Yes, You'll Need Those Crazy Glasses to Shoot the Upcoming Solar Eclipse

Yes, You'll Need Those Crazy Glasses to Shoot the Upcoming Solar Eclipse

The first solar eclipse in almost a century will be visible across the entire United States on August 21 this year. That means if you’re looking to catch a photograph of it, it’s time to gear up. When I was a younger (read: greener) photographer, my first instinct would be to point the camera at the sun and let it rip. That’s a really bad idea. You’ll want to prepare both your own eyes and your camera to shoot this rare event properly.

Here is a video from Nikon Ambassador Lucas Gilman on things you may need to get you started:

And here's a tip for some of the settings you may need to use:

B&H Photo even has an entire section dedicated to equipment for the solar eclipse, so you can get some of the gear that Gilman talks about in his video — everything from solar glasses, to a solar filter for your lens, or to that DSLR and lens combo. B&H even has a handy guide to photographing the sun on their site.

You can also check out a video by Matt Granger where he talks with a photographer, Nelson Quan, who chases eclipses to photograph. The pair dive into a lot more details about settings and what the challenges are in shooting eclipse photos:

Here are some of the big takeaways from the videos:

  • Don't look directly at the sun, either with your eyes or through the lens. You'll damage your retinas and possibly your sensor.
  • Most ND filters and sunglasses aren't enough; you'll need to buy special solar filters and glasses.
  • If you're looking for a closeup shot of the sun, you'll want at least a 500mm lens.
  • There's no one correct setting, and the light will change as it becomes a total eclipse. Use a tripod and bracket your shots for the best chance of success.
  • Scout your location in advance and practice (with your solar filter in place) the day before, or you'll be struggling on the fly to figure out your location and the correct settings the day of.

There's a lot more information within the videos, and so take a look before heading out; you'll only have one shot in a couple of decades to get it right.

Images used with permission, courtesy of Nikon.

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Ralph Hightower's picture

Tip #5: Enjoy it; don't try to photograph it.
I don't think that would be possible for me. I checked off a 30 year old bucket list item to watch a Space Shuttle launch. I wanted photographs of the launch. I wasn't behind the viewfinder the entire time. I was not glued to the viewfinder watching the launch; overall, I shot five frames of Atlantis; but I was limited to 36 photos for the launch.

Loic Romer's picture

A solar filter is just a strong 16 stop ND filter??? Would using a 10 stop ND filter work??? I cant buy a filter for a once in a lifetime use ;)

Anonymous's picture

I'm in the same boat. I've been thinking about buying a plate of welders glass for it but there's a part of me that keeps saying, "If I screw this up, will I be around for the next one?" In my case, nobody has lived that long since Genesis! ;-)

Deleted Account's picture

None of all that simply dark material such as welders glass or strong ND filters blocks UV-A radiation sufficiently. You can't see or feel UV-A at all but if looking directly into the sun through unsuitable filters your retinas could be permanently damaged by UV-A in no time. Once you notice the effects - blurred vision or even partial loss of it - it's too late. There's no medical treatment for that kind of eye damage. Worst of "just dark" material is that it lets your pupils go wide open due to the low levels of visual spectrum light so even more UV-A gets into your eyes. Using filters not specifically certified for solar observation is gambling with your eyesight.

If you don't want to invest in expensive glass filters I'd recommend solar filter foil that's used by astronomers for only occasional solar observation with their telescopes. It has a metalized surface that blocks UV-A transmission to almost 100% and is also a very strong ND filter. The cheap cardboard "eclipse goggles" that are most likely already around in the US use the same stuff. As the filter foil is very flexible it's super easy to use: wrap it around your lens hood and use a strong rubber band to secure it. Just make sure there are no tears or holes in the foil after mounting it.

But I would suggest to get the foil from a reputable seller of astronomy supplies, some unscrupulous shady seller on eBay might just send some kind of metalized gift wrap instead of the real deal.

EDIT: You can see what a proper UV-A blocking filter looks like on the photo of Lucas behind the camera. It has a glossy almost mirror-like look.

Deleted Account's picture

Looks good to me, exactly the kind of stuff I was talking about.

19.99 $ shouldn't be too much for such a once in a lifetime highlight... ;-)

Anonymous's picture

It's on its way. A lot of solar filters, for obvious reasons, are already sold out.

G Wilder's picture

The first line of your article is wrong. This is not the first solar eclipse in almost a century. I'm not even 40 years old and I saw a total solar eclipse in Hawaii when I was around 11 years old or so. And it was a total eclipse, not just a partial one. I remember it being a really big deal, and all the school kids were given pinhole eclipse viewers.