Ten Tips for the Solar Eclipse


Total Eclipse from Libya 2006I present my Top 10 Tips for photographing the August 21 total eclipse of the Sun.

If the August total eclipse will be your first, then you could heed the advice of many and simply follow “Tip #0:” Just don’t photograph it! Look up and around to take in the spectacle. Even then, you will not see it all.

However, you might see less if you are operating a camera.

But I know you want pictures! To help you be successful, here are my tips for taking great photos without sacrificing seeing the eclipse.


TIP1-iPhone on Siriu Tripod
An iPhone in a tripod bracket and on a small tabletop tripod.

TIP #1: Keep It Simple

During the brief minutes of totality, the easiest way to record the scene is to simply hold your phone camera up to the sky and shoot. Zoom in if you wish, but a wide shot may capture more of the twilight effects and sky colors, which are as much a part of the experience as seeing the Sun’s gossamer corona around the dark disk of the Moon.

Better yet, use an adapter to clamp your phone to a tripod. Frame the scene as best you can (you might not be able to include both the ground and Sun) and shoot a time-lapse, or better yet, a video.

Start it 2 or 3 minutes before totality (if you can remember in the excitement!) and let the camera’s auto exposure take care of the rest. It’ll work fine.

That way you’ll also record the audio of your excited voices. The audio may serve as a better souvenir than the photos. Lots of people will have photos, but nobody else will record your reactions!

Just make sure your phone has enough free storage space to save several minutes of HD video or, if your camera has that feature, 4K video.


TIP2-2006 Libya Wide-Angle
A wide shot of the 2006 eclipse in Libya with a high altitude Sun. 10mm lens on a cropped-frame Canon 20Da camera.

TIP #2: Shoot Wide With a DSLR

For better image quality, step up to this hands-off technique.

Use a tripod-mounted camera that accepts interchangeable lenses (a digital single lens reflex or a mirrorless camera) and use a lens wide enough to take in the ground below and Sun above.

Depending on where you are and the sensor size in your camera, that’ll likely mean a 10mm to 24mm lens.

By going wide you won’t record details in the corona of the Sun or its fiery red prominences. But you can record the changing sky colors and perhaps the dark shadow of the Moon sweeping from right to left (west to east) across the sky. You can also include you and your eclipse group silhouetted in the foreground. Remember, no one else will record you at the eclipse.


TIP3-2012 Eclipse Movie Clip
A sequence of shots of the 2012 eclipse from Australia, with a wide 15mm lens and camera on Auto Exposure showing the change of sky color.
Total Eclipse of the Sun, Mid-Eclipse (Wide-Angle)
The total eclipse of the Sun, November 14, 2012, from a site near Lakeland Downs, Queensland, Australia. Shot with the Canon 5D Mark II and 15mm lens for a wide-angle view showing the Moon’s conical shadow darkening the sky and the twilight glow on the horizon. Taken near mid-eclipse.

TIP #3: Shoot on Auto Exposure

For wide shots, there’s no need to attend to the camera during the eclipse. Set the camera on Auto Exposure – Aperture Priority (Av), the camera ISO between 100 to 400, and your lens aperture to f/2.8 (fast) to f/5.6 (slow).

Use a higher ISO if you are using a slower lens such as a kit zoom. But shoot at ISO 100 and at f/2.8 if you have a wide lens that fast.

In Av mode the camera will decide what shutter speed to use as the lighting changes. I’ve used this technique at many eclipses and it works great.


TIP4-Pixel Intervalometer CU
An accessory intervalometer set for an interval of 1 second.

TIP #4: Let the Camera Do the Shooting

To make this wide-angle technique truly hands-off use an intervalometer (either built into your camera or a separate hardware unit) to fire the shutter automatically.

Once again, start the sequence going 3 to 5 minutes before totality, with the intervalometer set to fire the shutter once every second. Don’t shoot at longer intervals, or you’ll miss too much. Shutter speeds won’t likely exceed one second.

Again, be sure your camera’s memory card has enough free space for several hundred images. And don’t worry about a solar filter on your lens. It’ll be fine for the several minutes you’ll have it aimed up.

Out of the many images you’ll get, pick the best ones, or turn the entire set into a time-lapse movie.


TIP5-Manual Focus Switches Nikon
A Nikon DSLR and lens set to Manual Focus.

TIP #5: Shoot on Manual Focus

Use Auto Exposure and an intervalometer. But … don’t use Auto Focus.

Switch your lens to Manual Focus (MF) and focus on a distant scene element using Live View.

Or use Auto Focus to first focus on something in the distance, then switch to Manual and don’t touch focus after that. If you leave your lens on Auto Focus the shutter might not fire if the camera decides it can’t focus on the blank sky.


TIP6-Lightoom Wide-Angle
A comparison of a Raw image as it came from the camera (left) and after developing in Lightroom (right).

TIP #6: Shoot Raw

For demanding subjects like a solar eclipse always shoot your images in the Raw file format. Look in your camera’s menus under Image Quality.

Shoot JPGs, too, if you like, but only Raw files record the widest range of colors and brightness levels the camera sensor is capable of detecting.

Later in processing you can extract amazing details from Raw files, both in the dark shadows of the foreground, and in the bright highlights of the distant twilight glows and corona around the Sun. Software to do so came with your camera. Put it to use.


TIP7-200mm Lens on Tripod
A 200mm telephoto and 1.4x Extender, with the camera on a sturdy and finely adjustable tripod head.

TIP #7: OK, Use a Telephoto Lens! But …

If you really want to shoot close-ups, great! But don’t go crazy with focal length. Yes, using a mere 135mm or 200mm lens will yield a rather small image of the eclipsed Sun. But you don’t need a monster 600mm lens or a telescope, which typically have focal lengths starting at 600mm. With long focal lengths come headaches like:

 Keeping the Sun centered. The Earth is turning! During the eclipse that motion will carry the Sun (and Moon) its own diameter across your frame from east to west during the roughly two minutes of totality. While a motorized tracking mount can compensate for this motion, they take more work to set up properly, and must be powered. And, if you are flying to the eclipse, they will be much more challenging to pack. I’m trying to keep things simple!

 Blurring from vibration. This can be an issue with any lens, but the longer your lens, the more your chances of getting fuzzy images because of camera shake, especially if you are touching the camera to alter settings.

An ideal focal length is 300mm to 500mm. But …

When using any telephoto lens, always use a sturdy tripod with a head that is easy to adjust for precise aiming, and that can aim up high without any mechanical issues. The Sun will be halfway, or more, up the sky, not a position some tripod heads can reach.


Total Solar Eclipse (2012 from Australia)
A re-processed version of a still frame of the total solar eclipse of November 14, 2012 taken from our site at Lakeland Downs, Queensland, Australia. This is a still frame shot during the shooting of an HD video of the eclipse, using the cropped-frame Canon 60Da and Astro-Physics Traveler 4-inch apo refractor telescope at f/5.8 (580mm focal length). The image is 1/60th second at ISO 100. This is a full-sized still not a frame grab taken from the movie.
TIP8-Eclipse Movie Clip 2012
A sequence from a movie showing the camera adjusting the exposure automatically when going from a filtered view (left) to an unfiltered view of the diamond ring (right).

TIP #8: Use Auto Exposure, or … Shoot a Movie

During totality with your telephoto, you could manually step through a rehearsed set of exposures, from very short shutter speeds (as short as 1/4000 second) for the diamond rings at either end of totality, to as long as one or two seconds at mid-totality for the greatest extent of the corona’s outermost streamers.

But that takes a lot of time and attention away from looking. Yes, there are software programs for automating a camera, or techniques for auto bracketing. But if this is your first eclipse an easier option is to simply use Auto Exposure/Aperture Priority and let the camera set the shutter speed. Again, you could use an intervalometer to fire the shutter so you can just watch.

Don’t use high ISO speeds. A low ISO of 100 to 400 is all you need and will produce less noise. The eclipsed Sun is still bright. You don’t need ISO 800 to 3200.

Even on Auto Exposure, you’ll get good shots, just not of the whole range of phenomena an eclipsed Sun displays.

Or, once again and better yet – put your camera into video mode and shoot an HD or 4K movie. Auto Exposure will work just fine, allowing you to start the camera then forget it.

Place the Sun a solar diameter or two to the left of the frame and let the sky’s motion drift it across the frame for added effect. Start the sequence running a minute or two before totality with your solar filter on. Then just let the camera run … except …


TIP9-66mm on Stellarvue
A small refractor telescope with a solar filter over the front aperture. That filter has to be removed for totality.

TIP #9: Remember to Remove the Filter!

You will need a safe solar filter over your lens or telescope to shoot the partial phases of the eclipse, and to frame and focus the Sun. This cannot be a photo neutral density or polarizing filter. It must be a filter designed for observing and shooting the Sun, made of metal-coated glass or Mylar plastic. Anything else is not safe and likely far too bright.

But you do NOT need the filter for totality.

Remove it … when?

The answer: a minute or so before totality if you want to capture the first diamond ring just before totality officially starts. Set a timer to remind you, as visually it is very difficult to judge the right moment with your unaided eye. The eclipse will start sooner than you expect.

If you have your camera on Auto Exposure, it will compensate just fine for the change in brightness, from the filtered to the unfiltered view.

But don’t leave your unfiltered camera aimed at the Sun. Replace the filter no more than a minute or so after totality and the second diamond ring ends.


Partial Solar Eclipse and Sunspot #2
The partial eclipse of the Sun, October 23, 2014, shot through a mylar filter, on the front of the 66mm f/7 apo refractor shown above (450mm focal length), using a cropped-frame Canon 60Da camera for 1/8000 second exposure at ISO 100. Focus on the sharp tips of the crescent Sun or a sunspot if one is present.

TIP #10: Focus!

Everyone worries about getting the “best exposure.” Don’t! You’ll get great looking telephoto eclipse close-ups with any of a wide range of exposures.

What ruins most eclipse shots, other than filter forgetfulness, is fuzzy images, from either shaky tripods or poor focus.

Focus manually using Live View on the filtered partially eclipsed Sun. Zoom up on the edge of the Sun or sharp tip of the crescent. Re-focus a few minutes before totality, as the changing temperature can shift the focus of long lenses and telescopes.

But you needn’t worry about re-focusing after you remove the filter. The focus will not change with the filter off.


Me at 2006 Eclipse
Me in Libya in 2006 with my eclipse setup: a small telescope on an alt-azimuth mount.

TIP #1 AGAIN: Keep It Simple!

I’ll remind you to keep things simple for a reason other than giving you time to enjoy the view, and that’s mobility.

You might have to move at the last minute to escape clouds. Complex photo gear can be just too much to take down and set up, often with minutes to spare, as many an eclipse chaser can attest is often necessary. Keep your gear light, easy to use, and mobile. Committing to an overly ambitious and inflexible photo plan and rig could be your undoing.

To help ensure success, check out my next blog entry, Top 10 Tips for Practicing for the Eclipse.

By following both my “Ten Tips” advice blogs you should be able to get great eclipse images to wow your friends and fans, all without missing the experience of actually seeing … and feeling … the eclipse.

However … may I recommend …


How to Photograph the Solar Eclipse
My 295-page ebook on photographing the August 21 total eclipse of the Sun is now available. See http://www.amazingsky.com/eclipsebook.html  It covers all techniques, for both stills, time-lapses, and video, from basic to advanced, plus a chapter on image processing. And a chapter on What Can Go Wrong?! The web page has all the details on content, and links to order the book from Apple iBooks Store (for the best image quality and navigation) or as a PDF for all other devices and platforms. Thanks! Clear skies on eclipse day, August 21, 2017.

For much more detailed advice on shooting options and techniques, and for step-by-step tutorials on processing eclipse images, see my 295-page eBook on the subject, available as an iBook for Apple devices and as a PDF for all computers and tablets.

Check it out at my website page

Thanks and clear skies on August 21!

— Alan, June 23, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com

 

Eclipse on the Atlantic – Success!


Total Eclipse of the Sun from the Atlantic (Nov 3, 2013)With minutes to go until totality it was unclear – literally! – if we were going to see the eclipse.

We have a happy ship of 150 eclipse chasers. On Sunday, November 3 a morning of gloomy faces gave way to smiles and exclamations of joy as the captain of spv Star Flyer piloted our ship into a clear hole in the clouds. We enjoyed a stunningly clear view of totality – all 49 seconds of it – with the eclipsed Sun set in a deep blue sky.

My image above captures some aspects of the scene as it appeared off the port bow of the ship.

But it fails to show just how colourful this eclipse was. Because it was a short eclipse, with the Moon’s disk barely large enough to cover the Sun, the hallmark of this eclipse was the brilliant pink chromosphere that was visible all around the Sun during the entire eclipse, with bits of prominences sticking out.

The pink ring was set amid the silvery-white and symmetrical corona, which in turn was set in a dark blue sky, above the yellow twilit horizon. The naked eye view and the view through binoculars was stunning. It was the most colourful eclipse I can recall, and this was total eclipse #15 for me.

This was also the first eclipse where we had the ability to adjust its time to suit our schedule. We should have been in the -3h GMT time zone at our longitude in the mid-Atlantic. But in a pre-eclipse planning meeting we decided to keep the ship’s clocks on -1 GMT until after the eclipse. This put totality at 10:30 a.m. our time, making it convenient for everyone to have breakfast before the eclipse and not interfere with lunch! That’s the luxury of being on a small ship dedicated to seeing the eclipse. The captain and crew have been fantastic.

The second contact diamond ring was prolonged, with the last bits of the Sun breaking up into beads of light as the Sun disappeared behind valleys and craters on the Moon. The third contact diamond ring appeared as a sharp, tiny but brilliant point of light exploding off the top edge of the Moon. It happened all too soon.

In the days leading up to the eclipse we worked with Captain Yuriy Slastenin to choose a new intercept point 160 nautical miles east of our original site, one that would give us another 6 seconds of totality but still allow us to maintain our schedule of reaching Barbados on Sunday, November 10.

Our new site was 17° 0’ 0” North and 37° 11’ 56” West, smack on the centreline. The captain got us to that precise spot about an hour before sunrise, exactly when planned.

But after a week of beautifully clear skies on the sail down from the Canary Islands, the sky on eclipse morning was filled with cloud and unsettled weather. We had rain showers and rainbows Sunday morning, but with tantalizing clear holes coming and going all morning and dappling the ocean with spots of sunlight in the distance.

Partial Eclipse Through Filter (Nov 3, 2013)

I shot this view during one of the clear breaks leading to totality when the Sun and spirits brightened, only to be dashed again as clouds rolled in. The weather took us on an emotional roller coaster all morning.

In the minutes leading up to totality the captain was at the helm and propelled us under full engine power into a clear hole that opened up just before totality. We ended up 1.7 nautical miles east of our choice position and slightly south of the centre line, but with the same 49 seconds of totality.

Eclipse Site Map

The image above shows our ship’s track during the eclipse, from the intended site, first drifting around the intercept point, then heading southeast toward clear skies. The track then heads straight west, as we set sail again toward Barbados soon after totality while the champagne was being served.

Our success speaks to the maneuvering advantage of a ship in tropical climates. I’ve now seen three total eclipses from ships at sea at tropical latitudes, and we’ve always had to move at the last minute to get into clear holes.

Of course, the worst weather we’ve encountered so far on the voyage was on eclipse day and the day after, yesterday. As I write this, on Tuesday, November 5, the day is hot and sunny, and the ocean as calm as we’ve seen it. (I’ve not been able to post anything until now as our ship’s connection to the internet via the Inmarsat satellite has been off-line for the last few days.)

As totality ended the Sun went into thin cloud again. From then on that morning we saw the Sun only briefly during the final partial phases.

But no one cared. We saw what we had sailed across the Atlantic to see. It is a happy ship of shadow chasers.

The trip was organized by Betchart Expeditions who chartered the Star Flyer, a 4-masted sailing ship, one of three sailing ships in the Star Clipper line. I’m serving as one of the guest speakers on a program packed with speakers and great talks. After all, we are at sea for two full weeks, crossing the Atlantic from the Canaries to Barbados, with nothing but a limitless horizon in view for all that time. And the eclipse!

– Alan, November 5, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Great Australian Eclipse – The Closeup Movie


This is the “director’s cut” movie of the November 14 total eclipse of the Sun in Australia, unabridged and unedited.

I shot this movie of the eclipse through a telescope to provide a frame-filling closeup view of totality. This is the entire eclipse, from just before totality until well after. So it includes both diamond rings: at the onset of totality and as totality ends.

A few seconds into the movie I remove the solar filter which produces a flash of light until the camera readjusts to the new exposure. Then you really see the eclipsed Sun!

We got 1m28s of totality from our viewing site near Lakeland Downs, Queensland. But the movie times out at slightly less, because at several points where you hear a shutter click, I took a still frame which interrupts the movie. You can see some of those still images in earlier blog posts.

My timing was a little off, as I opened up the exposure to reveal more of the outer corona only moments before the end of totality, so the first moment of the final diamond ring is a little overexposed. During totality I was looking with binoculars, and made the mistake of going over and checking on my other wide-angle time-lapse camera. That wasted time needlessly. I should have spent more time attending to the movie camera and taking more stills at various exposures. No eclipse every goes quite as planned. Losing 30 seconds of totality in order to seek out clearer skies did cost me some images and enjoyment time in the umbra. But our experience was far less stressful than those who dodged clouds (or failed to miss the clouds, in some cases) at sites closer to or at the coast.

The original of this movie is in full 1920 x 1080 HD, shot with the Canon 60Da through the 105mm f/5.8 Astro-Physics apo refractor, on an equatorial mount tracking the Sun. I rarely have the luxury of shooting an eclipse through such extravagant gear, as I would never haul that type of hefty gear now on an aircraft to remote sites. But this equipment emigrated to Australia in 2002 for the total eclipse in South Australia and has been here down under ever since. So this is its second Australian eclipse. Mine, too!

– Alan, November 21, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

The Great Australian Eclipse – The Shadow Movie


This is 6 minutes of pre- and post-eclipse – and the all too short eclipse itself – compressed into 30 seconds. You can see the dark blue shadow of the Moon sweeping across the sky.

The long oval shadow comes in from behind us from the west and comes down to meet the Sun which is rising in the east. That moment when the shadow edge meets the Sun is second contact when totality begins in a diamond ring effect, and the Sun is entirely hidden behind the Moon.

The shadow then moves off to the right. As its left edge hits the Sun, the Sun emerges in another diamond ring and the eclipse is over. All too soon. Even at mid-eclipse the Sun is not centred in the oval shadow because we were not centred in the path of the shadow but instead drive well north of the centreline, to avoid cloud farther south. We saw 1m28s of totality, 30 seconds less than people at the centreline or on the coast. But we had no annoying clouds to worry about.

Also note Venus at upper left. And the hugs and kisses at the end!

– Alan, November 15, 2012 / © Alan Dyer 2012

 

The Great Australian Eclipse – Second Diamond Ring


This is the sight eclipse chasers hate to see, yet celebrate the most! It is the diamond ring that ends totality.

This was the “third contact” diamond ring when the Sun returned in an explosion of light from behind the edge of the Moon.

Compare this view to my earlier blog, and you’ll see that the second diamond ring at the end of totality did not happen opposite the first diamond ring. That’s because we were well off the centreline of the Moon’s shadow, so from our perspective the Moon travelled across the Sun’s disk slightly off-centre.

From where we ended up in our chase for clear skies, we experienced 1m28s of totality, well under the 2 minutes maximum that others saw near the centreline. But we felt 1m28s of clear skies was better than 2 minutes under partly cloudy skies. Indeed, some on the coast saw the Sun only briefly during totality, or not at all.

Instead, while the last minute move was stressing, once we were set up, we had relaxed assurance we were going to see the whole show!

– Alan, November 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

The Great Australian Eclipse – Outer Corona


For this shot I overexposed the inner corona on purpose to reveal more of the extent of the streamers in the Sun’s outer corona.

The pink at left is the chromosphere layer shining from behind the Moon just before the Moon uncovered the blindingly bright photosphere with a burst of light, the diamond ring.

It takes a lot of specialized processing, far beyond what I’ve done here, and stacking of multiple exposures to reveal the delicacy of structures that you can see with your aided eyes during a total eclipse. There is nothing more astonishing in the sky for its complexity and yet subtleness than the Sun’s corona. It is the main attraction at any total solar eclipse. You have not lived astronomically until you have seen the corona of the Sun with your own eyes.

– Alan, November 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

The Great Australian Eclipse – Inner Corona


Taken shortly into totality, this shot shows some of the complex structure of the Sun’s corona, and a cluster of red prominences peaking out from behind the bottom edge of the Moon.

For the November 14, 2012 eclipse I shot two cameras. One, with a wide-angle lens, was automatically taking a frame every second. Three of those frames are in a previous blog. For this shot I used a second camera looking through a 4-inch refractor telescope I keep stored in Australia. It worked great! I seldom get to shoot an eclipse through a telescope, as so many eclipses are in remote locations where carting a telescope and mount are impractical. But for an Oz eclipse (I’ve seen two from Australia now, in 2002 and now in 2012) I get to use my Oz gear.

Because the Sun is nearing solar maximum its corona appeared evenly distributed around the Sun, with streamers reaching out in all directions. At solar minima eclipses the corona extends just east-west with little over the poles.

This image, like the other closeups I’m posting, are still frames shot while the camera was taking an HD movie. Firing the shutter while the movie is recording interrupts the movie but records a full-resolution still frame, a very nice way to get two forms of media with one camera.

– Alan, November 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer