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How To Photograph a Solar Eclipse

Updated: Mar 26

A total solar eclipse is one of the most unique and awe-inspiring events I have ever experienced. Just being in the path of the Moon's shadow is worth the trip, but for a photographer it is a rare opportunity to capture some of the most elusive images our world has to offer. However, it is not an easy task to photograph the extreme variations of light phenomena, so success is particularly dependent on diligent preparation. To aid anyone who is interested in this task, I have compiled the following tutorial on how to photograph the total solar eclipse, particularly the forthcoming April 8th, 2024 Great North American Eclipse.


High contrast image of totality detailing the solar corona
9 bracketed images stacked into a final, high-contrast composite graphic

This deep dive into solar eclipse photography will cover tools and strategies for each phase, phenomena, and image type, as well as addressing issues and concerns that I have had photographing prior eclipses. There is a lot of information to cover, so I have divided the post into the sections listed in the Table of Contents below. Click on the section in the list you are interested in and it will take you to that portion of the post:


Appendix (Update 03.26.24)



Preparation

Good preparation is optimal for any photography session, but most seasoned photographers can just wing most events based on prior knowledge and the muscle memory developed over years of photographing difficult subjects. However, an eclipse is a uniquely complex event that requires an extra level of diligence to get the best images. Many parts of the eclipse will happen in a matter of seconds and are orders of magnitude different from each other, so you will need a detailed plan to be prepared for each phase.


The phases I will be referring to throughout this post are:

"Common Name (abbreviation) - Phase Description (approximate duration)"


  1. First Contact (C1) - Start of the partial eclipse (over an hour)

  2. Second Contact (C2) - Start of the total eclipse (seconds)

  3. Totality (MAX) - Maximum eclipse (minutes)

  4. Third Contact (C3) - End of the total eclipse (seconds)

  5. Fourth Contact (C4) - End of the partial eclipse (over an hour)


There are nuances between and during these phases, but those will be discussed in detail below within their corresponding sections.


Due to the complex nature of the eclipse and the detailed process of photographing it, I have developed a series of tools to help myself and others to calculate exposures and develop a robust schedule. I have added a new section to my website called "Tools" (see top of page) which includes access to these documents. The following tools are available as of this blog post:



Especially if you are shooting manually, I recommend setting up a schedule with every step outlined and each exposure pre-determined. This will help you to prepare for each new phase so you don't get lost, and it will also allow you to enjoy more of the event instead of stressing over all the small details in the moment. The following is an example of my schedule.


Total Solar Eclipse Exposure Schedule

As mentioned in the notes and instructions for the schedule, make sure to test your equipment and your processes prior to the actual solar eclipse. The more comfortable you are with the process, the less stressful and more successful the event will be.


In order to provide a process that is accessible to most people, I will mainly focus on semi-manual processes for capturing the eclipse using features that are available in most SLR and mirrorless cameras. However, it is worth noting that there are software programs that can help automate the process which allows you to enjoy more of the eclipse away from the camera. I am currently aware of Eclipse Orchestrator (PC Only, Free and $110 pro version) and CaptureEclipse (Mac, available in App Store). They have detailed setup requirements and appear to have some customization and camera limitations, but they may be a great option that is worth looking into if it fits your setup. I am currently reviewing and testing both with my gear, but since my mirrorless Nikon cameras and even my older D850 SLR appear not to be fully supported (or only provisionally 'maybe' supported), it is likely that I will still use the processes described in this post to reduce the chance of errors. I will add recommendations if possible prior to the 2024 eclipse.


Lastly, the more data you can get prior to the eclipse the better. It will help greatly if you know exactly when and for how long the eclipse and its phases will occur at your specific location. For that I recommend the following data sources:




Equipment

The minimum equipment you will need to photograph a solar eclipse:



Optional Equipment:

  • Eclipse Timer - I highly recommend the app I used in 2017 that gives you audio notifications at key times based on your location: https://www.solareclipsetimer.com/

  • Star Tracker or Equatorial Mount - Allows you to take longer exposures and automates tracking, but they are heavy and expensive

  • 3-Way Geared Head - This makes manually tracking the sun at long focal lengths much easier. In 2017 I used this one from Benro: https://benrousa.com/gd3wh-3-way-geared-head/

  • Equipment Cover - To protect your equipment as it will be out in the elements for hours

  • Separate camera with a wide angle lens - To capture environmental changes, could be a phone or small video camera.

Regardless of what camera you use, I highly recommend using the manual exposure setting. Auto-exposure systems were not made to handle the complex lighting conditions of a solar eclipse and I can practically guarantee that any auto-exposure mode (to include shutter and aperture priority modes) will cause you to miss important images due to incorrect metering. Use the Tools I have provided to develop your exposure plan.


Image Stabilization Warning (VR, IS, AS) - Regardless of what it is called on your camera system, if your camera and/or lens has vibration reduction/image stabilization system on it, turn it OFF while working on a tripod. It has been thoroughly documented, and I have personal experience, that when anchored to a stable base, VR/IS systems will induce internal movement that can cause your images to be soft when they may have otherwise been sharp.

Examples:

In 2017 I photographed the total eclipse with a Nikon D500 (DX) SLR and a Nikkor 300mm f2.8 with a 2x teleconverter (900mm @ 21MP). I used a 3-way geared head to make small adjustments as the Sun moved across the sky, and a shutter release to reduce camera shake (which was still a major issue at 900mm during totality). I used a Kendrick Solar Filter (the silver metal plate on the front of the lens) which I highly recommend. Using this method you will find that the Sun will rotate in the frame over the duration of the eclipse and you will need to align frames during post processing (I address the issue in more detail here). Also note that the aggressive camera angle required to photograph the sun at 63+ degrees of solar altitude will make confirming framing difficult through the eyepiece. Fortunately most modern SLR and mirrorless cameras have screens that can be manipulated to different viewing angles.



Illinois unexpectedly experienced a heat wave during the eclipse with a heat index round 104 F, so I used one of my microfiber towels to reduce the radiant heat load on the equipment before the eclipse and between partial phase shots. I will likely only use a heat-reflective cover in 2024 before the eclipse because I will be tracking shots throughout and the heat hopefully won't be as bad in April.


I photographed the 2023 annular eclipse using a Nikon Z7ii (FX) and Nikkor 500mm f5.6 PF with a 2x teleconverter (1000mm @ 47MP, 1500mm @ 19.5MP DX Crop). I was fortunate enough to also have a portable star tracker that I had been using for astrophotography. I polar aligned the rig the night prior and set the tracker to solar tracking speed the morning of the eclipse. This made it possible to set the internal intervalometer to take images every 60 seconds for the partial phases, and every second during max annularity. I did this primarily to create a timelapse, but it automates a considerable amount of the process making the experience much better overall.



In my experience, the Sun will still move across the frame regardless of how you set up the camera. The star tracker largely eliminated rotation in-frame, but even with the star tracker the Sun exhibited lateral movement. This trailing movement was extensive enough that it must be taken into consideration when setting up initial framing. The following graphic details the drift I experienced during the annular eclipse from one of my first exposures to the last approximately 3.28 hours later:



As you can see from the diagram, this setup could be optimally aligned by centering the first image to the right quarter of the Sun labeled on the graphic as the "3.25 hr Drift Centerline" instead of the center of the Sun itself. The reason the drift centerline has a specific hour designation is that the centerline will move to the right of the first image the longer the event is, and to the left the shorter the event is. My estimated framing for the 10.14.23 annular eclipse was close, but I didn't move the first frame far enough to the left. I knew that I had room on the FX setup for some error, but you can see in the graphic that I would have much less room for error on a 1500mm DX camera setup. This data is specific to my camera, lens, and star tracker, so I recommend testing the drift of your specific rig and estimating the optimal initial framing prior to the eclipse using a similar method.


The iOptron Skyguider Pro is a small, portable star tracker, and while it is very capable, I had a large camera on it near the max of its recommended weight limit and it doesn't have any declination adjustments (only right ascension which trailed). It is possible that smaller setups on similar trackers, or bigger more accurate equatorial or strain wave mounts will have less drift, but I have not tested enough to be certain currently. I will update this post if I have new information prior to the eclipse.




Focal Length

In this section I will be discussing focal length as it applies to the 35mm standard that most cameras are based on. This is not necessarily a reference to the specific focal length of the lens or telescope alone since the relative focal length of an image train (including sensor crop and teleconverter multipliers) can have a dramatic effect on the final image.

There's no single perfect focal length for a total solar eclipse. Different focal lengths will be better for different imaging goals, and different image trains will have their own unique effective focal length due to small differences in sensor sizes, lens manufacturing, etc. For that reason, I have made the following graphic that provides an approximate reference for how common effective focal lengths may influence the framing of one of the eclipse's most popular targets, the corona. The focal lengths notated on this graphic are specific to the total focal length of an image train, meaning that these references will only be accurate if all sensor-based crop factors and teleconverter multipliers have been included to determine the total effective focal length of your rig.



Effective Focal Length Example: A 300mm lens on an FX (Full Frame) camera like the Z7ii will have a field of view of 8.2 diagonal degrees. However, a DX (APS-C) camera like the D500 on the same FX lens will have a field of view approximately 1.4 times smaller at 5.4 degrees which is comparable to a 450mm lens on an FX camera (which is its' effective focal length due to the DX crop factor). DX lenses are designed for DX cameras, so there isn't a crop factor for those lenses. The same is true for any other kind of sensor (micro four-thirds, 1-inch, 1/2.5" etc), and even APS-C varies between manufacturers, so you will need to know the crop factor of your specific sensor to accurately estimate effective focal length.


In the end, test shots will give you the most accurate reference for field of view. If you are shooting a Nikon camera, you can find detailed information on the field of view of many different focal lengths in this great article from Nikonians: Field-of-view of lenses by focal length.


Field of view is a reasonably complex discussion about viewing angles and optics, which I highly recommend reading about if you are interested (Angle of View), but since it is often easier to refer to visual references instead of purely numerical ones, I have the following examples.


Using the un-cropped images from my previous eclipse sessions, the following is a comparison of the partial phase images of the Sun at 900mm (2017) and 1000mm (2023). The last 1500mm version is the same 1000mm 47MP FX image from the Z7ii cropped down to DX resolution (to provide a pixel for pixel comparison). Click on the images to see them at a larger scale and scroll between them using the arrows on the sides of the gallery.


2017 Solar corona at 450mm and 900mm respectively:


2017 Prominences at 450mm and 900mm respectively:


As you can see from the images above, the optimal focal length depends on what you want to photograph. I have the following recommendations:

  • Partial Phases - Detail on the surface of the sun needs a lot of resolution to manifest, so effective focal lengths over 1000mm are recommended

  • Solar Prominences - These are comparatively small structures along the outside diameter of the Sun. More resolution is better, so again 1000mm or more is recommended.

  • Corona - The corona can be massive depending on the output of the Sun at the time of the eclipse, and how many exposures you take to pull in the entire dynamic range of light (up to 8 Rs). For an overall view, 400-600mm is recommended. However, to resolve more detail in the most pronounced region of the core, I would recommend around 1000mm (and gathering a ton of data to stack).


However, it is worth mentioning that the focal lengths above are difficult to achieve, harder still to properly stabilize to get sharp images, and they are ultimately not required to get a good image of the eclipse. This information is merely to indicate the upper limit of optimum focal lengths based on the angular dimension of the Sun in the sky. If the focal length of your equipment is notably less than what is required to resolve small details like solar prominences, then you know it's not worth focusing on that exposure range and you should focus more on the expanse of the corona.

Most cameras can easily achieve a focal length around 200 - 300mm which is plenty to get a good image. No matter what equipment you have, if you want to photograph the eclipse, just do it. The methods to capture each phase of the eclipse will still apply and you can still have images of the eclipse that are your very own.




First and Fourth Contact (C1 & C4) - Partial Phases



The majority of the eclipse will be comprised of the slow progress of the Moon across the face of the Sun. During these phases, a solar filter is required on the front of your optic (lens, binoculars, telescope, etc.). I included some solar filter options in the Equipment section above, but I also have more information about eclipse viewing safety in my previous post The 2017 Great American Eclipse 1.2 which includes links to reputable manufacturers for eclipse glasses (the post link should take you to the First Contact C1 section of the aforementioned post). See the Appendix for information about the difference between Solar Film and Neutral Density (ND) filters.


Focus - I like to work on getting my focus as sharp as possible at least an hour before the eclipse begins. Some people use the Moon as a reference a few nights prior (it will be a new Moon prior to the eclipse for obvious reasons, so don't expect to use that method the night before the eclipse), but I use my equipment too often and for me it is to big a risk to hope that a lens will travel and not lose focus do to movement (even if taped) or temperature deviations in the equipment that can shift focus. Sitting out in the sun for hours is not the same as taking an image at night or sitting in a conditioned car or building, so the chance of losing focus due to thermal expansion is a reasonable concern (it happens all the time in astrophotography).


For that reason, I take test shots prior to the event to get an approximate focus, and then I dial in what I consider peak sharpness the morning of the event using live view and test shots. If your lens has focus memory, this is a good time to use it. If it does not, non-marking gaffer tape is a good option to lock in your focus the day of as long as you are very careful when you apply it. Tape may also be a good idea for securing the zoom ring of telescoping lenses that may retract when oriented to 60+ degrees during the eclipse.


Exposure - Optimal exposure will depend entirely on your equipment. For the 2023 annular eclipse, I used a 500mm f5.6 lens with a 2x teleconverter (which reduces light by two stops) and a Kendrick Solar Filter. While taking test images in the cloudy skies, I settled on the following to balance surface detail and sun spot contrast: 1/2000 sec @ f11, ISO 800 which aligns perfectly with the Solar Eclipse Exposure Calculator.


This exposure setting included the 2x teleconverter's 2 stop (two EV levels) penalty that made the native f5.6 lens into an f11 lens without the benefits of the smaller aperture (teleconverters reduce light, but do not affect depth of field). Many of my longer lenses have their sharpest results at f8 – f11, but fortunately the 500 PF is a uniquely sharp lens that is still very impressive at f5.6 so I didn't need to reduce light by an additional stop to get sufficient sharpness.


If you are using a lens without an additional light-reducing component like a teleconverter, I would recommend starting with 1/2000 sec, f8, ISO 400 and then modifying from there to reach an optimal exposure that fits your specific setup. I recommend modifying ISO to begin with because it effects primarily noise, while the shutter speed is needed to reduce the effects of camera shake (which is very prevalent at long focal lengths), and an aperture of at least f8 is generally important for image sharpness. However, high ISOs can also degrade sharpness, so you will need to regulate the max ISO you are willing to use by the performance of your specific camera. I generally recommend using shutter speeds that are 1/(lens' effective focal length) to limit blurriness due to vibration even when using a tripod because wind and ground impacts can still negatively affect the image.


Eclipse Diagrams - To create a diagram that includes evenly-spaced, mirror-images of the partial phases, you will need to take images at consistent intervals. However, it is not as simple as just dividing the total eclipse time by the total number of images (such as the 11 images in the diagram below). Refer to the Preparation section of this post for links to web tools that can give you the times for your location, and then use my Partial Phase Interval Calculator to see why:


Solar Eclipse Partial Phase Interval Calculator

Once you have calculated the correct interval for your desired image, input that information into the internal or external intervalometer, or set a timer and do it with a shutter release as I did for my first solar eclipse. If it's a cloudy day, you may need to take photos manually to avoid missing frames, or increase the frequency of images to automate around the optimal interval. I had to photograph around clouds in 2017, but the 2023 annular eclipse had a 6 second interval for both phases which more or less compensated for the clouds, though the memory requirements are much higher.


I have included an example of an 11-frame graphic from 2017 below. It has 5 images from Partial Phase 1, 1 image from Totality, and 5 images from Partial Phase 2.



Annular eclipses are essentially one very long partial phase, so the solar filter must stay on the camera for the entire event. You can essentially set up an intervalometer to take images of the entire event automatically which allows you to just enjoy the experience with friends and family. The interval for the partial phases was 6 seconds for a timelapse, but I increased it to every second at max annularity. Circular graphics look great for annular eclipses, but are much harder to create.





Second and Third Contact (C2 and C3)



This is honestly the highest stress phase of the entire eclipse. My first attempt at catching C2 was marred by excessive camera shake that occurred when I tried to take the solar filter off quickly seconds before C2 started. For this reason, I recommend starting the following process at least 1-5 minutes before totality (also included on the second page of the Eclipse Schedule Tool):


  1. Modify exposure on the camera to C2 levels per your schedule

  2. Change shutter release mode from intervalometer to Continuous High (for rapid fire images)

  3. Unscrew or loosen the Solar filter but leave it on the mount

  4. Hold your shutter release in a comfortable position and try not to move it

  5. 15 seconds prior to taking photos, remove the filter carefully but keep it in front of the lens without touching the lens in any way

  6. Allow the rig to settle for at least 5 - 10 seconds

  7. Shoot your C2 scheduled frames

  8. Put the solar filter safely away and quickly roll into totality procedures


The method for moving from totality to C3 is similar to the above procedure, but you put the filter back on first and then modify your settings to go back into your partial phase settings/intervals for the remainder of C4.


While the diamond ring is almost always possible to photograph, Bailey’s Beads depends on variations in the Moon’s surface to isolate beams of sunlight into sparkling beads of light. In order to photograph these beads, the camera will need to be set at a very fast exposure, somewhere near 1/4000 sec, f11, ISO 100. You will notice that this is very similar to the partial phase exposure with the solar filter on so you still shouldn't look at it through your camera without eye protection. The light value changes rapidly and intensity depends on the number of beads present, so it is very easy to overexpose or underexpose this phase.


Essentially, you can either aim for Bailey’s Beads or the Diamond Ring since the latter is just an overexposure of the former. Both have their merits and depends on your situation. If you have clear skies and a long focal length, it’s worth attempting to capture Bailey’s Beads for at least for C2 and then try the Diamond Ring for C3 (or vice versa). However, if you have cloudy conditions, the Diamond Ring will likely be more successful as it doesn’t have the same dependency on sharpness. For instance, in 2017 a layer of icy cirrus clouds overtook the Sun/Moon at C3, and I used a higher exposure than usual, so an otherwise blurry image became a unique image of both the corona and a rainbow diamond ring created by the ice crystals of the upper atmospheric clouds refracting the first rays of sunlight (the image at the beginning of this section).




Totality – Solar Corona



The most unique part of a total solar eclipse, even compared to an annular, is the extremely rare view of the solar corona spreading its massive tendrils out around the Moon. While it is incredible to view it with the naked eye, even more detail can be gleaned by creating a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image using multiple bracketed exposures.


HDR Bracketing – The bracketing setting on most modern SLR and mirrorless cameras creates a set of images that automatically calculates 1EV above (twice the amount of light) and 1EV below (half the amount of light) the “optimal” exposure settings for a total of 3 frames. This can be expanded up to 9 frames (-4 to +4EV) and the EV can be modified from 0.3 - 3EV (with some restrictions, see the small table on the second page of my Bracketing Calculator). Since we only use manual mode during an eclipse, the “optimal” exposure is whatever value you have the camera set to after activating the bracketing setting.


Exposure Value - In photography, light intensity can be simplified into a single numeric approximation known as Exposure Value (EV). Exposure Value is calculated based on the aperture and shutter speed settings (ISO has a tertiary role). Each integer increase in EV (ie. moving from 1EV to 2EV) indicates a doubling in brightness, and each step reduced is roughly half (50%) as bright. During the 2017 eclipse the daytime images were about 18EV (1/3200, f8, ISO 200), while during totality it was about 8EV (1/20, f3.5, ISO 200) which is a 10EV reduction in brightness or approximately 1000% dimmer. To put that into units of luminance, full, unobstructed daylight generally has an intensity of about 10,000 foot candles (Fc), but during totality the luminosity was around 10 Fc which is barely enough light to read by.

For the 2017 eclipse I used a 4 EV bracket which took 4 images above and below my primary setting for a total of 9 images. Keep in mind when reviewing photos after the eclipse that most cameras default to taking the 0EV image first and then start at the lowest EV and progress up to the highest. A summary of the EV values that your camera will take will look like this: 0, -4, -3, -2, -1, 1, 2, 3, 4


The target exposures can be found in the following table originally created by Fred Espenak. I created a spreadsheet of the table and modified it slightly to include some modern shutter speeds and a calculator for the exposure formula which aided in creating the bracketing exposures in a separate table. There are also great exposure calculators on Xavier M. Jubier's website: Shutter Speed Calculator for Solar Eclipses. However, you may notice that some of the exposure values differ slightly, so use your own judgement for what works best for your setup.


The modifiable spreadsheet can be found under the new "Tools" tab.


Total Solar Eclipse Exposure Calculator

This table refers to Solar Radii in a way I am not used to, but I have tried to create an approximate diagram below to help clarify what it is referring to. Traditionally, stars in the Milky Way are measured in solar radii to compare the size of other stars to our own. Our sun is 1 Rs, or roughly 695,700 km (432,288 mi), so each solar radii beyond the Sun is an additional 695,700 km away from the surface of the Sun. The diagram below approximates these distances based on the 4 EV image that provided the most corona detail in my bracket set. This exposure for the 2017 eclipse only extended out to around 6 Rs in the bottom left quadrant at +4EV.


Total Solar Eclipse Solar Radii Reference

To cover as much of the luminosity range of the corona as possible, I took roughly 4 groups of the bracketed 9 image series. The equipment, aperture, and ISO settings remained constant throughout and only the shutter speed changed. You can click on any image below to cycle through the set at higher resolution.


Nikon D500 DX (1.5 crop factor for relative 450mm focal length), Nikkor 300mm f2.8, f5.6, ISO 100:


-4 EV – 1/640: Best detail of solar prominences with good separation from corona (0.1 Rs)

-3 EV – 1/320: Solar prominences slightly washed out, minimal corona (0.2 Rs)

-2 EV – 1/180: Solar prominences overexposed but defined, corona detail along inner core (0.5 Rs)

-1 EV – 1/80: Solar prominences barely visible, expanded corona (1.0 Rs)

0 EV – 1/40: No prominences, overexposed inner ring, expanded corona (1.25 Rs), bright stars are dim

1 EV – 1/20: Coronal detail out to 1.5 Rs, slightly brighter stars, roughly what can be seen with the naked eye.

2 EV – 1/10: Solar corona out to 2.0 Rs, detailed bright stars

3 EV – 1/5: Solar corona detail out to 3.0-4.0 Rs, bright stars

4 EV – 1/2.5: Full corona detail out to approximately 6-7 Rs, some dim stars now visible

The star to the left of the 2017 eclipse is the Regulas quadruple star system, one of the brightest objects in the night sky. At around 2 EV the dimmer secondary group became visible, but even with a tripod and cable release, camera shake was still an issue. The D500 is an SLR, so the shutter flipping up and down for multiple shots may have induced vibration through the rig especially since longer exposures are shot last when vibration is often at its' worst. The streams of the corona are not as sharp as a star, so I was still able to use these images to create a detailed HDR image, but reducing camera shake would certainly increase the fidelity of future images.


In-camera bracketing is a powerful tool for this purpose, but the camera doesn't tell you what the bracketed exposures will be prior to taking the photos, so it's easy to pick a 0 EV exposure that exceeds the limits of the camera or the shooting conditions.


To make this clearer, I created a table that indicates the limitations of a 4 EV (9 image) bracket. The maximum shutter speed of most cameras is around 1/8000 (though mirrorless cameras are starting to push this limit), and the minimum speed to reduce image blur due to the movement of the Moon/Sun across the frame is generally 1/30. On a tripod, you may be able to push the exposure limit down tow 1 sec (300mm) to 1/4 sec (1000mm), but any movement from wind to shutter slap can ruin images taken at this limit.


To help determine the optimal 0EV shutter speed and estimate how many iterations of a bracketing sequence you can achieve during totality, I have created a modifiable spreadsheet in my new "Tools" section here.


Total Solar Eclipse Bracketing Calculator

As you can see in the spreadsheet, it is difficult to capture the entire coronal phenomena in just one bracket sequence. If you have to focus on one thing using only one bracketing sequence, focus on the core and take a single earthshine image before transitioning to C3.


With a tracking mount, this upper limit should be less of an issue and sub 1/30 shutter speed images should still be sharp as long as the mount does not move due to wind or other forces.


Be prepared to lose at least 15-20 seconds at the end of totality to prepare for C3. You will need to change the settings back to C2/C3 exposure levels and intervals, and then the rig will need time to settle. Also have the solar filter ready to put back on your camera for the remaining C4 Partial phase which will be similar in procedure to C1.




Wide Angle Composites



While much of the eclipse happens in the telephoto range, there is a lot going on in every direction. For about 20-30 minutes before totality, the environment changes considerably as light and temperature drop. You can actually see the Moon’s shadow as it moves across the sky, and during totality the sky looks like a 360 degree sunset. None of this is observable through a telephoto lens, so taking wide angle shots is still important for capturing the event as whole.


The location of the eclipse in the sky will depend on your location and the time of year, but unless you are on the extreme latitudes near the poles, the closer you are to the equator, the higher the sun will be in the sky. In 2017 the solar altitude in Southern Illinois was 63 degrees above the horizon, the 2023 annular eclipse in Lost Maples State Park, Texas was much more reasonable 46 degrees, and the 2024 total solar eclipse will be 67 degrees. If your foreground is low like a lake or field, you will need a very wide lens (I used the Bower 14mm f2.8 manual focus lens in the above image) and will need to position the camera within inches of the ground (see the equipment photo in Preparation) to get the whole event in frame. However, if you are using taller objects such as trees or mountains below the eclipse to ground the framing, then you will have more options for orientation and focal length.


A manual focus lens is particularly useful for this kind of image, and wide-angle astrophotos in general. Manual lenses have a hard stop at infinity which makes getting sharp images of dim objects much easier. Autofocus lenses have an undisclosed amount of slosh beyond infinity that allows the AF system to go past infinity (which should have peak sharpness and contrast), and then back to the setting with highest contrast. This AF adaptation makes true infinity very difficult to hit manually. However, at these extreme wide angles, you can generally bump up the aperture a few stops and that will help to compensate for small errors. If you are using an AF lens, make sure to switch it and/or the camera to manual focus mode so touching the shutter release doesn't ruin your hard work.


As with other lens set ups, once you achieve your preferred focus, use gaffer or painters tape to secure the focus ring and avoid accidentally bumping the lens out of focus.


There are many different programs available that can help you estimate what the Sun's path will be, but I find the applications that include augmented reality (AR) to be the most helpful in the field. My go to app is PhotoPills. I have used it each eclipse and it is still my preferred app.


I will address settings for the timelapse in the next section, but it's important to note that wide angle timelapse images also provide a good reference for the path of the sun across the sky, so if you want to make an accurate composite similar to the one above, I recommend taking at least take a few key photos from a static rig during the whole eclipse that coincide with your telephoto images. This will make it easier to combine the two to create an accurate wide angle composite of the entire event.




Timelapse Videos

In 2017, I placed a Nikon D750 on a tripod only a few inches off the ground with a 14mm manual-focus Bower super-wide lens. For approximately the next 3 hours it took an image every 6 seconds for a total of 1,760 frames. Since the environment changes so much during the event, I set the camera up to show each image after taking it and I manually changed the exposure as needed between shots based on what I saw on the screen. This ended up making a roughly 29 second timelapse at 60 frames per second. However, it took a great deal of effort to ramp down the image manually from the beginning of the partial eclipse to totality and back again, about 18 modifications total concentrated mostly around totality when the light loss is the most dynamic. The exposure was 1/3200 sec @ f8.0, ISO 200 at the beginning and end of the eclipse, but it dropped all the way down to 1/20 sec @ f3.5 ISO 200 during totality (and that image was honestly underexposed). In my experience, using a single interval for the entire eclipse made the partial phases too long (I compressed them in the video), and totality too short (I had to expand it below 60fps in the video below).



Additionally, since I took a partial phase image every 9 minutes for a total of 20 images at 900mm, I combined them with a few of my totality images in sequential stills to create a timelapse of the event at a telephoto scale. This method is faster and more succinct than a frame by frame timelapse, but it isn't as smooth.



Annular eclipses are much easier as the exposure doesn't change much throughout the event. However, learning from my first timelapse, I used a two-interval method for 2023's annular eclipse so I could compress the longer partial phases, and expand the shorter max annularity phase. I took an image every 60 seconds for the partial phases, and every 2 seconds for max annularity. The resulting timelapse is better than 2017, but the long focal length coupled with atmospheric distortion still creates a slightly wobbly video:



I am still planning my eclipse timelapse for 2024 and I haven't decided how I want to capture the event yet. I still have some testing to do, but I will update this posts if I have new insight to share.




Post Processing

Taking the thousands of images from the event and turning them into detailed images, composites, and videos is the most time-consuming part of photographing a solar eclipse. However, if you have any experience with astrophotography, you likely already know that this is just what is required to expose the great detail hidden in the data that our eyes can’t perceive.


At a bare minimum, you will need a photo processing program such as Lightroom, Photoshop (I recommend the Photography Combo), Luminar Neo, etc. I generally pre-process images in Lightroom before exporting them to Photoshop to build the complex composites. I use Final Cut Pro for videos, but iMovie is a great free Mac alternative, and Adobe Premiere Pro is as powerful as it is expensive. If you are going to make a timelapse of totality, LRTimelapse is invaluable for exposure ramping (though it is complex and time-consuming so be prepared to commit a lot of time to it).


HDR is potentially more complicated for future eclipses. In 2017 I used Aurora HDR for my images and was very happy with the results, but that company has since been purchased by Skylum/Luminar and rolled into their processing package as an add-on, so it's not as affordable or easily accessible anymore. Current versions of Photoshop also have HDR tools, but I haven't had as much success with those as of 2023 when I reprocessed many of my 2017 images. I won't know if the AI adaptions in Photoshop help or hinder HDR images of the total eclipse until after the next total eclipse on 4.8.2024.


Image alignment is a major concern and I have repeatedly found myself manually aligning images for eclipse HDRs and timelapse videos because current programs have so many errors with the unique conditions of a solar eclipse. Most HDR programs expect a stable scene that only has changes in brightness so it aligns each image based on high contrast components of the stable scenery. However, solar eclipses have very few consistent references as the shape of the Sun/Moon is constantly changing. Even during totality, I found that the shifting of the Moon in front of the solar corona and bloom from the higher EV exposures caused the program to incorrectly offset the image creating a blurry final product. I hope to test a few new processes before the next eclipse to try and find a more automated process using planetary image stacking, but right now the best bet is still manually aligning in Photoshop (or a similar program).




Final Thoughts

I would be remiss if I didn't reiterate the prevailing wisdom that you should probably just enjoy your first total solar eclipse and not dilute the experience worrying about camera equipment. However, I did not follow this advice for my first eclipse and I'm not sad about it. I'm not sure that I will have enough opportunities to see a total solar eclipse to just wait for the next one, and my work on the first one has been pivotal towards my plan for 2024 (and any future eclipses should I be so lucky).


If you have read this far, I’m pretty sure that you're committed enough to photographing the eclipse that doing so will be similarly satisfying. Moreover, at this point you should have more understanding of eclipse photography than I did on my first attempt. The more comfortable you are with the steps, the less obtrusive they will be and the more you will enjoy the experience as a whole. A lot has changed since I took my first eclipse photos, and there are now many more ways to automate the process than ever before.


I have endeavored to accurately address as many of the nuances of an eclipse in this post and the corresponding tools as I can, but ultimately there are too many variables at play for any guide or tool to guarantee success. Ultimately these references are just guides and each photographer will need to adapt my assumptions and specific case studies to the equipment and local conditions they have to work with.


The total solar eclipse has played a special role in our family life so it is a particularly precious phenomena for us. In 2017 my wife and I watched our first eclipse with our first-born son growing inside her womb. This time I can't wait to share the experience of basking in the Moon's shadow with our son when he can actually share in the experience.


Good luck viewing and capturing the eclipse! I wish you all clear skies wherever and whenever you're in the path of the Moon's shadow!



Support:

I don't generally ask for support for my blog posts, but I spent considerably more time on this post to provide a repository of information and public tools to anyone who is interested in using them. This required a considerable amount of personal time investment over many months. If you find this post and/or my photography tools helpful for your eclipse preparation, please consider supporting my work by purchasing something from my Store, or by donating a few dollars to my Paypal account at @ShaunCTPhoto. Thank you in advance for your support.




References and Recommended Links:

Mr.Eclipse, the godfather of solar eclipse photography and the biggest repository of knowledge that I owe a great deal to: https://www.mreclipse.com




Appendix: (Update 03.26.24)


What is the Difference Between Solar Filters/Films and Photographic Neutral Density Filters?

The simple answer: Only filters specifically designed for solar imaging and/or viewing should be used for an eclipse. Solar film blocks a larger amount and a broader spectrum of light (electromagnetic) energy than photographic ND filters.


The detailed answer: Unfortunately, the nomenclature around ND filters is unnecessarily convoluted. A 16-Stop Neutral Density filter (often labeled ND-16) reduces light by half 16 times (1/2^16 = 1/65,536). An ND5 Solar film (such as BADDER AstroSolar used in the Kendrick filters) reduces light by 10^-5 = 1/100,000. As you can see by the denominator, the Solar filter reduces the light energy by considerably more than the 16-stop ND filter. A telephoto lens concentrates the energy that reaches the front lens onto the sensor (or your eye) so this additional energy can be magnified considerably depending on the magnification (focal length) of the lens/telescope leading to irreparable damage.


However, the issue can be even worse than what is shown above because a solar filter is specifically designed to stop a broader spectrum of the Sun’s energy to include Infrared (IR) light. This requires extra time and cost, so many standard ND filters do not take the extra steps to block IR light since it is generally not a concern for standard photography and the IR filter laminated to the front of the camera’s sensor will usually block low levels of ambient IR light. Neither your eyes nor the camera sensor can detect IR light, but the concentrated IR wavelengths can still create heat when absorbed causing irreparable damage that likely won’t be noticeable until after the damage is already done.




For additional examples of eclipse images and more detailed information about some of the phenomena, see my previous solar eclipse posts:




© 2017-2024 Shaun C Tarpley

 
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