A PERFECT CIRCLE PREPARE now if you plan to Photograph the AUG. 21 eclipse



Nature photographer Eric Adams was on assignment to photograph a total solar eclipse in the Faroe Islands. It was only his second experience photographing such an occurrence, and he wasn’t going to let cloudy weather interfere.

Two years earlier, he had chased daylight in Australia, driving miles inland to catch the phenomenon. This time, the challenge was even greater.

“In the Faroe Islands, I spent the entire morning driving around searching for a break in the clouds,” Adams said. “I eventually stumbled upon three advanced amateur astronomers who had been timing the cloud/rain cycles all night and knew it would be clear there at eclipse time.”

The astronomers were right, and Adams got his photos.

Photographer Eric Adams gives a thumbs-up after photographing the 2015 eclipse from the Faroe Islands, He was the only media to photograph totality from the Faroes. Photo: Michael Seeboerger-Weichselbaum.

“My experiences, even with just two total eclipses, have been insanely memorable,” he said. “Photos don’t actually do it justice, because it's truly a beginning-to-end kind of experience. It’s riveting.”

For many people, the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse will be a once-in-a-lifetime viewing, and for those who hope to capture the event, the Clemson University campus — which is almost perfectly in the path of totality — will be an ideal location.

Photographing an eclipse, however, is something that requires careful preparation and the proper equipment. A cellphone definitely isn’t going to capture totality, but even a top-end DSLR doesn’t guarantee success.

That’s why now is the time to start getting ready.


Photo: Eric Adams

“This is going to be the most-viewed solar eclipse in history,” said Chris Witt, senior technical writer for New York City-based B&H Photo. “You have 350 million people who are going to be seeing this event either in totality or elsewhere in North America. It’s definitely going to be the most photographed and shared.”

The most important thing for photographers as well as viewers is safety, Witt said.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of people who, in the excitement, look right at the sun and might hurt themselves,” he said. “About two years ago, many of the optics manufacturers, when they started ramping up for the eclipse, got together with NASA. They created a new safety standard for direct viewing of the sun: ISO 12312-2.”

Anything being used to directly view the sun should carry that ISO rating or some other similar certification, Witt said, to ensure that ultraviolet and infrared radiation is blocked.

The sun’s brightness also necessitates the use of a solar filter. The filter blocks the sun’s dangerous radiation while also sufficiently reducing the brightness to allow for proper exposure. This protects your eyes — and your camera.

“Do not attempt to photograph or look at the sun through your camera’s viewfinder without a proper solar filter,” said Dan Savoie, senior technical representative for Ricoh Imaging Americas, which sells DSLRs under the Pentax brand. “Attempting to photograph the eclipse without a proper filter will cause damage to your camera, as well as serious damage to your eyes.”

There are two basic types of white-light filters, said Todd Vorenkamp, senior creative content writer at B&H Photo. One uses Mylar, the same material contained in the cardboard solar glasses used for eclipse viewing. The other is a really heavy neutral-density filter, which Vorenkamp doesn’t recommend because not all will block the sun’s dangerous radiation.

B&H’s Witt is a fan of the MrStarGuy adjustable solar filters, which, depending on size, cost from $60-$100. Instead of threading onto a lens, three thumbscrews allow quick mounting and release — important considerations when photographing an eclipse, since the filter must be removed during the period of totality when the moon is completely blocking the sun.

The diamond-ring effect happens right before totality. Photo: 123RF.com.

“When you see the first diamond-ring effect — right before totality — you need to take that filter off,” Witt said. “This is when time is important, so do you want to just loosen three screws and pop it off, or do you want to unscrew your filter from your lens? At the end of totality, you’ll see the second diamond ring, which is the signal to put everything back on. You’re still excited because you just saw a once-in-a-lifetime event. If you start jamming that filter on there you can damage your filter threads and you can damage your lens threads.”

Another good option, Witt said, are inexpensive, fold-flat filters from DayStar. These filters, which cost less than $40, use cardboard to hold the filter material. Because the filter slips over the front of a lens, they are suitable for use with telescopes, spotting scopes or camera lenses. A simple rubber band holds the filter in place.

Solar viewing glasses are a requirement when viewing the sun during an eclipse. Photo: 123RF.com.

“It’s exactly like the solar viewing glasses,” Witt said. “It’s the same material. They have an ISO rating because they want to make it safe for viewing through binoculars, spotting scopes and telescopes.”

Both the MrStarGuy and DayStar filters use Mylar, which — to experienced photographers — might not look like the best material for optical fidelity. But Vorenkamp isn’t concerned.

“I did some shots with ND filters and Mylar,” he said. “You have to suspend belief. A white-light filter turns the sun into a disc. You’re really not looking at details. It’s 96 million miles away. Sharpness shouldn’t be anybody’s real goal. An optical glass — the neutral-density — filter is probably sharper, but honestly, the Mylar looks just as good. And the Mylar actually gives you a nice, yellow-tinted sun.”

If you need a solar filter or any eclipse-related equipment, order it now, Witt said. Otherwise, you might be disappointed.

“Don’t wait to order something a couple of days before and expect expedited delivery to show up the morning of the 21st,” he said. “Get your gear early, and make sure you’re buying your stuff from reputable dealers. This is your eyesight; you only have two eyes for the rest of your life and you don’t want to burn them out because of this. Make sure that (filters and glasses) carry that ISO 12312-2 rating. That’s the only way you know that you’re going to be safe.”


Photo: 123RF.com

Vorenkamp said it is important to not prioritize photography over viewing the eclipse. For some people, it may be best to leave the photography to others, he said.

“Solar photography is pretty tricky,” Vorenkamp said. “It’s not something you can just figure out how to do on the day of the eclipse. You don’t want to be out messing with your gear trying to figure out how to shoot this thing and miss the two minutes of totality because you were too busy fighting technology. If you’re not an experienced photographer or you haven’t put a lot of practice into photographing the sun, I might be tempted to put the camera away and enjoy the show. Enjoy everybody else’s photos.”

Adams, however, had a different opinion.

“Our photographs are our greatest souvenirs, and everyone wants something cool and beautiful they can share with friends and enjoy for the rest of their lives,” he said. “Someone else’s photo isn’t good enough — it needs to be yours, documenting your experience.”

To prepare, Adams recommended practicing before the big day by photographing the sun right before sunset or right after sunrise, or when it’s behind a relatively thin layer of clouds.

A camera attached to a telescope — solar filter in place — stands ready during the 2016 eclipse in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo: 123RF.com.

“These are all cases when it’s dim enough to photograph without a filter, and when it roughly approximates the brightness of the eclipse during totality,” he said.

Adams suggested trying both fully automatic as well as manual camera settings during these practice sessions to see what works best. Then, during the eclipse, use the method that is most comfortable, he said.

“In order to get something good and not miss out on the emotional experience of the eclipse, you absolutely do need to do it right and practice before the big day,” he said. “Just remember, don’t overthink it. It’s an eclipse. See it, enjoy it, take pictures, remember it.”


Photo: Eric Adams

A big, long telephoto lens is a plus when photographing an eclipse, Vorenkamp said, but it need not be as big as you might think. A 300 mm to 450 mm lens should do just fine. Longer lenses, he said, will be harder to aim and also could limit capture of the sun’s corona.

“I’m sure there’s a bunch of people with their exotic 600 and 800 mm telephotos that are going to be using those, but I think honestly the day after they’re going to look at those photos and say, ‘I wanted to get more of the corona.’ You can go outside today and shoot the sun and get the whole disc with a big lens, but the only day you’re ever going to see the corona is on the eclipse day, and you’re going to want to capture that whole thing,” Vorenkamp said.

B&H Photo’s Chris Witt, senior technical writer, and Todd Vorenkamp, senior creative content writer, lead a discussion on how to photograph the upcoming solar eclipse. Photo: B&H Photo.

If you plan to use a long telephoto lens, be sure to practice aiming it at the sun prior to the eclipse. Because of the sun’s brightness, this can be tricky, Vorenkamp said.

Remember, too, that, from our perspective, the moon is the same size as the sun in the sky, so it provides a good opportunity to see — during pre-eclipse shooting practices — how big the sun will appear in pictures. If your lens doesn’t get the job done and you can’t afford to purchase a long lens, consider renting one.

Ricoh’s Savoie said a wider lens — such as a 24-70 mm — is also a necessity for shooting landscape or environmental photos during the eclipse. It’s also a good idea to practice focusing — and determine the proper focus — ahead of time. Simply focusing the lens to the infinity symbol may not be accurate, and the autofocus systems in cameras won’t function with solar filters in place, he said.

“We recommend determining the exact focus point prior to the eclipse by focusing on the moon and either recording that focus point by marking the lens or placing a piece of tape to prevent the focus point from moving,” Savoie said.

A tripod is also essential for sharp images.

“If the camera is stable, it will boost the details in your final images,” Adams said. “If you hand-hold it, even at a fast shutter speed, the slightest tremors in your hands will blur the finer details, even if the image in full looks great. You want an image with the most detail possible, so you can do more with the image while editing it later.”

During an eclipse, Adams typically sets his camera sensitivity to ISO 500-1,000, his lens aperture to f/4 or f/5.6 and his shutter speed to about 1/15 second. He also said a camera’s auto mode is often a good starting point for exposure. Shooting RAW images can also be helpful, Savoie said, because it allows more adjustments — such as white balance, exposure and shadow-highlight detail — to be made after the image is shot.

Vorenkamp said exposure bracketing — letting the camera automatically take multiple shots using different settings — is also a good idea.

“During totality, you’ll be able to see the corona, which is invisible at all other times and there’s a pretty substantial dynamic range between the inner and outer corona,” he said. “I would just put it on motor drive and auto bracketing and let the camera adjust the exposures.”


Photo: 123RF.com

Where will you be during the eclipse? Figure that out before the big day arrives, and then plan on getting in place with your camera, lenses and other gear at least two hours before the partial phase begins, Adams said.

For the Aug. 21 eclipse, Adams will be photographing from atop a mountain near Grand Teton National Park in Jackson Hole, Wyo. His equipment will include a Pentax K-1 with a telephoto lens, a Nikon D5 connected to a refractor telescope and a Sony A7Rii with a wide zoom lens.

He also brings a flashlight, snacks and water, and keeps a close eye on the weather leading up to the big event.

“Photos don’t actually do it justice, because it’s truly a beginning-to-end kind of experience,” he said. “The focal point of the experience is the merging of the sun and the moon to create a black disk with a shimmering, expansive glow around it. That’s the sun’s outer atmosphere — the corona. Though fleeting, it’s a fantastic, otherworldly sight — a black disk in the sky on a muted blue background, surrounded by dynamic, glowing light, rich in detail. Stars and planets emerge from the sky. The environment changes, too. Birds may stop chirping in reaction to the sudden darkness, the air will chill and the color of the landscape will change to something sort of like twilight, sort of like daylight. It’s spooky.”

Above all, Adams said it’s important to bring an open mind.

“Go into the experience with a degree of good humor, be open-minded and work to be cognizant of what you’re seeing — a surreal, absolutely perfect blotting out of the sun by the moon, and a demonstration of the clockwork precision of the universe,” he said. “If you don’t dig it, just take satisfaction in the fact that you saw something special and rare, and enjoy the pure oddity of the whole thing. I’m pretty sure the deeper appreciation will sneak up on you later.”



Eric Adams, 123RF.com, B&H Photo

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