A few friends and former students have asked me about photographing the solar eclipse. Most likely, I'm not going to do it. Here are a few reasons why.
First, I don't live in a region that will experience a total eclipse. If I did I'd probably seek the challenge of it.
Second, it's not my specialty. NASA, other organizations and planetariums will produce far better images than I can. That in itself is not a reason to not try.
Rarely does a solar eclipse cross our paths. However, we already know this eclipse will be exceptionally well documented. Our current culture focuses too much on the capturing of images and not enough on the enjoyment of events. Wedding and event photographers bemoan the numbers of people holding up iPhones who are not fully engaged in the moment or mindful of that very moment they're attempting to document. I'd like to enjoy the eclipse, its play of shadows and light on the land, and the awe of the people I'm near.
Last, my equipment is inadequate. Despite having many stops of neutral density filters and a camera with a back-of-the-camera "live view" feature (and not just an optical viewfinder), I don't have a solar camera filter which eliminates the damaging UV and IR rays.
"Solar filters limit not only visible light but also ultraviolet and infrared light from the sun.
"The primary concern with using ND filters instead of solar filters is not the difference in the amount of visible light reaching the camera. It is in the amount of invisible UV light and IR light reaching the camera when standard ND filters are used."
Michael Clark continues,
"Infrared is particularly dangerous as your retinas have no pain receptors or other nerves that detect heat. You can literally 'cook' your retinas by looking at the sun through a high power lens and not feel the first twinge of pain!
"So the absolute first rule is: Never look directly at the sun through the viewfinder unless a proper SOLAR filter is in front of the lens."
If you insist on photographing the sun without proper filters Michael Clark adds,
"As long as you don't keep the camera pointed at the sun continuously, the camera will probably be OK if you use a combination of ND filters that add up to 14 stops. Keep in mind that in Live view the shutter stays open and the sensor is continuously exposed to whatever light is projected by the lens. In viewfinder mode the sensor is protected by the closed shutter, but the secondary mirror reflects a portion of the light from the image projected by the lens down into the autofocus array.
"After you do it you might always wonder if you caused any harm to your camera's sensor or PDAF sensor."
He concludes with mention of the residual questions he has about potential damage his camera may have incurred when he photographed Venus.
The night sky intrigues me. Daytime clouds and sunshine do as well. Yet, I'll reserve my cameras for the people, patterns and places on the planet. I hope you'll consider doing that as well as we enjoy the wondrous celestial and earthly event.
Read Phil Harrington's article about shadow bands possibly visible at your location. Please view the beautiful lithograph of an eclipse in 1870. Our lenses don't need to point skyward to capture this moment. Cosmic Challenge: Shadow Bands
Safeguard your eyes at all costs. No momentary solar (or other) phenomenon is worth a lifetime of eye damage. The web offers many solutions for creating your own solar eclipse projection screen. Cereal boxes provide a fast, inexpensive and easy fix: See the second video here at The Washington Post
Some people at work, traveling, or otherwise engaged will not experience this eclipse outdoors. Fortunately, we won't have to wait as long for our the next solar eclipse to blanket portions of the United States. In 2024 we'll enjoy this frenzy once again. Reserve your plane tickets now.
Note to self for 2024. Here are some of Nikon's tips for photographing an eclipse.