On August 21, 2017, a huge swath of the United States will experience darkness in the daytime as the “Great American Solar Eclipse” makes its way across the continent.
Some folks have been planning and preparing for the event for years. Others are just starting to get solar eclipse fever.
If you fall into the latter group, consider these last-minute photography tips as essential to snapping some quality photos of the eclipse next month.
Get the Gear
In the “Learn More” section below, I link to a previous article I wrote on the gear you’ll need to capture photos of the eclipse.
But I want to reiterate in this article the need for a solar eclipse filter.
You can buy or rent the nicest camera and lens that money can buy, but if you point it at the sun – even one eclipsed by the moon – you run the risk of severely damaging your photography equipment.
So, in my mind, the most important piece of kit you need is a solar filter.
The question is, what filter should you buy?
I’d like to make the case that the Marumi Solar Eclipse Filter is a good bet.
The filter shown above is a solid neutral density filter.
That means it has the light-stopping power to prevent the sun’s rays from damaging the delicate internal parts of your camera and lens.
And believe me – this filter has a ton of light-stopping power at 16.5 stops!
If you do that math, that works out to a 92,000x filter factor – more than enough for a solar eclipse.
And since it’s a solid ND filter, your photos of the 2017 eclipse will have a consistent look throughout.
Even better, with so much light-stopping power, you can also open the aperture or slow down the shutter speed to perfect your exposure.
Some solar eclipse filters out there are flash-in-the-pan sorts of things that have been quickly put together and marketed to take advantage of this event.
Not so with Marumi’s filter…
This thing is built with the finest precision to ensure that it has no impact on the color of your photos. Furthermore, with ten layers of anti-reflection coating, the Marumi Solar Eclipse Filter eliminates reflections and ghosting.
What that means is that for not a whole lot of money, you get a top-quality filter that will protect your gear, help you create better photos of the eclipse, and you can even use it for long exposure photos of normal, everyday subjects like landscapes, too.
If that’s not a sound investment, I don’t know what is!
Choose Your Viewing Spot Wisely
The 2017 solar eclipse will be viewable for much of the country. In fact, a large part of the U.S. will experience total darkness.
That means that millions of people will be flocking to the areas along the path of totality to experience peak darkness.
On the one hand, this necessitates that you plan your outing well in advance so that you’re sure you know where to go, how to get there, and are ready to deal with heavy crowds.
On the other hand, this also necessitates that you investigate the best spots to see the eclipse.
The question is, what constitutes the best spot?
When planning your trip to photograph the 2017 solar eclipse, bear the following in mind:
- What time of day will the eclipse occur? The West Coast will see the eclipse just after 9:00 am, which places the sun lower in the sky for easier opportunities for incorporating landscape elements into your shots.
- How long will the eclipse last? Some areas will have just over a minute of darkness; others will have nearly 2 minutes, 45 seconds of darkness.
- Are there elements in the area you can incorporate into the shot? (More on that below…)
- Is the path of the eclipse on public land or will you need to get permission from landowners? Think about fees, too. You want to have money with you in case you have to pay an entrance fee, such as in a national park.
- What is the weather typically like at the locations you’re investigating? Don’t head to an area that’s typically cloudy and rainy!
Mind you, not everyone will be hopping on a plane to fly to the “perfect” eclipse viewing spot.
However, even if you’re just driving a couple of hours, choosing to head west or east could make all the difference in your experience and your ability to photograph the event.
Try using the 2017 Solar Eclipse Interactive Map (shown above) from Xavier Jubier to pick the ideal spot.
Find a Foreground Element
One of the problems with photographing the 2017 solar eclipse is that for many of us, the eclipse happens in the middle of the day.
That means a very steep camera angle will be needed to photograph the eclipse as it happens.
Aside from the comfort issues that will be involved from craning your neck to see the event high in the sky, there are also compositional issues that will arise.
Typically, photos of celestial bodies – be that the moon, the Milky Way, or an eclipse – benefit from something else being in the shot to add interest and context.
That might be the spine of a mountain range, a tree, or even a person…
But with the sun so high in the sky for most of us, incorporating those kinds of supporting elements will be difficult during the eclipse.
That’s why it’s important to choose your viewing spot wisely.
Not only do you want somewhere that’s a nice place to view the eclipse, but you also want to maximize your ability to get the most interesting photos.
Here’s a few ideas of elements you might incorporate into your 2017 solar eclipse photos:
- The spire of a tall building
- The rim of a canyon
- Interesting rock formations
Granted, you’ll likely be shooting with a telephoto lens, so incorporating these types of elements might be a struggle.
Nevertheless, it’s worth a shot to see what you can do (just practice ahead of time!). After all, with this being one of those once-in-a-lifetime events for much of the country, you want the photos you take to be of the highest quality.