Four tips for photographing the solar eclipse

jaslyn gilbert
University photographer Jaslyn Gilbert looks at the sun through the solar filter she made with a 3D printer at The Cube.

A solar eclipse is one of nature’s greatest spectacles and one that many people want to preserve with photographs. Taking great pictures of a solar eclipse, however, is more challenging than you might think.

University of the Pacific photographer, Jaslyn Gilbert, has tips for photographing the event we in Northern California will see Aug. 12.

Invest in a solar filter

solar filter
The solar filter fits over the camera’s lens to filter out the sun’s intense rays.

Even when the sun is partially covered by the moon, the light coming from it is still very intense. A solar filter, made of metal-coated glass or Mylar, blocks most of the sunlight coming through your camera’s lens. It makes for a better defined image and protects your eyes as well as your camera.

“You could damage the sensor if you continually point it at the sun — especially if you use live view,” Gilbert said.

When you buy a filter, Gilbert said it’s important to get a solar filter and not a polarizing or neutral density filter.

With help from the University’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, Gilbert made a solar filter using a filter sheet she bought online and a cap made with the 3D printer in The Cube at the University Library. The filter fits over the lens on Gilbert’s camera.

It’s possible to make your own filter cap even if you don’t have a 3D printer.

“You can do it with cardboard, or you can use mailing tubes if they’re the right size,” Gilbert said.

Use a telephoto lens and a tripod

Next, you want to make sure you fill your camera’s frame with the image. For that, you need a telephoto lens with a focal length of about 500 millimeters.

“Your focal length has to be long enough. Otherwise the sun will be just a little dot (in the frame),” Gilbert said.

A lens that long requires a tripod to keep the camera steady to ensure a sharp image.

Test camera settings ahead of time

Gilbert recommends a low ISO, an f-stop around 11 or 16 and a fast shutter speed to account for the brightness of the sun. In addition, she suggests setting your manual focus to infinity. However, she says photographers should test those settings before the big day.

“Because the actual event is going to go by so fast, you don’t want to waste all your time trying to figure out your camera settings,” she said.

So, she recommends taking equipment to the location where you’ll watch the eclipse a few days before but at the same time the event will happen. In this case, around 9:30 a.m. Put the filter on your telephoto lens, adjust your settings, make a test exposure and adjust from there.

It’s not just about the sun

During a solar eclipse, there are other things to photograph than the sun itself. If you’re with other people, you can capture them watching the eclipse wearing their eclipse glasses. It’s a good way to record the emotion of the day.

If you’re near some trees, look at the ground. You’ll likely see crescent-shaped shadows projected through the shade.

Above all, Gilbert said, don’t get so caught up in photographing the eclipse that you miss the event.

“Just enjoy it,” she said. “Unless you have the really high-end gear to do it, maybe you should just enjoy it.”

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