Tuesday, July 17 , 2018, 6:58 pm | Fair 71º


Dennis Mammana: Quick Tips to Make the Most of Photographing the Solar Eclipse

It’s OK to put away the camera and enjoy the solar eclipse for what it is. Click to view larger
It’s OK to put away the camera and enjoy the solar eclipse for what it is. (Dennis Mammana photo / dennismammana.com)

Unless you’ve been visiting another planet, you’ve surely heard about the upcoming solar eclipse. On Aug. 21, North American sky watchers — including those in Santa Barbara County — will enjoy a partial solar eclipse, and those fortunate enough to be in just the right spot will experience a rare and spectacular total eclipse. Please see my previous three columns for many more details.

Tens of millions of people will be out that day, and nearly everyone will want to photograph the eclipse. The partial phases aren’t too tough to capture, but totality ... well, that’s another story altogether.

So, if you’d like the advice of a veteran of 16 total solar eclipses, here it is: If you’ve never experienced a total solar eclipse — and believe me, you’d know if you have — put your camera away and enjoy it.

Now, since I’m not so naive as to think that anyone will actually heed my advice, I offer some tips to photograph the eclipse.

First, the partial phases: The important thing to remember is that you’re shooting the sun. No camera — and certainly no eye — can handle its intense light without a proper solar filter.

Never view or photograph the sun or partial eclipse phases with the naked eye, sunglasses, neutral density glass, double thickness of darkened film, smoked glass or other homemade filters.

Before E-Day, assemble and test everything by photographing the sun. This will give you experience for shooting the partial phases, since your settings will be identical. You’ll soon realize that you’ll need a telephoto lens (or telescope) to produce a reasonably large image of the sun.

Before the eclipse begins, disable your auto focus. Next, aim toward a very distant daylit landscape and, zooming the image larger on the LCD screen, focus it manually. Then, gently tape the focus barrel so it won’t move.

If you’ll be using a tripod, be sure you turn off your image stabilization. Disable your strobe. Keep your ISO relatively low. And don’t be afraid to stop down the lens to ensure sharper images.

Next, shooting totality: If you’ll be located along the eclipse centerline, you’ll be treated to totality. But these two minutes will be quite challenging for first-time eclipse photographers.

Exposures can range anywhere from a tiny fraction of a second to several seconds depending on what you’re trying to capture and when.

Totality begins immediately at the “diamond ring,” and this is when you must remove all filters. Photography now becomes quite tricky, since the lighting changes so rapidly. Now you’ve got a fast real-time choice to make: Zoom in and shoot the totally eclipsed sun itself, or photograph the alien environment around you.

In the darkened blue sky will appear gorgeous sunset colors and a few of the brighter stars and planets. To capture these with a more wide-angle lens, you may wish to set your camera to aperture priority, for example, and compose for the eclipse and environment together.

Whichever way you choose to go, be ready for darkness; there’s no way to tell just how dark it will become, so be sure to have a flashlight ready just in case.

If you’ve never experienced a total solar eclipse, you will be stunned at how rapidly it passes and soon realize how tough it is for even experienced eclipse chasers to capture great photos without missing the sky show.

I highly recommend putting the camera away and just taking in the enormity of all that’s happening around you. You will not be sorry.

Of course, there’s nothing to prevent you from pulling out your smartphone during totality to sneak a quick shot or two!

Dennis Mammana is an astronomy writer, author, lecturer and photographer working from under the clear dark skies of the Anza-Borrego Desert in the San Diego County backcountry. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @dennismammana. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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