Now that we’re upon the #GreatAmericanEclipse, and especially that we’re now SOLD OUT OF SOLAR FILTERS!!! Its time for a nice technical post about eclipse photography.
First, all the safety stuff!!! Only use approved solar viewing filters to look at the sun!!! Keep your camera lens capped except when actually shooting!!! I don’t want to see anyone come in with holes burned in their shutters – so don’t use Mirror Lockup!!! If you’re doing Live View from your camera’s rear screen remember that the sun is blasting onto the sensor!!! I’ll say it again- Keep your camera lens capped except when actually shooting!!!
Taking a picture of the sun will not destroy your camera! Go outside right now, point it at the sun, go click. See, nothing happened!
Leaving your camera open for less than a short while (let’s say 15 seconds) won’t hurt it. Don’t leave it sit in Live View or Mirror Lockup. Use your lenscap!
One point I haven’t seen published is why one would use a solar filter vs not using it.
Here’s the difference-
Use a solar filter to photograph detail in the sun (sunspots, flares, etc). Don’t use a solar filter to photograph detail in everything else. You can’t have both.
A solar filter will turn everything but the sun totally black and featureless. Solar filters typically allow only 1/10,000 of the light through. Not using one can give you details in your surrounding environment but the sun will be featureless and white, or worse depending on your exposure settings.
Here’s my basic starting setting
1. First make some test shots well before the eclipse! You don’t need to miss all the excitement fooling with your camera!
2. Focus the camera manually. Get the sun sharp and tape the focus ring down on your lens so it doesn’t move. You may still be able to autofocus with a solar filter or a dark neutral density filter but…
3. With a solar filter start with ISO 100 (or the lowest native ISO of your camera). You’re photographing the sun, you don’t want or need high ISO setting.
Set shutter speed above 1/1000 sec (I’ll use 1/1250) and an f-stop of 11. Without a solar filter go with the fastest shutter speed your camera offers (1/2000 or 1/4000) and the largest f-number (16, 22, 32, biggest number you can get). This may vary depending on the level of foreground detail you may want to see (see notes on the example picture below). Remember, you still won’t get a detailed sun no matter what you set. A solar filter is necessary for sun detail!
You can search the web and view several published charts of exposure setting. They all appear to all be good guides.
Exposure times will change slightly for those of you who are traveling to areas where the eclipse is full, lowering as is nears full and increasing as it wanes.
4. For aestethics I prefer setting White Balance to the Daylight position. This will give you a slightly orangish looking sun. When I see NASA photos I’ll see this color- it just seems right to me. If you want a more yellow sun crank up the Color Temp (higher number will be yellower) or use Auto White Balance. Shoot in RAW and you may change it in post. We’ve had some fairly heated discussion around the store about this. Use your own judgement!
5. Review your test shots. Turn on your “blinky highlights feature” to be sure you’re getting detail in the sun if you’re using a solar filter. Find the setting that allows you the lowest f-number that will retain all detail.
Don’t have a solar filter? Try a variable neutral density filter. They’re fun to have in any case (smooth flowing water, blurry backgrounds in outdoor portraiture) and will allow about 1/1,000 of the light through. They will still not give you a detailed sun, only get you close. You can also use the classic technique of cross polarization. Sandwich two polarizing filters and spin the front one until it’s darkest. depending on the quality of the filters you can get close to a solar filter. Be careful, they all work differently, and you may see some big color shifts with them. You may be tempted…but crossed polarizers are still not safe for viewing!
A few random thoughts:
1. Use a solid tripod.
2. Don’t be surprised if the sun still looks tiny in your pics. Even a 600mm lens ain’t that powerful photographing something 93 million miles away.
3. If you’re traveling to the middle of the country for the full eclipse remember that when the eclipse is full you need to remove the solar filter! Get it back on the moment the sun comes out of full.
4. Here in Phoenix we’ll get about 75% eclipse. Don’t despair, shoot what you got!
5. The light will go gray as the eclipse happens, and brown in the city. It’s eerie, don’t get rattled.
6. Don’t want to point your camera at the sun- make a pinhole projector box! I’ll post about that later this week.
Making a compelling picture.
I really don’t need to see another picture of a white ring on black. Let’s see what you can do to make an interesting picture without a solar filter, so you can have some detail through the picture. Put something in the foreground of your shot- reflections in the side of a building, palm trees, a large sculpture, etc. Take a shot of the people around you, get their expressions of wonder (especially if you’re in a large group). Don’t cry if there are some clouds in the sky- use them creatively.
I haven’t seen much interest or information out there on the web about shadow bands. This is a phenomenon that occurs only during a total eclipse. We probably won’t see them in Phoenix but if you’re traveling to the total eclipse, watch for them! They are elusive and ethereal little alternating bands of light and dark rolling across the landscape and sides of buildings as the sun goes into totality. Caused by the shock wave of that small, sharp band of sunlight slapping across the atmosphere at 10,000 miles per hour. Watch for them out of the corner of your eye. Try to get a photograph of them.
The 1994 annular eclipse in Detroit. Photographed with a Nikon F, Vivitar Series1 200mm, 1/1000 sec f16, on Kodacolor Gold 100 film, no stinkin’ filter. Shot from the fire escape on the east side of my old studio, just minutes before totality. You’ll see the edge of the building on the right side of the pic. The swirling clouds really make the picture, and you’ll see that brown tinge of the city’s atmosphere. Eerie, isn’t it. I think it captures the emotional experience of an eclipse perfectly. The clouds cleared when the eclipse was full, so I only made that boring “white ring on black” shot, and that I won’t bother to show.
Be sure to share you pics with us.