Watch this video with Alan Dyer to learn how to photograph a solar eclipse.
Astronomy author and photographer Alan Dyer spoke to the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers group about how to photograph (and still enjoy!) the 2024 total solar eclipse. These tips can also apply to the upcoming annular solar eclipse that will be crossing the Americas on October 14, 2023. As well as the total solar eclipse crossing from Mexico across the United States to northeastern Canada on April 8, 2024, millions will have the chance to capture a solar eclipse. So, if you also want to try your hand at photography, you can watch Alan Dyer’s advice in the video above. Or read on for a summary of his tips.
How to photograph a solar eclipse
Total solar eclipses go by pretty quickly. In 2017, I was in Wyoming and was treated to the fastest two minutes and 19 seconds of my life as the moon blotted out the sun. So first you have to decide if it’s really worth your effort and the stress of photographing the eclipse. For me, personally, I only plan to hold my phone up a couple times during the 2024 totality and snap a couple amateurish shots. I know that I won’t be able to get anything as beautiful as astrophotographers can do. And that’s what Alan Dyer recommends in his first of five possible levels for photographing the eclipse: the easiest method is taking a photo with your phone.
Here are his five options for photographing the eclipse, in increasing order of difficulty:
- Phone camera
- Wide-angle time-lapse
- Telephoto videos
- Telephoto stills
- Telescope on tracking mount
1. A phone camera photograph of a solar eclipse
Alan says that you can set your camera on a wide-angle lens view in order to capture the ground and the sun at the same time. Or you could zoom in to capture a closeup of the sun during totality. But he says the best shot with your phone’s camera will be to mount it on some type of tripod and then set it to take a time-lapse. Or, perhaps better yet, is take a 4K movie that will capture your expressions of awe and wonder as the eclipse progresses. In this case, he recommends starting a minute or two before totality, so you don’t have to fuss with it and can just enjoy the event.
2. Wide-angle time-lapse
Set your camera up on a tripod and set it on auto exposure. Manually focus the lens on infinity. Then start the camera before totality and let it do all the work! The camera will take hundreds of images while you enjoy the view live.
Depending on what size lens you use, you may be able to include the landscape in your photo. This will be more challenging in areas where the sun will be higher in the sky. You may want to use planetarium software with field-of-view indicators to set up the framing and composition of your images. You’ll want to do the planning and framing in advance, so you’re not under a time crunch when the moment of eclipse arrives.
Some of the more technical aspects that Alan includes are: set the exposure with wide area sampling (not spot metering), set exposure compensation to -1 EV, and use an intervalometer with 1-second interval.
Using the same camera, you could also shoot 4K video, and this time you’ll capture the audio as well.
And don’t forget to turn off your camera when totality ends!
3. Telephoto videos
To take a telephoto video through your camera, Alan recommends using a 300mm to 500mm lens on a fixed tripod. For the partial phases, you’ll want an approved solar filter. Set up and practice taking images of the sun before the day of the eclipse.
Alan sets up his camera with the filter on, and rechecks the focus a couple minutes before totality. Then, about a minute before totality, he takes the filter off when he is no longer looking through the lens. Of course, as always, keep in mind that looking through a camera at the sun can result in blindness. So don’t do that! And remember to replace the filter after totality.
As with the previous methods, he says that you can use autofocus for easy and clear results. And just let the sun drift through the frame. Some of the other technical specifications he recommends are to leave the lens aperture wide open and have a low ISO. Make sure you have a solid tripod and head.
4. Telephoto stills
If you want close-up still images of the eclipse, you’ll want to use a telephoto lens on a camera with a tripod, or else a small telescope. The exposure length can vary widely depending on what you want to capture. A one-second exposure can capture more of the wisps of the corona and earthshine on the dark side of the moon. While a 1/1000 exposure will give you a better look at the diamond ring.
Alan says to shoot the largest RAW image you can and to use your DSLR camera on live view. With a mirror-less camera, Alan recommends using the electrical 1st-curtain shutter.
Auto-exposure bracketing will let you click the shutter once and have it take a range of exposures for you. You can set this up as a custom shooting mode so that you can click in and out of it easily.
5. Telescope on a tracking mount to photograph a solar eclipse
The most difficult option is to use your telescope on a tracking mount to photograph the eclipse. Hopefully you already have experience with your telescope and mount and have practiced photographing with your setup. But if you want to have a really close-up view of the eclipse, you’ll need to have it tracking the sun and moon so that there’s no blurring in your images.
Alan suggests using the crescent moon as practice for the eclipse. Here are some questions to ask yourself while practicing taking images with the moon:
- Does everything connect securely?
- Can you focus accurately?
- When you handle the camera, does it blur your image?
- How long of an exposure can you take?
And if it’s cloudy on eclipse day … go ahead and shoot long exposures anyway, especially during the partial or diamond ring phases. Who knows what your camera might capture? As long as you have the tracking set up, your camera knows where the eclipse is even through the clouds.
If you want even more tips from Alan, watch the full video above!
Bottom line: Get tips on how to photograph a solar eclipse with author and astrophotographer Alan Dyer. Use these tips for the October 14, 2023, annular eclipse and the April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse.