How to capture the rare total solar eclipse on April 8th

In a nutshell

  • To capture a total solar eclipse effectively, it’s essential to have the right gear, including a long lens or telescope for detailed shots, a sturdy tripod to avoid blurry images and solar filters to protect your eyes and camera sensor.
  • Preparing and planning your shoot is crucial, including deciding on your framing and whether to use tracking mounts.
  • Shooting in RAW format and manual mode gives you the best chance to capture the eclipse’s details.

On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will cross over North America. In the U.S., observers along a narrow path stretching from Texas to Maine will experience the full glory of totality, where the moon completely obscures the sun.

When something as rare as a total solar eclipse comes to your neighborhood, it’s only natural to want to preserve that event on photo or video. So, if you have the urge to capture this solar event, here’s what you need to know:

The gear you need for capturing a total solar eclipse

Lenses and adapters

As you prepare, you need to consider what gear you’ll need to capture the shots you want. If you want to capture coronal detail during totality, you’ll want a longer lens — at least 200 mm, but preferably up to 1,500 mm or longer if you have it. A telescope would be great, but a long zoom lens would be ideal if you’d like to capture a variety of shots of the eclipse and the surrounding landscape.

If you plan on capturing the eclipse with your smartphone, you’ll need an adapter to increase your range via a telescope. There’s plenty of options available on the market, one of them being this adapter made by Celestron. This adapter allows you to reach telescope lengths. (Note: The lens not included.)

Tripod

At the lengths you need to capture the eclipse, any movement can result in a blurred image. Combined with the long exposure time you may need in the dim conditions of an eclipse, movement can turn your edges into streaks in your final image. A good tripod ensures that your device remains perfectly still, providing the clarity needed to capture the details of the eclipse.

Filters

You cannot look directly at the sun, even during a partial eclipse, without damaging your eyes. And looking at the sun through an unfiltered camera lens is just as bad, if not worse. There’s also the added risk that you will damage your camera’s sensor.

It may be tempting to just stack several ND filters together. While this may work to get you the shot, it may not be enough to protect your eyes. IR and UV rays are the real danger here, but it’s difficult to tell if you’ve eliminated these harmful rays since they fall outside the visible spectrum. Therefore, best practices is to use a filter made for this purpose. Solar lens filters or filter sheets can be had for as little as $16 dollars on Amazon. Though, some options run as much as $200 dollars depending on the filtering materials used. 

That said, you’ll want to remove the filter during totality after all direct sunlight has disappeared.

Remote shutter

If you’re trying to capture stills, a remote shutter is essential in this situation. A remote shutter allows you to capture images without physically touching the camera, reducing the risk of camera shake and resulting in sharper, clearer photos. But more importantly, the benefit of a remote shutter is making sure you have consistent framing between shots. If you’re taking a long exposure image, creating a timelapse or compositing multiple shots in post-production, even the slightest bump or adjustment can ruin your shot.

If you can, get a wireless version so there’s no chance that you will pull on the camera with the attached cord. Just make sure to test it before it’s time for the real thing.

Optional: Tracking mounts

Depending on how close you want your framing to be, it may be a headache making sure you get what you want without the need for adjustments. This is where tracking mounts come into play. Mounts such as the Sky-Watcher Solarquest locate and keep track of the Sun’s position for several hours. 

Don’t forget about your eyes.

Using solar glasses during a total solar eclipse is crucial for eye safety. Except during totality — when the Moon entirely blocks the Sun — looking at the Sun without specialized protection can cause severe eye damage. Solar glasses, or handheld solar viewers, are necessary to safely observe the partial phases of the eclipse. These viewers are not the same as regular sunglasses and must meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard for solar viewing. NASA has more information about eye safety and when it’s okay to look at the sun during totality.

Have a plan

april 8 total solar eclipse path
Image courtesy: NASA

Don’t bother shooting the eclipse if you don’t have a plan. We’re serious. Don’t waste this opportunity to see something amazing unless you research what to expect going in and have a goal for how you’d like to use the footage once it’s captured. Will you capture the entire event, then speed it up in post-production for a hyperlapse effect? Will you shoot smaller clips at various focal lengths for an eclipse montage set to music? Or will you try to tell the story of the eclipse in a vlog-style video? 

Having more than one camera up and running during the event will give you even more flexibility. You’ll also want to decide now if and how you’ll capture audio.

Tips when shooting the eclipse

Shoot in RAW

Shooting in RAW format makes a big difference compared to shooting in other formats like JPEG, mainly due to its ability to preserve the maximum detail and quality. This unprocessed format ensures the finest capture of the eclipse’s details, like the Sun’s corona and the ambient light gradations. It also gives you flexibility in post-processing, allowing for adjustments in exposure, white balance, and other settings without loss of quality. The enhanced dynamic range of RAW also better handles the stark contrasts between the bright sun and its fainter corona.

Go manual

Lighting conditions are going to change throughout the eclipse. So, you’ll want to take control of your camera’s exposure. Take some time before the eclipse to find the exposure that’ll work with your solar filter. This will be your exposure setting for most of the eclipse. However, that will change when the thinner crescent phases right before totality — when the light will dim significantly. You’ll need to adjust your exposure accordingly. 

Shooting the totality is hard to practice, but the Moon will provide similar brightness. So you can at least practice your exposure on the Moon to anticipate an appropriate exposure. Get your camera ready before totality hits and be ready to remove your solar filter as soon as the last sun rays of the Diamond Ring and subsequent Bailey’s Beads are gone. This solar eclipse exposure calculation tool may point you to a good starting point.

Also, don’t rely on your camera’s autofocus, especially if you’re in the path of totality. You will have to go manual to ensure you capture the details you want as the conditions shift.

A rare event worth capturing

With the eclipse nearing, start planning and experiment with your gear now so you’ll be confidently prepared come April 8th. Don’t forget to look up and enjoy the view for yourself once your camera is rolling. Enjoy the incredible experience for yourself as you capture equally as incredible footage. Have fun and stay safe.

Contributing auhtors to this article include: Kyle Alsberry and Nicole LaJeunesse

Kyle Alsberry
Kyle Alsberry
Kyle Alsberry is a multimedia producer and audiovisual technician at California State University, Chico.

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