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Tips & Tricks

Solar Photography | 5 Tips for Better Results

By Justin Heyes on October 22nd 2014

Get your cameras ready; the final eclipse of 2014 occurs tomorrow, Thursday October 23rd.  Unlike the Blood Moons as of late, this will be a partial solar eclipse where the Moon takes a ‘bite’ out of the Sun. The Central and Western parts of the United States with have the best view with the maximum eclipse happening just before or during sunset. While it’s never a good idea to look at the sun directly,  here are 5 tips to safely capture this rare event.

1. Safety First: Use a Solar Filter

The Sun, if you haven’t realized by now, is incredibly bright. Looking at it through the viewfinder of your DSLR can cause permanent retinal damage or permanent sensor damage if no protection is used. To keep your eyes and equipment safe, use a solar filter. An ordinary ND filter isn’t enough. Although a 10-18 stop ND filter will work in a pinch, however, you still need to be aware of UV / IR light. 

chris-nachtwey-ct-photographer-welding-glass-equipment-6

2. Bigger is Better: A Telephoto Lens is a Must For Solar Photography

At around 93 million miles away, the Sun  is pretty far from us. Anything less than  500mm will render the Sun as a small orb in the sky. For best results, you should use a lens that is 1000mm or longer. If you are like me and don’t have access to anything longer than 200mm there are adapters that can attach a DSLR or a telescope, just make sure to get the appropriate filter for that lens.

use a telephoto lens

3. The Power is In Your Hands: Manual Focus For Greater Accuracy

Autofocus is like that bad/one friend of yours, when you depend on it the most, it lets you down. Instead of waiting for disappointment, switch your lens to manual mode and prefocus on the composition that you desire. The Sun will be darker through the lens of the ND filter or welding glass and therefore harder to focus, so  pre-focusing or zone focusing will yield more keepers.

solar-eclipse-photography-Pandiyan-V

Pandiyan V/Via Flickr Creative Commons

4. Pedal to the Metal: Speed is Key for Solar Photography

Shooting fast is essential to capture the eclipse. Unlike a total solar eclipse, a partial solar eclipse will last around 45 minutes, but the Sun will not be stationary for all of this. Usually shooting at 1/1000 to 1/2000 of a second is sufficient in stopping the Sun in the sky.

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solar-eclipse-photography-Sathish-J

Sathish J/Via Flickr Creative Commons

5. Steady as She Goes: Use a Tripod for Solar Photography

When shooting with a long lens at 1000mm or more, there will be some definite camera shake. Make sure you find a level surface and lock down your gear; you don’t want your solar eclipse turning into a stellar error. If your tripod is not up to pa,r we really like MeFoto Tripods if you need an upgrade.

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Conclusion

Shooting a solar eclipse can be fun, just make sure you take the necessary precautions to prevent vision loss or sensor damage. During the solar eclipse, don’t keep all your attention on the Sun; take a look at the shadows. The celestial dance causes normal beams of light to become little eclipses of their own. If you miss this event, don’t fret, you will have plenty of time to prepare for the next total solar eclipse in 2017.

solar-eclipse-photography- Bob-Ryskamp

Bob Ryskamp/Via Flickr Creative Commons

Up for a challenge? Those of you in the northwest are in for an extra treat. The International Space Station will pass the disk of the sun during the eclipse. This event will occur around 2 PM local time and will only last for a few seconds, so make sure your trigger finger is ready.

Do you have any tips to add? Comment below!

Article Featured Image Solar Eclipse – Libby Hill” , Credit To Bill Dickson on Flickr, used under Creative Commons License

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About

Justin Heyes wants to live in a world where we have near misses and absolute hits; great love and small disasters. Starting his career as a gaffer, he has done work for QVC and The Rachel Ray Show, but quickly fell in love with photography. When he’s not building arcade machines, you can find him at local flea markets or attending car shows.

Explore his photographic endeavors here.

Website: Justin Heyes
Instagram: @jheyesphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Basit Zargar

    Thanks for such a nice article

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  2. Eric Sharpe

    The last picture is pretty cool, I must say.

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  3. MARTIN MIANO

    awesome article …..love the tips too bad i dont have a long lens

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  4. Peter Nord

    Ever shoot a sunset? Did you put on welding glass to do it? The setting sun in eclipse, dimmer, will be less of a hazard than a regular sunset. For many places in the USA the maximum occurs when the sun hits the horizon.. Just use a little common sense. The problem is going to be how to expose. All the scenery will be backlit. Great time for silhouette shooting. Or shoot long for the sun, wide for the scenery, and have fun in Photoshop.

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    • Peter Nord

      Then clouds formed late in the afternoon. Set up early, ate a nice dinner, shot a lot of scenery, had fun anyway. What more can you ask? There’s always the total eclipse visible in North American in August 2017.

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  5. Mircea Blanaru

    Excellent article with great tips!!!

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  6. Kayode Olorunfemi

    Seems like obvious tips but they are the ones I never think of when the rubber hits the road. Nice to learn them all over again.

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  7. Daniel Thullen

    Anyone have a 1000mm lens I can borrow?

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  8. Brandon Dewey

    Thanks for the great tips

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