On August 21, 2017, the “Great American Eclipse” will present a unique opportunity for photographers nationwide. The moon will pass between the earth and the sun and fully block the sun, creating a swath of shadow stretching from the northwestern to the southeastern United States. Ideal viewing can be had in Oregon, Wyoming, Illinois, Tennessee and South Carolina, where many cities will experience more than two minutes of totality. The eclipse is sure to provide tremendous photographic opportunities—but only if you know what to expect. In this Tip of the Week, learn how to photograph a solar eclipse properly with photographer Aleksandar Vukićević, who shoots for royalty-free stock photo site Dreamstime, offers this advice for safely and successfully photographing this once-in-a-lifetime eclipse.
How to Photograph a Solar Eclipse: Safety First
Hopefully, we all learned at a young age that it’s never safe to look directly at the sun—even during a total eclipse. Looking through a camera viewfinder is even worse, as it can amplify the sun and add the risk of damage to the camera sensor as well.
“If you want to see the eclipse with the naked eye,” Vukićević says, “get a pair of certified eclipse glasses or build a small pinhole projector. Grab two pieces of stiff cardstock or two paper plates, and make a small hole in one, then hold that cardstock above the other one and align them with the sun. The sun’s image will be projected through the hole.”
To view the eclipse through your camera, and more importantly, to photograph it, you’ll first need a solar filter. Don’t think that you can get away without a filter by simply using Live View and watching the eclipse from your camera’s LCD, as you risk damaging your camera’s imaging sensor.
“I photograph exclusively with these filters,” Vukićević says. “I don’t improvise. It’s important to know that the DSLR sensor can be damaged if the proper filters aren’t used. There are a variety of solar filters available for lenses. Some of these are made of optical-quality film and some are made from glass. Most solar filters are equivalent to 16- to 20-stop neutral-density filters. In most cases, I use Live View because the focus of a 1500mm telescope is easier to find that way.”
The Camera And The Exposure
Vukićević says the best lenses for photographing solar eclipses are super-telephotos longer than 400mm, or even attaching the camera to a telescope. In either case, keeping the camera steady is paramount, so set the camera on a tripod and attach a cable release. With the camera in manual exposure mode, set the ISO to its lowest value. Starting with an aperture of ƒ/8, stop down to smaller apertures in order to get the shutter speed down. You can start with the fastest shutter speed the camera is capable of—such as 1/8000—and lower it, as necessary. Vukićević’s telescope exposure settings at ISO 100 are usually 1/500 at ƒ/11 on a bright, clear sky day. Though Solar Eclipse Exposure guides are available, Vukićević prefers simply keeping an eye on the Live View screen of his camera instead.
Focusing On The Sun
If possible, Vukićević suggests using a motorized tracker to move the camera/telescope as the sun tracks across the sky. This accessory is likely cost-prohibitive to most, but may be worth investigating for those who are serious about solar, lunar and astral photography, in general. Otherwise, just be prepared to have to recompose often as the sun transits the sky. It will appear to move faster the longer the lens you’re looking through.
“No matter what lens you’re using,” Vukićević says, “getting accurate focus on the sun is extremely important. Some photographers suggest shooting at infinity using the lens marks, but since many lenses now allow focusing beyond infinity, getting true infinity focus isn’t that easy. A good trick is to point your lens at an object that’s very far away and focus on that object. I highly recommend turning off autofocus once you get accurate focus. Take a picture and use the LCD screen of the camera to see how sharp the sun is.”
To see more of Aleksandar Vukićević’s work, visit www.dreamstime.com