Photographing the May 20 Annular Eclipse

Duke Johnson

Eclipse photography can be challenging. Here are just a few common sense tips that I’m hoping you will be able to implement regardless of your equipment. For your eye’s sake, you’ll need a filter as discussed below. You never want to look at the sun through your viewfinder as you can damage your eye. You can also damage your camera’s sensor.

Since this is not a total eclipse, there will be no opportunity to photograph the Sun’s corona at maximum eclipse. It is best if you realize that now and plan to concentrate instead on getting a really cool image of the sun’s disk being mostly hidden by the moon.

As with any technical endeavor, your level of pre-planning and equipment make a HUGE difference. If you want to shoot the event with your point and shoot camera, you may be in for a surprise. Most of these cameras have difficulty with exposure when shooting at the sun. It is possible (depending on cloud conditions) to get a shot of the eclipse through clouds or when it is very near the horizon (like any sunset), although your camera should still have a filter. When the sun is very low on the horizon here in Utah, it will be nearly out of eclipse.

The time to read the book about your camera and figure out “bulb” mode and “interval timing” is NOT on your way to the eclipse. If you have a camera that you’re planning to use to shoot the whole event, your focus should be to get a good solar filter for your lens. They come in several varieties (glass, film, etc.) from “white light” that give you a silverish sun to others that make the sun yellow or orange. Several companies that have a history of providing top quality filters are Thousand Oaks Optical or Baader PlanetariumClark Planetarium will also have a very limited number of filters in stock as long as they last.

Whichever filter you choose, you need to order them quickly as supplies are already diminished and companies are having trouble keeping up with the demand. You can even buy your own solar “film” from a reputable company and make your own. At this point, that may be your best chance to get one in time. It’s important that if you use a solar filter, you make sure to have it secured properly to your lens to protect your eye. NEVER try to make a filter out of material that is not rated for solar viewing! Remember, there are no nerve endings on the back of your retina. You won’t know the damage you are doing to yourself until it is too late!

Practice. Take an image well in advance of the event…even days before. Watch the last 2.5 hours of sunset any time the week before from the place you think you will be observing. Make sure to look at your image when you take it (zoom in if possible) and look at it on your computer later. Check it for sharpness and detail. Look for highlights that are “blown out” from over exposure or to dark from under exposure. Unless you’re planning to stack a bunch of images at different exposures in a High Dynamic Range (HDR) program and merge them all together, it isn’t possible to get the sun/moon and any foreground objects in the same shot.

Through it all, remember that these are rare events and that for most of us, they are best enjoyed live. Step back from you gear and just enjoy watching the Moon pass directly in front of the Sun. That’s what you’ll remember when it’s all over!

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10 thoughts on “Photographing the May 20 Annular Eclipse

  1. I have found a window company that will sell me solar film, however, I have no idea what type or strength I need to put over my camera lens. Do you know ? I have tried to research online and cannot find any specific info. Also, would there be a proper way to cover my camera lens ? Thank you !

  2. Pat,

    That type of solar film is NOT made for looking at the Sun. Don’t do it! Window companies sell film to reduce sunlight entering your home by 30% to 90%.

    To observe the Sun you need to reduce sunlight by about 99.999%

    Unless the window company is selling a highly specialized aluminized mylar product that is SPECIFICALLY made for looking directly at the Sun, then it’s not going to be safe for the eclipse. Here’s a quick test you can perform – if you can see anything through that window film except the Sun, then don’t try to use it.

    Good luck!

  3. Pat, one other thing –

    The type of camera filter you’re looking for is sometimes called a “Baader” solar filter. If you Google “Baader Solar Filter” you’ll find several sources for it, but this close to the eclipse I think it’s going to be next to impossible to find any and have it delivered by the 20th.

    The good news is that if you can get the Baader filter material before June 5th you can use it to photograph an even rarer celestial event, the Transit of Venus.

    http://www.transitofvenus.org/

  4. Baadars are indeed a great solar filter. No disputing that. However, there are sites that sell solar filters. If you google “solar filters”, you’ll pull up a great list. Amazon has several (but be careful! some are just neutral density filters that don’t reduce the amount of light sufficiently.) As mentioned, thousand oaks optical is a great resource, but they’re not accepting any new orders right now.

    I’ve found a company in California that thread-mount filters that rate extremely high. Look up http://www.hutech.com/ and give them a call. They might have what you’re looking for, and if you order today, they can send it priority and get it to you by Saturday. Doesn’t leave you a lot of time to play, but it should be a sufficient amount of time.

    Also, for what it’s worth, with the camera and lens I’ve been testing with using stacked ND filters of 3.0 and 1.2 (effectively providing the light filtering required, but I’m not a fan of stacking filters …) I’ve found that using a F14 aperture with ISO 100 and a shutter speed of 1/4000 got me a really clear picture, and that’s with a 55mm lens on Canon T2i. I’m renting a 70-200mm F4 lens from borrowlenses dot com, which is why I need a 67mm threaded filter (or at least an attachment with a drop-in filter option).

    Good luck with the eclipse!!!

  5. Thanks to both of you for your informative comments. I actually contacted the makers of the window solar film and learned that it would not work (like you said, Seth). Every site I looked at for solar filters were either sold out or I would not get the filter in enough time. I was just hoping to capture another “homemade” solution, however it does not look like there are any. If I would have been on top of things I would have rented the equipment from Borrowlenses…(way to go Chris). We will be out in a remote area near Page for photo purposes but it looks like I need to be content taking my photo’s of the area and viewing the eclipse personally without the photo’s. Best of luck with your eclipse photography, gentlemen !!

  6. This probably doesn’t apply anymore, but if you have the solar mylar, it can be attached to a camera fairly easily. With a large piece, you can place it over the lens and fasten it in place with only rubber bands. This is how we did it in Montana for the total solar eclipse in 1979.

  7. Someone told me I could use a welding helmet to view the eclipse. Would that be safe?

  8. The only welder’s glass that would be safe to look through is “shade 14″ or sometimes it’s just called “#14.” It turns the Sun a lovely green color.

    #14 Welding filters are great for naked-eye viewing, but they can’t be used with camera lenses, telescopes or binoculars. Internal reflections within the welding filter create multiple fuzzy images.

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