Are you planning to photograph an amazing solar eclipse? Here are some frequently asked questions about taking photos of one of nature's most incredible events. If you have more questions, please feel free to drop them in the Comments section at the end of the article!
Q: Why do I need solar viewing glasses if I am just going to be photographing the eclipse?
A: To aim your camera, you will need to look toward or at the sun. You will not want to do this with your naked eye, even with sunglasses. Solar viewing glasses are the only safe way to protect your eyes when looking at the sun. Also, you likely will not be looking through your camera the entire time, so have the glasses handy when you take a break from photographing.
Also, please don't look at the eclipse, even through a camera—use your own (protected) eyes! It is way better than looking through a camera!
Q: May I look through my optical viewfinder at the sun while wearing solar viewing glasses?
A: No. Your camera and lens will magnify the light and energy of the sun to a point greater than what the solar viewing glasses are designed to protect you from. Solar glasses are made to view the sun without magnification.
Q: What kind of camera do I need to photograph the solar eclipse?
A: Any camera—film, digital, mirrorless, SLR, DSLR, camera obscura—if it is properly protected from harsh solar light, can be used to photograph the sun. However, lenses with longer focal lengths will allow you to fill the frame more effectively with the sun.
Q: What size telephoto lens is best for photographing a solar eclipse?
A: That depends on how much of the frame you want the sun to fill. A 2000mm lens will allow the sun to fill the frame but, during the period of totality of a total solar eclipse, the corona of the sun will extend well past the edge of the frame. See the graphic, below, for a guide to the different coverage of telephoto focal lengths.
Q: What kind of filter will protect my camera?
A: You should use a certified solar photography filter to protect your camera and lens. There are two basic types of filters—those that screw on your lens like a traditional photographic filter and those that slip over the entire front of the optic. If you want a screw-on type that doesn't exactly fit your lens, you can adapt those filters with step-up rings.
Q: May I use a neutral density filter, or stack a bunch of ND filters on my lens?
A: We do not recommend using an ND filter for solar photography. Some folks have done it successfully, but only a certified solar observing filter is designed for not only the harsh light of the sun, but the different wavelengths of harmful radiation, as well. Experts at NASA, the National Science Foundation, the American Astronomical Society, Nikon, Space.com, Sky & Telescope magazine all recommend solar filters over ND filters. And solar filters tend to be reasonably priced, so why take risk your eyes or equipment?
There are some ND filters out there marketed for solar photography. If you are looking for this type of filter, it looks like the consensus among brands is that 16-stops is the minimum strength for a filter. In comparing different brands, there was a dramatic difference between the light transmission of one brand's 16.5-stop filter and a competing brand. This concerns me a bit. Use at your own risk!
WARNING: Do NOT use these ND filters on a camera with an optical viewfinder! Many ND filters come with fine-print on their packaging regarding optical viewfinders, so use due diligence and use Live View mode or an electronic viewfinder. Your safest option is a solar filter, but the optical glass ND filter may have other uses besides solar photography.
Q: The sun is so bright; why do I need a tripod to photograph the eclipse?
A: The sun is super bright, so when photographing it, even with a solar filter, you might be using fast shutter speeds. However, once the total eclipse happens, everything will get very dark and you'll need the stability of the tripod for the slower shutter speeds. Also, the eclipse happens over several hours, so the tripod will keep you from having to hold your gear continuously.
Q: May I just use my iPhone or mobile device to get a photo of the eclipse?
A: Yes, you can use a smartphone camera to photograph the eclipse. You may want to filter the lens using a solar filter because you will not see anything but a bright sun until totality. Also know that the sun will be very small in the frame. Mobile cameras are not always very good at low-light images, so during the total eclipse, your images may leave you wanting something better.
Q: If I am doing a projection of the eclipse, what kind of camera should I use to photograph the projection?
A: You can use any type of camera to photograph a projection of the eclipse. No filter is needed.
What solar eclipse photography questions do you have? Fire them off in the Comments section, below, and we can continue the discussion!