Photographing the August 21st Total Eclipse

by Tim Farmer

Here in the St. Louis area we’re going to have a great opportunity to photograph the upcoming total eclipse on August 21st. How do you photograph the sun without hurting your camera or your eyes and still get a stunning image?

First thing you’ll need to figure out is which story you want to tell. There’s no way to capture every aspect of a spectacular event like this. Even if you’re on the path of the eclipse in Ste. Genevieve or Columbia, Missouri, the total eclipse will only last a little over 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Do you want to capture the corona in high detail as it makes the “diamond ring” around the moon, or do you capture the eerie light on the landscape? If you try to do both, you might not get good images of either.

Once you’ve decided on the type of image you want to capture, it’s time to learn what you’ll need.

Be Safe: We all know that we shouldn’t look at the sun with the naked eye, nor should we photograph it without the right filter on our camera. Even using neutral density filters is not recommended for photographing the sun. They don’t block out the ultraviolet and infrared light bands that can hurt your camera and will hurt your eyes.

Schiller’s carries the StarGuy filters and Vixen viewing glasses that are designed to protect your eyes and equipment while still having the optics to give you outstanding images

Testing your setup before the big day is highly recommended. You’ll want to pull out your user’s manual or take one of the classes Schiller’s offers to ensure that your camera is set up properly. You’ll also want to make sure everything is working and that you’re ready to take full advantage of the small window you’ll have to photograph. This practice run will give you the experience needed to handle anything that may come up.

Your practice run will also let you see if you have the right setup to tell the story. You may be surprised with how small the sun appears in your frame. The image below shows how the eclipse will fit in a full frame with various lenses.

The Setup: How to focus on far away objects may not be as simple as you may think. When I teach astrophotography, I often have to show people that setting your focus to infinity may not give you a sharp photo. This is another reason to do a test shoot before the big day.

To focus, first turn off the auto focus, then manually focus on the furthest thing you can and then check it. You can use live view with the filter on your camera then double check it by zooming in on your LCD screen as much as you can. Once you get your focus, use a piece of tape so you do not accidentally move it.

You’ll also want to use a good sturdy tripod and turn off your image stabilization. Stabilization is not needed on a good tripod and can sometimes cause your photograph to be blurry on longer exposures.

Camera settings: Set your ISO low to get the best quality you can and shoot in RAW. If you usually shoot in Jpeg I would recommend setting your camera to capture both. This is a once in a lifetime chance, so even if you don’t use Lightroom or Photoshop now, you’ll have the RAW file if you use those tools in the future. Make sure your flash is off; it will be of no use and may bother others.

As for f-stop and shutter speed concerns, I would shoot at your lens’ sweet spot for your f-stop. For my lenses, that will be around f/9. Since the camera is on a tripod, you can use the shutter speed to get the best exposure with the ISO at 100 and f/9 for my camera/lens.

When August 21st arrives, hopefully you’ll find a great location under clear skies. To find the center line of the eclipse where you will have the longest total eclipse, use this link:

You’ll experience the partial eclipse for a fair amount of time. This will be a good time to practice a little and enjoy the day. During the partial eclipse, try to find an area under a tree and look at the ground. You may see many little eclipses projected onto the ground. These can make fun photos as well.

As totality approaches, you will see the shadow on the land approaching your location. This is best to see from a high location and can make for a cool environmental photograph.

Totality will start right after the “diamond ring” disappears. This is the only time you can view and photograph without a filter or viewer. Your exposure will be very tricky for the next 2:40 because the lighting will be constantly changing.

Using the ISO and f-stop setting for your camera/lens setup, bracket using your shutter speed to get different coronas. The 1/125th sec. may not look as cool as the 1/4th sec. but it will give you some interesting details up close. Using different times will also allow you to photograph some stars behind the sun.

Don’t forget to enjoy the eclipse. You will be treated to some gorgeous colors and a cool breeze as the shadow of the moon makes its way across the land.


Solar Eclipse Blog Update 8-17-17


This is an update to my original blog on photographing the Solar Eclipse on August 21.

First and most important.


To be safe, do not look directly at the partial eclipse either with the naked eye or through a camera, telescope or other such devices. Always have protective eye glasses (ISO approved) or a filter in front on the optics (lenses). Using view glasses “only” when looking through your camera, and without a filter WILL DAMAGE YOUR EYES!!! Only during totality is it safe to not use protective filters/glasses.

This shows what happens if you view the eclipse through a telescope (or even cameras) without a filter in front of the optics (lens), the sun will burn a hole right through your glasses.

Here are some base exposures if you are photographing the eclipse. I recommend bracketing your exposures.

Aperture (f/stop)
  f/2.8 f/4 f/5.6 f/8 f/11
Shutter Speed
Outer Corona 1/4 1/2 1 sec. 2 sec. 4 sec.
Mid Corona 1/30th 1/15th 1/8th 1/4 1/2
Inner Corona 1/1000th 1/500th 1/250th 1/125th 1/60th
Diamond Ring 1/1000th 1/500th 1/250th 1/125th 1/60th
Baily’s Beads —- 1/32,000th 1/16,000th 1/8000th 1/4000th
Prominences 1/16,000th 1/8000th 1/4000th 1/2000th 1/1000th

Using your histogram to evaluate your exposure.

This sequence was made by shooting a series of bracketed exposures
ranging from 1/1000 to 1 second (ISO 200, f/9) during totality. Notice how you can get different size corona’s starting at the top left with just the very inner corona going through the outer corona.

Look around you and enjoy the day. There will be a lot more happening on the ground and around you. Take time to notice and photograph some of the things you see. We would love for you to share your photos by tagging Schiller’s in your instagram or Facebook posts. @schillerscamera or #schillerscamera