Eclipse Photography: Framing the Eclipse

It's now just two weeks from the August 21st total solar eclipse! If you're going to photograph the event, perhaps you've already put a lot of thought into capturing that perfect shot. If you haven't, there are several ways to approach eclipse photography to produce unique and memorable compositions. Here are a few suggestions.

The Classic Closeup

Eclipse Photography: The Classic Close-up

An HDR composite of the total solar eclipse of 2008 by Anthony Ayiomamitis

This is probably the eclipse photography shot we all dream of taking. Who hasn't seen an other-worldly shot of the eclipsed Sun showing extended wisps of the corona surrounding a jet-black lunar silhouette, perhaps with a sprinkling of brilliant magenta prominences along the limb? The best such shots are captured using telescopes or camera lenses with focal lengths of at least 300 mm (or 600 mm if you have a full-frame camera). Using a tracking mount is helpful, but not absolutely necessary.

Place the Sun in the middle of your frames to get the maximum amount of corona in your image, and use the automatic exposure bracketing feature in your camera (or software in your computer controlling the camera) to record a wide range of exposures. You can later combine several of these bracketed exposures using high-dynamic-range (HDR) image-processing techniques. These shots take a bit of work, but the results are stunning!

Catching Baily's Beads

Eclipse Photography: Diamond Ring and Baily's Beads

The Diamond Ring transitioning into Baily's Beads, photographed by Fred Espenak in 2006.

While you're shooting closeups, a rapid-fire series of images capturing Baily's Beads can make for a different perspective. Start shooting about 10 or 15 seconds before or after totality using the same short exposure you'd use to capture the inner corona; try using exposures of about 1⁄1,000 of a second. The shots should lead to a great composite that few have produced before. Baily's Beads photos don't require any special processing, so assembling a composite of several shots is easy. Coincidentally, the shots taken farthest from totality should capture a fine image of the Diamond Ring. Don't forget to put your solar filter back on immediately afterwards.

Want to learn how to shoot the eclipse? Then check out our on-demand webinars

Wide-angle Shots & Composites

Eclipse Photography: Composite of Partial Phases

The entire eclipse of 2001 is seen in this composite taken by Fred Espenak.

Eclipse photos taken from a simple camera mounted on a tripod offer the most variety in how you can compose your shot, because there's so much space to work with. A shot that captures the eclipsed Sun over a mountain range, between tall buildings, or above a jubilant crowd of onlookers can really capture the feel of the moment. The trick here is to plan your shot carefully.

The Sun will be very high in the sky for most locations along the path of totality. For example, where I'll be in Glendo, Wyoming, the Sun will appear 55° above the horizon. (Here's a great resource that will show you the elevation of the Sun from anywhere you click on the map.) In this situation, you'll need a wide-angle lens to comfortably fit the Sun in the frame with people in the foreground.

If you're also going to include all of the partial phases in your final composite, you'll need to know the elevation of the Sun at every stage of the eclipse, from the start to the end of the partial phases. You may need a fisheye lens to properly frame the event.

Here's a link to a helpful site that shows you the coverage of different lenses and camera detectors, which can help you choose which setup works best for your plans.

Unlike closeup shots, you'll want to compose this shot so that the Sun balances the frame with other elements in your image. Don't plop the Sun directly in the middle —  try to work with your surroundings to make the most of the scene.

Fun Beyond Totality

Eclipse Photography: Crescent Suns

Crescent Suns projected through the tiny openings between palm leaves aboard the MV Discovery
Anthony Sanchez

Even if you can't make it to the path of totality (or you're just killing time before the show), you can still take some cool images of the partially eclipsed Sun without a telescope or telephoto lens from most any spot in the continental United States. Heck, you don't even need a solar filter! Simply look below trees. The small gaps between the leaves will serve as countless pinholes, projecting small images of the crescent Sun onto the ground, wall, or other flat surface. The deeper the partial phase, the more surreal these crescent projections can appear.

So think about how you can use your surrounding to make the most out of this rare opportunity. Some of the most memorable eclipse photos weren't originally part of the photographer's plan. Good luck!

Read more about the event in our special issue, America's 2017 Eclipse


For more eclipse resources, visit our Total Solar Eclipse 2017 page or check out our FREE eBook on eclipse photography!

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