A total solar eclipse is a phenomenon that only occurs twice a year at a specific location and time. With how quickly the eclipse comes and goes, you should prepare far in advance to know the best camera settings to shoot an eclipse. The next total solar eclipse will happen in April 2024 in the U.S., so you have plenty of time to practice and prepare using our tips on how to take a great solar eclipse shot.
Camera Settings For a Solar Eclipse
Use these camera settings as a guide to shoot the next solar eclipse:
- Exposure Settings: One of the biggest challenges in shooting a solar eclipse is figuring out the exposure settings. There is some pre-planning you can do to get a starting point. During totality you will want to take as many different exposures as possible to get a good result. During the partial phases of the eclipse, you will need to expose as you would for the Sun. Although part of the light is being blocked by the Moon, the total intensity is not lowered by much.
- Solar Filter: How you expose the Sun is going to depend on the solar filter you’re using, how much light it’s blocking, and any clouds or haze. The good news is you can figure this out ahead of time by taking practice shots of just the Sun. During totality, the brightness is far lower, so you will need to remove the solar filter and take multiple exposures as quickly as possible. The different parts of the corona have dramatically different brightness levels, so you’ll need to bracket and blend multiple exposures if you want an image showing the greatest coronal range. Bracketing also helps compensate for different exposures due to atmospheric conditions.
- Histogram: As with any difficult lighting situation, learning to read your histogram can help give you more precise info than what you might see on your LCD screen preview image.
- Aperture and ISO: During solar eclipses, it’s generally recommended to bracket seven exposures with two stops between each exposure. As a starting point for your exposures, choose an aperture and ISO from the chart below and use the corresponding shutter speed as your base exposure.
- Shutter Speed: If you wanted to shoot at f/5.6 and ISO 100, your base shutter speed would be 1/30 of a second. Take three exposures at two stop increments below and above this base. The result would be seven exposures at shutter speeds of 1/2000, 1/500, 1/125, 1/30, 1/8, 1/2, and 2 seconds. This should not only ensure a usable single exposure but should also allow you to expose for different segments of the corona.
Suggested Exposure Starting Points
- RAW Format: In addition to setting your exposure, we recommend shooting in RAW format. Because there’s a bit of guessing when it comes to exposure, shooting in RAW will give you the most flexibility to correct exposure problems during post processing.
- Focus and Live View: Set your lens to manual focus and focus to infinity. Keep in mind, infinity is a range on most cameras, so check with some test images or by zooming into your live view. Live view will help you avoid eye damage from looking through an optical viewfinder.
- No Flash: Flash will be useless. Leave it at home, or turn it off if it’s built-in.
For more information on settings and techniques, check out our video below. It’s from before the solar eclipse in 2017, but it provides a lot of information for how exactly to approach shooting a solar event.
Gear for Photographing Solar Eclipses
To successfully photograph a solar eclipse, you’ll need a few pieces of special equipment.
The good news is that almost any camera can take a great picture of a solar eclipse. You might want to choose a camera with a smaller sensor if you want more magnification than what your longest lens can give you, but that isn’t a necessity. Learn more about this in New DSLR Owners: What You Must Know About Full Frame vs Crop Frame Sensors Before Choosing a Lens.
Like cameras, you don’t necessarily have to look for anything special in a lens aside from what you need to achieve the composition you want.
If you want an image fully focused on just the Sun filling the entire frame, you will want to use a long lens or telephoto lens. A focal length of around 800mm on a full frame sensor will get the Sun and most of its coronas in the shot.
Another option that many photographers used during the last solar eclipse was a wide angle lens for capturing a series of the different phases of eclipse over a landscape.
By far, the most important piece of equipment for photographing an eclipse is a solar filter. You need to have the proper protection for both your camera and your eyes.
Don’t use standard ND filters, even if they’re stacked.
The Sun puts off an enormous amount of light across a very wide spectrum. ND filters generally only block visible light. The invisible UV and infrared light that ND filters don’t block can damage your eyes and equipment just as quickly as visible light.
Use a filter designed explicitly for blocking solar light during the eclipse. This will allow you to take pictures during the partial eclipse phases and protects your equipment from damage while you have your camera pointed at the Sun waiting for totality.
Protect your eyes during the solar eclipse. Get glasses that are designed for you to look at the Sun safely.
The entire solar eclipse sequence is around 2.5 hours long, so you’ll want a tripod. During the totality, you’ll be using a long exposure, so a sturdy tripod is necessary to avoid camera shake.
When you’re using a tripod for long exposures, shutter releases are incredibly helpful. Pushing the shutter button can cause camera shake and ruin your photo. Use a timer to allow any vibrations to dissipate between the time you push the shutter button and the camera takes the image. With only a short window to get the shot, every second counts.
It is possible to use a telescope instead of a camera lens to take images of a solar eclipse. If you go this route, make sure you have all the correct mounts and the same safety equipment you’d need for a lens.
Tips For Photographing a Solar Eclipse
The Sun is bright enough that looking at it for a few seconds during a solar eclipse can cause permanent eye damage or even blindness. Any time you look at the Sun, you need to take serious precautions to avoid damage. Use similar caution when it comes to your camera.
Have you ever used a magnifying glass to catch a leaf on fire? That is essentially what the Sun will do to your camera sensor, mirror, and shutter mechanism when you focus your lens on it. Looking through an optical viewfinder at the Sun can also focus the light to your eye.
Remove Your Filter
During the couple minutes of totality, the only light showing will be from from the corona. This light is actually dim enough that you can look at it without protection. Photos during totality will need to be shot without your solar filter. But if you remove the filter too early, or replace it too late, you risk damage.
You should remove your filter 10 to 15 seconds before totality. There will be a brief moment where one piece of the Sun is peeking out from the edge of the Moon creating what’s called the diamond ring effect. This is followed by a phenomenon where a last few bits of Sun can be seen through the craters and valleys of the Moon, called Bailey’s Beads.
After the diamond ring effect has completed, it is safe to photograph or view the eclipse without a filter. When the beads start to reappear after totality, you need to replace the filter.
You can photograph the diamond ring effect, but it’s risky. You only have a few second window where you can photograph it and avoid damaging your camera. Unless you are confident in the timing and willing to potentially destroy your camera, it’s better not to try to shoot it.
Practice and Plan in Advance
You can practice on the Sun with your solar filter to learn how to best expose and focus. Research where you can expect to view and shoot the eclipse. If you want to include landscape in your photo, spend some time taking test pictures ahead of time.
Try to determine a composition you can use to showcase the eclipse. There are apps, such as Solar Eclipse by Redshift or Solar Eclipse Timer, that can help you plan the schedule. The solar eclipse happens pretty quickly so you won’t want to miss a once-in-a-lifetime shot.
Solar eclipses are beautiful and spectacular phenomenon. Keep in mind shooting an eclipse is not without risk. It takes planning, preparation, and a few precautions, but you may end up with an amazing photo you’ll cherish!