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How to Photograph a Solar Eclipse (An Essential Guide)

How to photograph a solar eclipse

On the afternoon of April 8th, 2024, a total solar eclipse will be visible for a huge swathe of mainland North America. And while total solar eclipses aren’t an entirely uncommon phenomenon, it is highly irregular for one to be seen by such a large portion of the country, and it won’t happen again anytime soon.

As a result, anyone who wants to get some good photographs of the upcoming event will need to spend time preparing, getting some essential gear, or even traveling to the USA if you live in another country.

Fortunately, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to get a good shot of the eclipse. This guide is designed to give you a good idea of what you will need without breaking the bank.

What is a solar eclipse?

How to photograph the eclipse

To understand a bit about photographing a solar eclipse, it’s important to know just what it is you will be looking at when the event finally occurs.

The moon orbits the earth once every 28 days, but the plane of the moon’s orbit is not quite even with the plane of the earth’s orbit around the sun. Because of this disparity, the moon does not usually block out our view of the sun. However, every so often, the moon passes between the earth and the sun, blocking out the sunlight. This is known as a solar eclipse. You can also witness lunar eclipses, where the Earth passes between the sun and the moon – but solar eclipses are rarer and, in my opinion, more spectacular to watch.

The fun part happens when you are lucky enough to be in the path of totality, which is where you will experience a complete blackout of the sun during the middle of the day. Keep reading to find out what gear you will need to photograph the eclipse and how to locate the path of totality so you know where to be on this eventful day.

How to Photograph a Solar Eclipse - diagram
A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes directly between the sun and the Earth. (This diagram is most definitely not to scale!)

How can I view a solar eclipse?

The most important thing to remember when viewing the April 8th eclipse, or any solar eclipse, is that you do not want to look directly at it unless the moon is completely covering the sun.

I must make this abundantly clear: do not look at the solar eclipse with your naked eyes!

Even if most of the sun is covered up by the moon, the light streaming out will be much too bright for your eyes to handle. NASA’s website has more detailed information on eclipse safety, but suffice it to say that, if you want to watch the eclipse unfold in real-time, you will need something to protect your eyes like these solar eclipse glasses or a strong piece of welding glass. Sunglasses are far too weak to be effective (and squinting definitely won’t work, either!

Protect your eyes properly. They’re the only ones you’ve got.

How do I take pictures of the eclipse?

How to photograph the eclipse

Here’s where things get a little tricky. You will probably need to spend a bit of money, though hopefully not as much as you think. If you want to get the kind of close-up images you’ve already seen in this article, you will need the following camera gear:

  • A zoom lens, preferably one that has a focal length of at least 400mm.
  • A solar filter to protect your lens and camera.
  • Solar glasses so you can watch the eclipse unfold as it happens.
  • A tripod to hold your camera steady.
  • A place to view the eclipse free of obstructions.

Here’s a bit more information about each piece of eclipse photography gear so you can make sure to get the best photos possible:

Lens and camera recommendations for eclipse photography

Most consumer-level telephoto zooms do a good job covering a variety of focal lengths. But these lenses rarely go past 200mm, and shooting at 200mm isn’t going to capture the solar eclipse with as much resolution and detail as you may want.

That’s where a longer lens – such as the Tamron 150-600mm or the Sigma 150-600mm comes in handy. It will allow you to get a much closer view and to take the kind of close-up eclipse pictures you see on blogs and magazine covers. The downside is that these longer lenses are quite expensive.

Fortunately, there are several places online where you can rent lenses for a few days at a time, which I highly recommend. BorrowLenses, Lensrentals, and LensProToGo are popular sites that all carry a similar lineup of lenses, but it’s also a good idea to check with your local brick-and-mortar camera shop. Many of these stores will let you rent lenses for a very short period of time, which is good (since you only need one day to photograph the eclipse).

How to photograph the eclipse
Tamron’s 150-600mm lens is ideal for shooting a solar eclipse, and you can find it online at places like Amazon.com.

If you don’t want to spend extra money on a super-telephoto lens, one alternative is to buy or rent a teleconverter that will increase the focal length of your existing lenses. A 2x teleconverter – which will turn a 200mm lens into a 400mm lens – can be rented for about $35 (depending on your location).

While the resulting images won’t be quite as sharp as if you were using a dedicated zoom lens, a teleconverter should be more than adequate to give you enough reach to photograph the eclipse with a lens you already own.

(Note: Some point-and-shoot cameras have impressive zoom lenses, but I would advise against using these for a solar eclipse. Unfortunately, there’s just not a good way to attach a solar filter to a point-and-shoot camera, which I describe in the next section.)

Finally, it’s worth noting that crop-sensor cameras are ideally suited for this type of event because they will give you more reach out of your lenses. A 200mm lens on a Nikon crop-sensor camera effectively becomes a 300mm lens, and the same holds true for Canon. Cameras with four-thirds sensors are even better; they have a 2x crop factor, so shooting with a 200mm lens on an Olympus MFT model is like using a 400mm lens on a standard full-frame mirrorless camera or DSLR.

How to photograph the eclipse
You don’t need an expensive camera to get good photos of a solar eclipse! Even an older crop-sensor model like the Nikon D3200 will work great, provided you have a telephoto lens or a teleconverter.

Bottom line: For shooting the eclipse, if you have access to both crop-sensor and full-frame cameras, you will be better off relying on the crop.

A solar filter

How to photograph the eclipse
If you plan on pointing your camera at the eclipse at any point other than when the sun is completely covered by the moon, you will need a solar filter like this one! Do not point an unprotected camera setup at the sun; you risk ruining your camera.

You shouldn’t look directly at the sun during an eclipse without proper protective equipment for your eyes, and the same is true for your camera. If you are lucky enough to be in the path of totality, you can look at, and take pictures of, the eclipse without needing any special gear – but only during the few minutes when the sun is completely covered by the moon.

However, if you are anywhere except the line of the complete blackout, or you want to take pictures of the eclipse as it begins and ends, you will need certain equipment to keep your camera safe.

A special solar filter that attaches to the end of your lens is a great way to protect against damage to your camera. Not to be confused with standard neutral density filters – which are not anywhere near strong enough for this type of situation – solar filters are specifically designed to photograph eclipses and other solar events.

Make sure to find a solar filter that screws on, or fits over, the end of the lens you plan to use for eclipse photography. Do not use a solar filter that goes between your camera and lens.

If it’s a screw-on filter, it needs to fit your lens perfectly, so double-check that the thread size of the filter you get matches the thread size of your lens. (The lens thread size is generally displayed on the front of the lens, and you can also find it written on your lens cap and lens hood).

Solar glasses

How to photograph the eclipse
Solar glasses like these are required if you want to look directly at the eclipse as it begins and ends.

Solar glasses function much in the same way that a solar filter does, but they’re designed to protect your eyes instead of your camera. They are not expensive and look like the old style of 3D glasses you might have used in a movie theater decades ago, except these block out virtually all light except what comes from extraordinarily bright objects (like the sun).

While wearing solar glasses won’t help you take better photos of a solar eclipse, it’s good to wear them as the eclipse waxes and wanes so you can see it with your own eyes instead of through your camera’s viewfinder.

A tripod

Unless you have very steady hands or an impressive image stabilization system on your camera, a tripod is essential for shooting an eclipse. While you don’t need anything fancy or expensive, it will help to have a larger one that can keep your camera and lens rock-steady. That’s why I would recommend against those small, mount-anywhere tripods that you can find rather cheaply online.

If you are using a zoom lens with a built-in tripod mount, make sure to attach your tripod to the lens instead of the camera. Otherwise, you will put a great deal of stress on the camera mount, which can lead to damage.

Finally, any time you use a tripod, make sure you disable your lens’s image stabilization system. If you leave IS technology active, it can backfire on you and actually make your images more blurry when your camera setup is completely free of camera shake (such as when mounted on a tripod).

A place to view the eclipse

How to photograph the eclipse

If you have all your gear ready, solar glasses on your face, and your friends and family gathered to witness this historic event, it could all be for naught if you don’t put yourself in the proper location. The best spot to view any solar eclipse is in a location along the path of totality – the geographic line where you will see an entire blackout of the sun for up to a few minutes. Places not aligned with the path of totality will still see part of the eclipse, but the effect will not be nearly as pronounced.

Many towns and cities located on or near the path of totality plan community events to promote the eclipse, and they get a huge influx of tourists in the days surrounding the eclipse. So if you know that an eclipse will soon be coming to your area, book your accommodations in advance!

Try to find a park, field, or another open area free of obstructions so that you can have a clear view of the eclipse. Of course, weather plays a big role, too, and it’s entirely possible that your best-laid plans will result in rain or even just a lot of clouds. If you desperately want to see an eclipse, pay attention to the weather forecast, and consider traveling to an area that tends to get many days of sunlight.

How to photograph a solar eclipse: shooting techniques

How to photograph the eclipse

Finally, it’s important to keep a few essentials in mind so you can actually get the kind of pictures you are hoping for when the eclipse happens. Here are some tips that’ll be the difference between a blurry, almost-had-it shot and a brilliant glowing halo that you’ll be proud to print and hang on the wall:

  • Use a fast shutter speed. This is not about stopping the vibration of your camera, which is what a tripod is for; it’s about freezing the motion of the moon as it travels across the sun. A 1/125s shutter speed will be more than adequate, and going faster than that won’t really give you much of an advantage. Once again, make sure you have a solar filter attached to your lens, or you will damage your camera. Get a pair of solar glasses for your eyes, too!
  • Use a small aperture. Every lens is different, but in general an aperture of f/8 or f/11 will give you a sharp image without much diffraction or chromatic aberration. If you go much larger than that (i.e., f/4 or f/2.8), you risk capturing images that aren’t as sharp as they could be. If you go much smaller than that (i.e. f/16 or f/22), you’ll likely end up with blur due to diffraction.
  • Shoot in RAW, not JPEG, and correct your white balance afterward in Lightroom, Photoshop, or another similar program.
  • Use a two-second delay timer (if you’re shooting with a tripod) so you don’t get any vibration from your finger pressing the shutter.
  • Use Live View and manual mode to ensure perfect focus. Alternatively, you can use autofocus, but check your pictures on the LCD screen right away to make sure they are properly in focus. However:
  • Don’t spend all your time chimping, which is where you look at the LCD screen on the back of your camera after you take photos. You will only have a few minutes at most to take pictures of the total eclipse, and you will have plenty of time to admire them after it’s all done.

How to photograph a solar eclipse: final words

Hopefully, you now feel prepared to effectively – and safely! – photograph any solar eclipses in your area. Just make sure to properly protect your eyes and your camera, bring the right gear, and follow the shooting techniques I recommend.

If you want to know more, PBS has a fantastic short video about the 2017 eclipse, and you can find all sorts of information by searching online including NASA’s page dedicated to upcoming eclipses.

Do you have any other tips for getting photos of the upcoming eclipse? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below, and be sure to revisit this article after any eclipse to share your photos!

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Simon Ringsmuth
Simon Ringsmuth

is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.

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