“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.”