Great American Eclipse: Photography Tips

Are you planning to take pictures of the eclipse? Photographer Tom Flaherty offers some expert advice for this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Aug 20 , 2017

Bangkok-Thailand Mar 9 2016, people come together as one to watch the solar eclipse at Benjakitti Park.

On Monday, millions of cameras will be pointed at the sky in hopes of capturing the image of a lifetime. Instructor Tom Flaherty has some great advice for increasing your odds of eclipse excellence.

Houston is getting a partial eclipse of about 70 percent. What is your advice for creating the best possible photos? Does taking a photo of the eclipse damage cameras or phones?

Reports are that Apple says an iPhone or very wide angle cameras like a GoPro will not damage the camera sensor, but there could be problems using a DSLR with a telephoto lens. To avoid these issues, the lens needs a protective solar filter, similar to those eclipse-watching sun glasses that are being sold. Just remember that the sun will still be very bright in Houston.

And remember, do not look directly at the sun! NASA's statement on eye safety gives these guidelines:

"Looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse (“totality”), when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s bright face, which will happen only within the narrow path of totality. The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” or hand-held solar viewers. Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun."

NASA eclipse eye safety page

Will smartphones take decent pictures of this event?

Although smart phones might not be damaged shooting the eclipse, that wide angle lens that protects the sensor will also prevent you from getting a zoomed-in view of the sun/moon. For example, take a photo of the moon, or a small cloud in the sky with your phone and you will see that those objects will be very small in the photo. So it will probably be hard to see the crescent shape in the sun. Additionally, in Houston, a large part of the bright sun will still be strong enough to over-expose the photo of the sun/moon. Putting a pair of those super sun glasses over the phone’s lens could help with that. Making a pinhole in cardboard is a way to project the eclipse on a piece of paper.

Here are online instructions on how to make and safely use a pinhole camera.

All eyes will be looking at the skies, but does the eclipse create other photography opportunities?

Because of the muted light in the middle of the day, shooting photos of any scenes around you can be very interesting. For sure, shots of those taking in this rare eclipse would be great subjects, as well as your favorite landscape or cityscapes. This light in this setting might be similar to a small cloud covering the sun on an otherwise sunny day. This light is very even with no harsh shadows.

Where will you be watching the skies on Aug. 21?

I will be in Houston and haven’t picked a spot yet, but I will pick one where I can hopefully use the unique light to get some interesting shots.
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Our thanks to Tom for these photo tips! The eclipse will soon be over, but oportunities for fantastic photography happen every day. You can join Tom at Glasscock School for iPhone Photography, starting in October. Check out all of our photography courses and visit us this fall. You can also read our previous post about the Aug. 21 solar eclipse from Dr. Christopher Johns-Krull.

Be safe, and enjoy the show!

Image at top: Bangkok-Thailand March 9, 2016. People come together as one to watch the solar eclipse at Benjakitti Park. Solar Eclipse 2016 by National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand.

About Tom Flaherty

Tom FlahertyTom Flaherty is a published photographer and a member of the board of the Houston Center for Photography and other local organizations. He is a business consultant and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Texas A&M University.