules will change for a couple of minutes. First of all, when the sun is completely hidden, you'll want to remove your solar filter. You can also view the spectacle with your naked eye for about two minutes.

The Amateurs Ultimate Guide to Photographing the Solar Eclipse Image4©2013,  Jay Pasachoff / Allen Davis / Vojtech Rusin / Miloslav Druckmüller

This is when “day turns to night”. With the direct sunlight blocked, you'll be able to see the corona streaming out around the darkened disc. The light emitted at this point will be much fainter, which is one of the reasons you should be bracketing widely and shooting in RAW. Many photographers with the budget for it will set up a second camera for this phase.

Be ready to replace the filter and stop looking at the sun before that first bit of direct sunlight peeks through.

Processing Your Images

Once you're back at home with your photos, you'll need to work with them a bit. Luminar will allow you to reduce noise and adjust contrast, brightness, tone and color as needed:

The Amateurs Ultimate Guide to Photographing the Solar Eclipse Image5

It's a fairly easy process to use layers to create a composite image, showing a sequence of shots of the eclipse phases. You may even want to try stacking some of your bracketed shots to increase the dynamic range, especially those taken during totality.

The Amateurs Ultimate Guide to Photographing the Solar Eclipse Image6©Rick Fienberg / TravelQuest International / Wilderness Travel 

Show Them Off and Market Them

As an amateur, you may be comfortable with sharing your work with friends on social media sites, but skeptical about their value. Don't underestimate yourself or the quality of your photos.

Sign up for a contributor account with gettyimages.com, shutterstock.com or one of the other popular stock photo sites. Not only will you have the chance to sell them, their screening process will help you refine them when they're submitted.

Sites like 500px.com will give you a platform that typically brings you more for the sale of an image than the average stock photo site. For an even more versatile platform, check out pixels.com, where you can offer your photos not only in several printed and/or framed styles, but also printed on a wide range of products like coffee mugs, cell phone covers and throw pillows.

Closing Thoughts

The Amateurs Ultimate Guide to Photographing the Solar Eclipse Image7©Mark Margolis / Rainbow Symphony

The final point we'd like to make about this event is to take the time to enjoy it. Don't get so wrapped up in photographing it that you forget to look around you and just enjoy the phenomenon, as well as the reactions of other watchers. This will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so drink it in!

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