Ideas For Shooting The Solar Eclipse In Miami With Phone Or Camera

I have some ideas for shooting the eclipse by either phone or SLR camera.  For those who haven’t heard, the next eclipse will be Monday, August 21st. In Miami, the eclipse will start around 1:30 pm, which is right after local apparent noon (when the sun crosses due south of us around 1:24 pm and is 77° above the horizon). The eclipse will last about three hours, by which time it will have reached an azimuth (compass bearing) of 261° and dropped to a height of 44°. At its peak just before 3 o’clock, it will be 64° above the horizon at a bearing of 243° (west-southwest). At that time, less than 1/5 of its diameter will be visible in South Florida, which means that about 22% of the sun’s area will still be showing, and the sun will still be a little less than 1/4 of its normal brightness (for lack of anything better at hand, I used Photoshop’s Count Tool to figure the sun’s brightnessHow).

Shooting With Your Phone

In the news, they mentioned that you could use your smartphone to view the eclipse, but they warned that if your phone wasn’t eclipsing the sun (directly between you and the sun, obstructing your direct view) you could get seriously hurt, and since there are no nerves inside your eyeball, you wouldn’t immediately know the damage that was done. For that reason, you may want to use it in selfie mode.  You may also want to wait until the eclipse is close to its peak (although I have taken some test shots of the sun with no apparent damage to my phone).  There are a few problems with this approach, however. For one thing, the glare from your phone’s glass surface and/or the bright sunlight could make the image on the phone hard to see. On the other hand, if you actually wanted pictures, having yourself (or something else) in the foreground could improve the composition of the photograph.  But-

  1. The resolution for the selfie camera may not be as great as on the regular camera. (I explain why bigger is better on the Bee Happy Graphics FAQ page).
  2. My selfie camera doesn’t have controls for flash, exposure, white balance, and other things; these features being listed in the order of their importance.

You will need fill flash on your foreground subject, and the flash will probably need to be less than two feet away to be effective.  But that means the camera is in regular (non-selfie) mode and both aiming and pushing the shutter button could be a pain.  A short timer, if your app has one, could be helpful in pushing the button.

Shooting With A Camera

First, you will need neutral density filters, not just for the proper exposure but unless you shoot in Live View mode it is more important that the filters can adequately protect you looking through the viewfinder.  For that, a 10-stop filter is not enough (but a 12-stop filter, if it existed, could be (at your leisure, you can check out the Bee Happy Graphics blog for another reason a 12-stop neutral-density filter would be better than a 10-stop). A 15 or 16-stop filter would be even better in this case. Focus on the horizon before attaching your filters and lock in your focus.

If using a zoom lens, begin as wide as possible; it is easier to find the sun before zooming and avoid the dangers of trying to peek around the camera.  You will need exactly the same focal length or amount of zoom that you needed when you took pictures of the moon. Most experts feel anything less than a 300mm lens is a waste of time. Remember that your shutter speed should be 1/(focal length x crop factor) or faster if you not using a tripod, but even with a tripod there may be no reason to go with less. The aperture (f-stop) setting is not critical since all the action is at infinity but should be small enough (large enough number) so that you can keep the ISO at its lowest value.

If you are planning to capture the whole eclipse in a sequential composite photograph, decide how many images you need, subtract one, and divide that number into 180 minutes (the duration of the eclipse). If you want a string of six suns in your picture, each picture will be 180/5 or 36 minutes apart. The camera will probably not be locked down to the tripod for the duration, but the focal length of the lens and other settings should be the same for the entire series.

The only way to get something in the foreground (for better composition), is to go for multiple exposures and combine them manually. At the designated time, take the sun shot and while the camera is strapped to the tripod, record your camera settings, remove the filters, change the settings as needed and shoot the foreground. For multiple exposure shots, they usually advise changing only the shutter speed, but I’m not sure it matters in this instance. If changing the shutter speed alone is not enough, I’d change the f-stop before changing the ISO. Now record the settings of the foreground shot so you can repeat as necessary. If you must change the focus for the foreground shot, be sure to refocus on the horizon before putting the filters back on. Return the camera settings to the sun shot values. You may now move the camera on the tripod to compose the next shot. I mentioned that the sun will be putting out only 1/4 of its normal light at the peak of the eclipse here in Miami. This means the exposure of your foreground shot will change by two f-stops. The exposure of your sun shots shouldn’t change.

Final Words

Since this is such a rare event, you may not want to put all of your eggs in one basket. This means changing the settings of your camera (bracketing, if you will, checking the histogram, and perhaps rechecking the focus), which may mean taking several sequences simultaneously and taking good notes.

I’ve discussed some of your options, with some of the pros and cons of each one.  While I try to cover the technical aspects, you are the artist and the compositional issues are all yours.  It might be a good idea to get up early tomorrow and get some moon shots just for practice.  The moon will be just a waning (shrinking) crescent.  Moonrise here in Miami will be 4:37 am tomorrow and 5:40 Sunday (sunrise is 6:56 both days).

Well, that’s about it.  Have fun, don’t look directly at the sun, and let me know how it worked out for you.  I’d even be willing to post some of your pictures (with adequate credits of course).

Author: Bruce

Although I grew up in Garden Grove, California, I have lived here in South Miami longer than I've lived anywhere else in the world. I've been married to my wonderful wife, Nancy, longer than I was ever without her. We were both teachers. Nancy recently retired after 40 years. I have also spent time as an officer in the Coast Guard, a commercial property appraiser, and an electrical engineering student. Now I'm technical support for Bee Happy Graphics. That means I handle this blog, our web page, and all E-mail, I do all post-processing and printing of the images, I cut mats and glass and frames. If you have a technical question, I would be the one trying to answer it.

5 thoughts on “Ideas For Shooting The Solar Eclipse In Miami With Phone Or Camera”

  1. Robert Sullivan saw me this morning and told me that neutral density filters should NOT be used for the solar eclipse because they don’t block harmful ultraviolet and/or infrared light. Although skeptical, I felt a duty to look into this. He may be right. Here is what Canon says (Being Safe Using Solar Filters), where they seem to concede that your camera should be OK, but not your eye. If that’s the case, be sure to use Live View mode for composing your shot. I’ve also reached out to the manufacturer of our neutral density filters, Breakthrough Photography (who I may have already insulted in an earlier post), but have not yet heard back from them. Nor have I been able to find any charts that show the absorption of light at various frequencies of light. If I learn more, I’ll let you know.

  2. I did finally hear back from Breakthrough Photography; they referred me to a graph half-way down their web page describing the X4 Neutral Density Filter. While pretty flat, that graph only covers from 400 to 700 nm, while the solar standard covers from 280 nm (ultraviolet) through 1400 nm (near infrared) according to MrEclipse.com. Breakthrough ignored me when I asked for the rest of the results from their spectrophotometer, which goes from 240 to 2600 nm, but since the given graph is put out by their advertising department I think it reasonable to assume that it goes off the chart in a fashion similar to their competitors immediately to both sides of the range shown.

    We did get pictures of the solar eclipse. See Eclipse Over Long Pine Key.

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