How to… Photograph a Solar Eclipse

How to… Photograph a Solar Eclipse

On 20th March 2015 we have our first solar eclipse in northern Europe since 1999. This time round the UK will see anything between 90-95% of the sun covered by the moon between around 9.30am and 9.40am depending on where you are. The Norwegian island of Svalbard will see a total eclipse.

It is common knowledge that looking at a solar eclipse with the naked eye is very dangerous. If you are thinking of photographing the eclipse be very careful. It is natural and may be tempting to look up or over your camera or phone as your setting up or about to shoot. If your camera has an articulating screen, as long as the screen isn’t pointing towards the sun you should be fine.

If you’re using a camera ideally use a tripod. If you’re using a phone and have a Joby GorillaPod or similar use one. It will discourage you from looking directly at the sun as your eyes won’t be behind it (or shouldn’t be), and have it set up well in advance. You don’t want to miss it as the next solar eclipse in the UK is in 2090…

Check all your settings. Choose a long focal length (or zoom) or you may only see a small dot and you’ll probably be really disappointed. Ideally set your focus manually to infinity.

For photographing a partial eclipse, if you have one (I can’t imagine too may people have one knocking around in a cupboard) use a solar filter which will massively reduce the effect of the sun’s visible and infrared energy. After you set up your camera / phone try some test shots beforehand to make sure your exposure is right. If you are using a camera or phone with a manual mode option (which I’d always recommend) use an aperture between f8 and f16 and just test your shutter speed with different settings. That’s the only way to tell. There aren’t too many eclipses to test on! As the moon moves further over the sun adjust your shutter speed by thirds of stops so the shutter speed is quicker (with the idea to match the increased darkness with a darker image).

For photographing the eclipse at its maximum remove any filters you have as the sky will be dark. Stick to the same manual settings you had previously but test different shutter speeds between 1,000th of a second and 1 second. If you’re not used to changing these settings quickly I’d recommend practicing before.

Of course you might well not be used to manual mode at all or may not have the option. If you have to take your photos using automatic mode then set your camera up and…click. Although you’re unlikely to get amazing results you never know…

If you can use RAW format I’d certainly recommend that format over a strict jpeg to include as much detail in your image as possible.

If you want to get really technical with your settings have a look at this solar eclipse exposure guide.

Good luck and hope it’s not an overcast or too cloudy a day!