On August 21, 2017 parts of the United States will see their first total solar eclipse in almost 50 years! While many would just as soon watch it on the internet or on television, many will want to see this major event (the next one to cross the states will be April 8, 2024) live as it happens. If you want to be out there watching it as it occurs there are two things you will need, the right location and proper eye gear. Mom was very right when she said don’t look directly at the sun or you will go blind. Staring at an eclipse can do major damage to the retina which includes blindness. There are no sunglasses made even if you were to stack them that will be safe enough for your eyes; make sure you get some eclipse glasses which are reputable. Sadly there are people out there hustling a buck who are selling counterfeit glasses. Here is an article from the American Astronomical Society which explains where you can get them and how to make sure they are safe ones. If you haven’t gotten a pair already you may find them difficult to acquire as there has been quite a rush to get them but there may still be some out there; some local libraries are handing them out. When in doubt you can always resort to the old shoe box method of viewing the eclipse we learned in elementary school.
But what if you are a photographer? That requires not only proper gear for your eyes but also for your camera lens. ND filters no matter how many stops or how many you stack are not strong enough! You will need a specialized solar filter. Again, they may be all sold out by now but you can try you local camera store or an online store. Without this filter, just like without glasses your eyes can be damaged, your camera’s sensors can get fried and while not as precious as your vision, that could still hurt a lot. No matter what type of camera, cell phone, telescope or binoculars you wish to view the eclipse with, they all need a protective solar filter. The only time you and your equipment can look at the eclipse without protection is during totality. Then and only then! Just make sure you remove your glasses and the filters from everything at that moment or all you will see is just darkness. Put them back on when totality is over.
So, besides glasses for your eyes and a solar filter for your camera what else will you need? A tripod to steady your camera for the shots, a remote shutter release to avoid camera shake, charged and ready batteries, extra media cards and either a flashlight or your phone for when it gets dark. At minimum, a 200mm lens will work but 500mm or more will really get you those shots. I won’t go into detail about how to shoot an eclipse (I have some great articles listed at the end of this post for that) other than you will be taking plenty of shots, bracketing your shots with shutter speeds ranging from 1/8000 to one second and eventually doing a composite image taking your best shots into your photo editing program of choice. I highly suggest doing a trial run with your camera to find out what settings will work for you. If you don’t have a solar filter then practice shooting the moon – not the sun – to get an idea of what image you may get with certain settings if you will be in an area that will experience totality.
This will be an amazing event to behold but don’t become so engrossed in taking photos that you don’t stop for a bit to just take it all in with your fellow watchers; see it and what’s going on around you. I want to see if the temperature goes down and if, as I’ve heard, birds stop chirping. I intend on photographing the eclipse and my fellow watchers to have a full record of the day. I’m just hoping that there will be good weather and clear enough skies for it. Here is one image I took to test my bracketing settings. I did a 7 shot bracket but this isn’t a composite image. I shot handheld – which means there was some blurring in all of the images – but it gave me an idea of what settings could work for me. Whatever you do on eclipse day enjoy yourself and be safe!
(If you haven’t followed me on Instagram already at http://www.instagram.com/imagesbytd then please do to see my reporting of the eclipse)
Where best to see:
Tips on how to photograph: