Eclipse News

Solar Eclipse Photography: Capturing the Perfect Shot


Capturing your calendar shot of the upcoming eclipse can be accomplished with a wide variety of equipment choices and levels of experience.  There are, however, challenges unique to astrophotography in general and eclipse photography in particular that you should consider before committing to a photo plan.

Before we catalog these challenges, here is something for you to think about.


A Question of Balance

Folks lying in wait along the path of totality on August 21st will experience what will be, for most of them, a once-in-a-lifetime event.  The fleeting moments of totality – 2 minutes and 40 seconds if you are perfectly placed along the Central Line – pass by very quickly.  A total solar eclipse is something best taken in as a whole mind / body experience with all senses on alert, a sensation you may miss if you are staring through a camera or at a screen.

You should balance all of this with the amount of time you wish to devote to photography, your level of experience and how familiar and comfortable you are with the equipment you will use.

I am not trying to discourage anyone from going for that great eclipse shot but you do not want to miss what is unfolding around you cuz you were messin’ with your stuff.

How do you accomplish both?

 Formulate a plan of what type of shot(s) you are going for and what you need to do to snag it (them)

  Practice – know your equipment, test your focus, note how quickly the sun moves across your frame, test your tamp down time…..etc.

  Put together a checklist – bring your camera adapters?  batteries charged for camera? for mount? extra intervalometer battery? have extra memory cards? sun screen?….etc.

If you plan, practice and execute, you will have time to get your shot and kick back to enjoy the big show.


Your Mission, Mr. Phelps

Here are a few of the challenges we face:

The sun is very small without significant magnification.   These solar images were all taken with my Canon Rebel XSi, APS-C size sensor.

The sun moves – quickly.

The sun will move its diameter across your camera’s sensor in about 2 minutes

This composite was taken with my Canon & 400mm refractor; images snapped 3 minutes apart with the sun taking about 15 minutes to cross the sensor

A sturdy tripod or mount is mandatory.  A rickety platform or loose connections will result in a bunch of blurry images.

As focal length increases tracking becomes a requirement.  Up to about 300mm it is possible to get quality photos if you use a tripod head or telescope mount with slow motions controls, but this does require manually re-centering the eclipse between exposures.  A mount capable of tracking is required beyond 300mm, either an altazimuth or (preferably) an equatorial mount.

During the sequence of partial to total to partial eclipse, the sun goes through a very wide range of brightness levels.  Although auto-exposure settings will work on the partially eclipsed sun, you must manually step through exposures during totality.  Just prior to totality, filters are removed from optics for fast exposures (~1/4000) to capture the Diamond Ring and Bailey’s Beads, then stepped through slower exposures for the corona (1/500 through 2 seconds) and finally longer exposures for capturing more stars surrounding the eclipse and earthshine on the dark side of the moon (3 – 4 seconds).

This incredible sequence was captured by Fred Espenak and shows totality from Diamond Ring back to Diamond Ring.

This composite required a manual cycle of exposures as described above.

© 2006 by Fred Espenak

Correct focus is critical, auto-focus will not work in these low light conditions.  To avoid mushy, blurry images pay close attention to focusing.

  • Make sure focus is set to manual on both your camera and your lens
  • Do not trust the infinity focus mark on lenses, test it and mark it
  • Focus does not change when the filter is removed for totality, set it and forget it
  • When cycling through manual exposures, make sure you allow time for the image to settle down before snapping the next – test your tamp down time


The Dawgs Got You Covered

Look for this icon on our homepage to access a wealth of information and links on photographing the total solar eclipse.


Great is the sun, and wide he goes
Through empty heaven with repose;
And in the blue and glowing days
More thick than rain he showers his rays.

Though closer still the blinds we pull
To keep the shady parlour cool,
Yet he will find a chink or two
To slip his golden fingers through.

The dusty attic spider-clad
He, through the keyhole, maketh glad;
And through the broken edge of tiles
Into the laddered hay-loft smiles.

Meantime his golden face around
He bares to all the garden ground,
And sheds a warm and glittering look
Among the ivy’s inmost nook.

Above the hills, along the blue,
Round the bright air with footing true,
To please the child, to paint the rose,
The gardener of the World, he goes.

Summer Sun by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)


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