I’ve never been a big fan of astronomical events: there are just too many meteor showers or planet transits to keep up with, and a slightly larger Moon just doesn’t do much for me. But I have completely shed my cynical attitude regarding the upcoming total solar eclipse. The more I learn about it, the more excited I am to see it — and to photograph it. I’ll be heading down to Nashville, which lies in the path of the eclipse’s shadow, so I’ll have the opportunity to get an incredible snapshot of the Sun completely covered by the Moon.
I consider myself an amateur photographer, but I’ve never tried taking pictures of celestial events before, and I’ve never even witnessed an eclipse. So I turned to a self-proclaimed astrophotographer Justin Starr to give me some tips about how to best snap a picture of the Sun — before, during, and after totality. Watch his demonstration in the video above and check out a summary of his suggestions below.
WHAT YOU NEED
When it comes to setting all of your gear up, you’re going to need a pair of solar filter glasses. These are specialized lenses that block out 99.99 percent of the Sun’s light. You’ll need to wear them in order to spot the Sun in the sky and also to watch as the Moon starts to cover the solar disc. NASA and the American Astronomical Society have a list of approved manufacturers of solar filter glasses on their sites.
Once your eyes are safe, there are four basic things you’re going to want to use to photograph the eclipse:
- A DSLR camera or a camera with full manual controls
- A telephoto lens (we’re using a 70 to 200 millimeter zoom lens)
- A tripod
- A solar filter for your lens
Just as your eyes need protection, so does your camera lens. That’s where the solar filter comes in. These specialized instruments are made to fit over your camera’s lens to block out most of the sunlight. Most of the filters will turn the Sun into a golden or orange disc in your photographs. And you’ll need to be sure that your filter will properly screw on to the front of your lens.
Once your lens is fitted with a filter, set up your camera on your tripod and aim it toward the sky. You may need to spend a few minutes searching for the Sun, which will be tricky with the solar filter, as it blocks out basically everything else but the Sun. And no, you don’t want to take the filter off leading up to and after the eclipse. “If I did not have a solar filter on here, I could really fry the imaging sensor on my camera,” Starr told me during a demonstration. Even when 5 percent of the Sun’s light is left, it’s enough to do some damage.