From The Editor | March 26, 2024

How To Protect Your Camera When Photographing An Eclipse

John Headshot cropped  500 px wide

By John Oncea, Editor


If you’re going to watch the eclipse, be sure to protect your eyes. But don’t forget your camera – it needs protection, too.

My good ol’ hometown – Erie, PA – will be in the path of totality for 3 minutes and 41 seconds during the April 8th total solar eclipse. My mom and dad are throwing a viewing party and I’ve got my Harbor Creek School District-branded eclipse glasses ready to go.

Without eclipse glasses, writes Exploratorium, the sun can permanently damage your eyes or cause blindness. They also urge people “not to purchase eclipse glasses on Amazon or other third-party sites” because some of the glasses being sold there do not meet the international standard for filters even though they claim they do.

Exploratorium drives home the damage choosing the wrong eclipse glasses can do, comparing doing so to the childhood experience of taking a magnifying glass out into the sun and burning leaves. “You’ll remember that when sunlight is focused onto a small spot with a lens, it can start a fire. Your eye also has a lens, and if you look at the sun without proper protection, your eye’s lens will focus sunlight onto a very small spot on the retina on the back of your eye. This burns your eye, causing permanent eye damage or blindness. In addition, since there are no pain sensors in your retina, you won’t even know it’s happening!”

The only time it will be safe to view the eclipse without eclipse glasses will be during the brief period of totality. In fact, if you keep your eclipse glasses on during totality you won’t be able to see one of the highlights of any eclipse – the sun’s corona.

So please, if you’re viewing the eclipse be sure to protect your eyes. And while you’re at it, you’re going to need to protect your camera if you’re taking any pictures of the event. Let’s dig into how to best do that.

Quick Tips: Here are a few more tips courtesy of the American Astronomical Society.

Make sure your camera’s flash is turned off. Flashes are an annoyance and, if nothing else, spoil the mood of the spectacle. If you use a point-and-shoot camera, and you’re not sure you can turn the flash off, put a piece of black tape over the flash for extra security.

Most cameras have optical and digital zooms. Turn off the digital zoom; it’s basically useless.

Shoot at the highest image-quality setting your camera supports (RAW if possible).

Use a remote control or cable release to avoid “camera shake.” This is probably an optional extra that didn’t come with your camera, so pick up one (and test it) before eclipse day.

Bring extra batteries and insert fresh ones before first contact (that is, before the beginning of the partial eclipse). If you’re using rechargeable batteries, charge them fully before the eclipse begins, and have a spare set, also fully charged, that you can insert shortly before annularity or totality.

Bring an extra empty, formatted memory card, insert it before the start of the eclipse, and then remove it (and lock it, if possible) after the eclipse has ended.

If you’re in the path of totality for a total solar eclipse bring a flashlight, preferably one that shines with red light. It can get dark enough during totality that you won’t be able to see your camera settings without one!

What You Will Need To Take Perfect Photos

Safety should always be the top priority when photographing an eclipse. However, with the right precautions, you can capture stunning images without risking damage to your equipment or eyes. Or, as writes, “With one of the best cameras for astrophotography (and an appropriate solar lens filter), a tripod, and some practice, you can be confident that you will come away from the experience of having captured epic photographs.”

The most important accessory you’ll need for your lens is a solar filter and the same film used for eclipse glasses is available as a solar filter from specialist retailers. “Solar film is the equivalent of 20 stops of neutral density, significantly reducing the amount of light getting through,” writes “A telephoto lens magnifies the intensity of sunlight and, in extreme cases, can melt your sensor!” Not convinced? Check out this video from 2017’s eclipse in which photographer Sean MacDonald sacrificed a Canon DSLR to prove this point.

Solar filters are typically composed of “a screw-in thread for the front of your lens and a protective sheet of film. Solar filters are specifically designed for this task and will block UV and IR light beyond the visible spectrum.

“Some manufacturers of regular camera filters make neutral density filters of sufficient strength that they can be used for solar photography as well as other long-exposure photography. Look for 16-stop, 18-stop, or 20-stop neutral density filters. Weaker strength neutral density filters will be available, such as a 4-stop or an 8-stop, but these will not offer enough protection — you must only consider filters of 16-stop and above.”

To make sure you have the right size filter, look for the thread notation typically found on the front or side of the lens, sometimes next to the Ø symbol. As an example, 82mm or Ø82 means that your lens requires a filter with a diameter of 82 millimeters.

Next up, a super-telephoto lens — at least 200mm, but the longer, the better. Even a 200mm lens wastes pixels on empty space so recommends “investing or renting a lens with a longer focal length for your mission. You could also look at a teleconverter, which is a secondary lens that fits between your lens and the camera body to magnify the center of your image. These typically come in factors of 1.4x, 1.5x, or 2x magnification. For example, a 70-300mm lens with a 2x teleconverter offers a maximum focal length of 600mm. lists other equipment to consider, including:

  • A DSLR or mirrorless camera with full manual control.
  • The best tripod you can afford. A stable tripod is required when shooting in low light, but this is even more important when shooting at a long focal length because the motion of the slightest vibration or gust of wind is multiplied. Invest or borrow the strongest tripod you can — it needs to be as solid as a rock.
  • Shutter release. This can be a cable plugged into your camera or a remote control that allows you to capture images without physically touching your camera. For the sharpest possible image, this is an important gadget to have in your arsenal.

Be sure to bring at least one extra fully charged battery and an empty SD card – perhaps even several – with you. It would be devastating to go through the effort and cost of planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip only to have it ruined due to unreliable equipment.

Prepare And Practice

Knowing the capabilities of your camera before eclipse day is paramount, according to NASA. “Most cameras, and even some camera phones, have adjustable exposures, which can help you darken or lighten your image during the tricky eclipse lighting. Make sure you know how to manually focus the camera for crisp shots.

“For DSLR cameras, the best way to determine the correct exposure is to test settings on the uneclipsed sun beforehand. Using a fixed aperture of f/8 to f/16, try shutter speeds between 1/1000 to 1/4 second to find the optimal setting, which you can then use to take images during the partial stages of the eclipse. During totality, the corona has a wide range of brightness, so it’s best to use a fixed aperture and a range of exposures from approximately 1/1000 to 1 second.”

In addition to knowing your camera, advises you to clean your gear because photographing strong light means any specks of dust will be seen on your image. You’ll also want to get to your viewing location early to allow for plenty of time to set up and make sure nothing is obscuring your view.

Part of your setup will be to make certain your tripod is level. “You will be recomposing your frame every few minutes so ensure your tripod is positioned somewhere stable, level, and ideally as far away from other people as possible,” advises “The last thing you want is a clumsy eclipse observer bumping into your tripod in the dark.

After that is done, you can begin composing your shot by using your camera’s screen to line up your image. “Do not use the optical viewfinder. You can always crop later, so it isn't critical to have the sun in the center of the frame, plus, it is in constant motion.”

Achieving sharp and accurate focus is crucial for taking great photos. However, relying solely on autofocus may not always yield the best results. It's recommended to take a test shot and zoom in on your camera's screen to ensure that it's crisp and sharp. If you notice any blurriness, switch to manual focus and make incremental adjustments. Take a series of test shots until you achieve the desired level of clarity.

After you have achieved sharp focus with your lens, switch to manual focus and avoid any further adjustments by not touching the focus ring again. It's recommended to keep a roll of tape handy to securely fasten the ring to the barrel so that even if you accidentally touch the focus ring with your fingers, it won't move. Other tips from include:

  • Make sure VR/IS is turned off. Vibration reduction or image stabilization is not required while on a tripod. Leaving it turned on will certainly result in a poorer image because your lens will be hunting for motion that isn't there.
  • Use aperture priority mode. Here you select an aperture to remain fixed throughout your shoot. Experiment beforehand to establish where your lens is sharpest and has the least chromatic aberration. Somewhere between f/5.6 and f/8 is the sweet spot on many lenses.
  • Choose an appropriate ISO. Too low, and the shutter speed required will be too long. Too high, and you'll introduce unnecessary noise. You should aim for a base exposure between 1/100s and 1/500s, depending on focal length.
  • Shoot raw. This allows you to capture a greater dynamic range and provides more data to play with during the editing process.
  • Choose spot metering as your metering mode because your entire frame is going to be dark apart from the sun. Meter on the sun before the event begins.

It's a good idea to use the bracketing technique when taking photos. This involves taking a sequence of images quickly, with some correctly exposed, some overexposed, and some underexposed. Most DSLR and mirrorless cameras have this feature built-in, allowing you to take between three and nine images with varying levels of exposure.

If clouds obstruct your view, you may lose some light, but by bracketing your exposures, you should still end up with a well-exposed image in the sequence. Since you'll be shooting in aperture priority mode with a fixed ISO, your camera will adjust the shutter speed for the other frames in the sequence. As the eclipse progresses and less light reaches your camera's sensor, you may need to increase your ISO as totality approaches.

Finally, totality, which begins and ends with the ‘diamond ring’ effect. “Once the diamond ring has gone, the magical moment of totality has arrived,” writes “The world around you has been plunged into darkness, but this also means some quick changes are required to continue shooting.”

Be sure to remove your solar filter and your solar glasses, then adjust your ISO. You should now be able to return to a lower ISO while the filter is off.

It's recommended to bracket your shots at this point if you haven't done so already. The sun's corona has a vast dynamic range, so taking rapid-fire shots with different exposures will allow you to choose the best one later. Avoid experimenting at this point and rely on technology to make things easier for you. There's no need to make any other adjustments right now, so don't touch your focus or aperture.

Finding The Perfect Spot

Finally, where should you photograph the eclipse? The answer depends on whether you want to photograph with a wide-angle lens or a telephoto lens.

“If you shoot primarily wide, you might want to choose environmental features to include in your image, like the colors on the horizon or clouds in the sky,” National Geographic writes. “Also consider people, wildlife, and trees in your composition. Under trees, the eclipse (in its partial phase) will create crescents of light on the ground — they’re very photogenic.”

If you have access to an elevated area, you can shoot the shadow of the moon as it approaches and departs from the land. If you have a white or light-colored surface around you, you might also be able to see shadow bands – fast-moving bands of light that are caused by the interaction of light and the atmosphere.

When taking photographs of a solar eclipse using a telephoto lens, it is recommended to position yourself near the centerline of the eclipse. This is because the totality lasts longer in this area, which increases your chances of capturing the details of the corona and prominences (eruptions from the sun). However, close-up images like these can be taken from any location along the path of the eclipse.

What To Do If You Want To Remember The Experience

“Most experienced eclipse chasers recommend that first-timers — especially those attending their first total solar eclipse — just watch the spectacle and not try to capture it in images or video,” writes the American Astronomical Society. “There's so much to see with your eyes, and you'll be able to view countless other people’s pictures and movies online afterward anyway.”

Some studies have found “taking photos is not the perfect memory-retention tool you think it is,” writes NPR. “Snapping too many pictures could harm the brain’s ability to retain memories,” says Elizabeth Loftus, a psychological science professor at the University of California, Irvine. So, you get the photo but kind of lose the memory.”

According to Loftus, this happens for one of two reasons, the first being we are distracted by the photo-taking process which causes us to miss the moment. This is called attentional disengagement which Julia Soares, an assistant psychology professor at Mississippi State University, explains by saying, “How we hold our phone, framing the photo to make sure people are smiling and the background is to our liking, ensuring the image isn't blurry — all of which uses up cognitive skills or attentional resources that could otherwise help us encode or retain that memory.”

The other possible reason for not remembering an event as well as you’d like when photographing it is that we’re offloading the responsibility of remembering moments. “When people rely on technology to remember something for them, they're essentially outsourcing their memory,” says Linda Henkel, a psychology professor at Fairfield University. “They know their camera is capturing that moment for them, so they don't pay full attention to it in a way that might help them remember.”

NPR reports there are some memory-retention advantages to taking photos when it is done mindfully. “We know from many studies that photos are good memory cues,” Soares says as one example of the benefits of taking pictures, “so the story isn't quite so simple as ‘taking photos is bad.’”

Taking photos of the eclipse or not, the most important thing to remember is to enjoy the moment because, for most people, the opportunity might not come again for a long time, if at all.