If you have come directly to this page from another website; you can find my other eclipse information here.
WARNING : eclipse photography and/or videotaping can be dangerous! If you are in any doubt about the hints and methods described on this page then DON'T attempt any eclipse photography.
IF YOU PLAN TO AIM YOUR CAMERA AT THE SUN, THEN YOUR CAMERA (and any viewfinder) MUST BE PROTECTED WITH A SOLAR FILTER WHENEVER ANY PART OF THE SUN'S DISC IS VISIBLE. THE SOLAR FILTER MUST BE PLACED SO THAT SUNLIGHT PASSES THROUGH IT FIRST, BEFORE IT ENTERS ANY PART OF THE CAMERA.
THE FILTER MUST BE ONE THAT IS DESIGNED SPECIFICALLY FOR SOLAR VIEWING. Polarisers, Neutral Density filters and other coloured or tinted camera filters are all UNSAFE for eclipse photography - because they do not reduce the ultraviolet and infrared radiation coming from the sun! Homemade "filters" made from wine cooler bags, space blankets, CD-ROMs, food wrappers, ordinary sunglasses, floppy discs, cellophane, coloured plastic sheets, plastic lids, or similar commonplace items are all UNSAFE.
The filter may be removed for direct photography if the sun is TOTALLY eclipsed. This can only occur if you are INSIDE the path of totality at the appropriate time...and beware of the sun's reappearance. If ANY part of the sun's disc is VISIBLE - no matter how small - then a solar filter MUST BE USED.
FAILURE TO HEED THIS WARNING MAY RESULT IN THE DESTRUCTION OF YOUR CAMERA; PLUS PERMANENT AND IRREPARABLE EYE DAMAGE TO YOU!
Frankly, if this is your first eclipse then don't waste your time trying to photograph totality. Australian eclipse watchers have, at most, 33 seconds to witness that incredible sight....and no single photograph can capture the intricate detail and subtle colours seen by the human eye during totality. Even veteran eclipse chasers can be utterly entranced by the sight of totality -- which is why many of them use fully automated gadgets and procedures to record the event for them. This allows them to enjoy totality without fussing about with a camera at the same time.
If you're still determined to try anyway; here's a few hints:
- If your camera has a flash then TURN IT OFF. Or cover it up. A camera flash is designed to illuminate subjects close to the camera; and is therefore USELESS for photographing landscapes or any astronomical phenomenon. Trying to take a flash photo of an eclipse will advertise to all bystanders that you're an idiot...and it's annoying to everyone near you who is trying to see the faint and subtle details of totality.
- You will need MANUAL control of your camera's exposure times, focusing, f/ ratio etc so that you can compensate for the enormous light intensity range of an eclipse. You will be going from full sunlight down to twilight and back again.... An old camera is generally suitable. So too a modern camera where you can specify all of its settings. Fully-automatic-make-all-the-decisions-for-you cameras are NOT suitable: their manufacturers haven't designed them for solar eclipse photography.
- A standard 50mm lens will produce photo negatives showing a solar disc about 1/2 mm in diameter, surrounded by a corona perhaps 2-3mm in diameter. Little detail will be seen on such a tiny image and it will not enlarge well. For 35mm SLR cameras, a 1000mm lens produces a solar disc about 9mm in diameter (on the negative), and the corona will fill most of the frame. A 300 to 500mm lens should allow the faint outermost parts of the corona to be photographed too. On 35mm negatives the diameter of the sun's (and moon's) image is approximately (focal length of camera lens)/109 millimetres.
- Because of the need to use a powerful camera lens, use a tripod to hold the camera, and a cable release to click the shutter. Practically nobody can hold a camera steady enough during totality....as millions of would-be eclipse photographers have already discovered in the last 100 years!
- Unprotected digital cameras may show unattractive streaks across the image when you attempt to photograph Baily beads or diamond ring at the start and end of totality. This "blooming" is caused by overloaded pixels within the camera's CCD imaging chip. Most mass-produced cameras incorporate anti-blooming technology, but it can be overwhelmed by very high intensity light.
- Using a bright torch to read your camera controls or the instruction manual(!) during totality is also considered a sign of ineptitude. Ambient light during totality is similar to 20-30 minutes after sunset (when bright stars are appearing in the sky); so be prepared for it by practicing before December 4! If you MUST use a torch, use a dim torch, or cover it with red cellophane.
- The sun will move about 15 degrees (down and to the left) between the start of the eclipse and maximum eclipse. Which will be a total eclipse, if you're in the path of totality at the appropriate time. Afterwards the sun continues to move about 15 degrees per hour until it sets; or the eclipse ends (if you're in Perth for example). Bear this in mind when choosing your vantage point(s) and camera aim for automated or multiple-exposure shots.
- Also pick a camera spot that won't have trees, sandhills, buildings, people -- or late-arriving vehicles -- between it and the eclipse.
- The solar corona around the totally eclipsed sun varies in structure and surface brightness (that's one of its attractions). Adjacent to the moon's disc it is about as bright as a full moon, but fades as you go outwards. The outermost parts of the corona are only just brighter than the sky background, and difficult to photograph.
- You WILL need to remove the camera's Solar Filter to get photos of TOTALITY itself. It's quite safe to view totality -- and ONLY totality -- without any filters or eye protection; but watch out for the sun's reappearance! Alternatively, use TWO cameras - one with a filter for the partial phases, and the second without a filter for totality.
- Take several exposures of totality of varying duration - say from 2 seconds down to 1/1000 second on ASA 400 film - to capture in several photos what the human eye encompasses in a single glance.
- Photography of a partial eclipse is the same as photography of the un-eclipsed sun. USE A SOLAR FILTER. For this eclipse, you can practice before December 4 using a late afternoon sun. Try a variety of exposure times, apertures and focal lengths (taking notes for each attempt). Then examine the photos and use the best-looking combination(s) to photograph the partial phases.
Note also that even the veteran eclipse photographers regard this eclipse as especially difficult, because of the short duration of totality, and its low altitude. Ask yourself: Do you really want to waste your 33 seconds (or less) doing all this as a first-timer?
More detailed instructions and exposure times are available here and here.
You can also try searching Google for "solar eclipse photography".
Copyright © 2002 Fraser Farrell. All rights reserved.