This Sunday, May 20th an annular solar eclipse will race across most of western and central North America. With the solar disappearing act occurring in the late afternoon, early evening time period above countless picturesque landscapes, there will be tons of skywatchers wanting to capture that souvenir shot of the full or partial eclipse. Taking photos of a solar eclipse however can be tricky because of the wide level of brightness levels, not to mention being harmful to your eyes and equipment too.
Most important is to try and get a good solar filter that will fit in front of your camera lens. Without these filters you run the risk of damaging not only your eyes but camera sensor too.
Some photographers are experimenting with stacking multi-layers of neutral density filters onto their lens or fix a #14 welders glass onto their lenses but its best to go with professionally made solar filters available from companies like Kendrick.
For eclipse watchers in the United States, especially along the path of annularity – where the dazzling ‘ring of fire’ effect will be in full swing, it will be near impossible to capture the image of the eclipsed sun and landscape in the same shot when using solar filters.
SkyNews magazine recommends making a composite shot by taking one photo of the eclipse with the filter and then, without moving the camera, take another shot minus the filter of the surrounding landscape just at sunset. Then with the magic of photo processing software like Photoshop you can combine your two shots into one amazing composite that captures the full effect of the what you experienced.
Meanwhile where there is a partial eclipse visible in the last few minutes before local sunset (Eastern, Central North America) – there you can try and capture the eclipse without using filters as the sun sets over local foreground objects and horizon.
Remember to try and set up your equipment early with your camera on a sturdy tripod. Put the camera on ‘Manual’ setting and try to bracket your shots so that it takes the same photo at a variety of exposure lengths, so you can experiment what settings that offer best results.
Recommended ISO setting should be 400 or higher so that you can get sharp images and prevent blurring from wind, etc…
Finally for DSLR cameras that you can interchange the lens, try using a telephoto in the range of 80 mm to 200mm for nice wide-angle landscape shots, up to 500mm for close-ups of the eclipsed solar disk and maybe capturing even a few sunspots too in the process.
If you can’t get set up in time with the right equipment for May 20th, try staking out local astronomy club events where amateurs will have their cameras and telescopes with solar filters at the ready.
But you can also look at it this way – this is a trial run and now you have time to prepare for the granddaddy of astronomical events – the next spectacular total eclipse of the sun – visible in the United States on August 21, 2017.
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.