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, 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, reaching an azimuth (compass bearing) of 261° and dropping 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 near 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, having yourself (or something else) in the foreground could improve the photograph’s composition. But-
- 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).
- My selfie camera doesn’t have controls for flash, exposure, white balance, and other things (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, where both aiming and pushing the shutter button could be a pain. If your app has one, a timer could help with the button.
Shooting With A Camera
First, you will need neutral density filters, and not just for the proper exposure. Unless you shoot in Live View mode, it is more important that the filters can adequately protect you looking through the viewfinder [see comments below]. For that, a 10-stop filter is not enough. (A 12-stop filter, if it existed, could be enough. 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 the same focal length or amount of zoom as when you took your 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 are 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 plan 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 lens’s focal length 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. They usually advise changing only the shutter speed for multiple exposure shots, 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 them as necessary. If you must shift 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 put out only 1/4 of its usual light at the eclipse’s peak here in Miami. That means the light level of your foreground shot will change by two f-stops during this event. The exposure of your sun shots shouldn’t change.
Since this is such a rare event, you may not want to put all of your eggs in one basket. That means changing your camera settings (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 good to get up early tomorrow and get some moon shots just for practice. Moonrise here in Miami will be 4:37 am tomorrow and 5:40 Sunday (sunrise is 6:56 both days). The moon will be just a waning (shrinking) crescent.
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).