Shooting the eclipse

The Ring of Fire, ©Dennis L. Mammana (

UPDATE:  Here’s some more information about the eclipse.  I thought I’d just add it to this article.  First is we have some “eclipse” safe throw away glasses available in the store.  They are certified safe for direct viewing of the sun, and are only $2 each.  Limited quantity, so don’t wait. Second,  we’ve received questions regarding what the eclipse will be like in other places.  Just so you know, it will be pretty good in Salt Lake.  Basically the size of the moon in relation to the sun is about 93%.  The size of the moon in relation to the sun varies greatly since  its orbit is elliptical … not a perfect circle.  The most recent full moon we had was a “super” moon, meaning the moon as about as close to the earth as it can get.  2 weeks later and that has changed .. it’s now further away than normal.  When the moon is larger than the sun when it passes between the earth and sun there is a total eclipse.  When it’s smaller than the sun as in this case it’s called an “annular” eclipse.  Not as spectacular but still pretty cool.  This means that if you are in the area of totality the moon will be completely surrounded by the sun, and it will cover about 93% of the sun.

If you are outside of the area of totality, the moon will be on the side of the sun, the further away the less it will cover.  But for example, in Salt Lake the moon will still cover 83% of the sun, which is a little less than the picture at the top of the page.  So it’s still going to be pretty cool.  Here is a google map that shows the area of totality.  Zoom into a location and click anywhere on the map to see the time and how much of the sun will be covered by the moon.  For example, in Anchorage, Alaska the moon will cover 58% of the sun.  Good luck! Here’s the link to the map

We’re receiving many calls asking for special filters to shoot the eclipse.  They’re tough to find, and to be honest, we’re a little undecided as photographers as to whether they are the right approach.

From research it seems there are a few ways to shoot the eclipse.  If you are an astronomer you want to reduce the sun’s light enough to look at it directly, and you’re probably using a telescope so you can just shoot the sun itself.  But we’re photographers, and I guess in our mind we’re thinking more of how we can get the unique crescent of the sun as part of a larger image, either silhouetting something in front of it, or perhaps something similar to a sunset.

The eclipse itself lasts a couple of hours.  The optimum path of the eclipse crosses southern utah, but even in Salt Lake the sun will be about 89% covered by the moon, meaning those here will see substantial dimming of daylight and a crescent for the sun.  The maximum coverage will be about 7:30 PM on Sunday, May 20th.  This means the sun will be fairly low (about 11 degrees) above the horizon.  Maybe not quite “sunset” but considering how much light will be dimmed, it seems that a split ND filter, or bracketed exposures may be just the ticket to get that odd sun hovering over a landscape.  If you are too close to the west mountains you probably won’t even be able to see it.

Several of us are heading down to various points in Southern Utah to get the maximum effect, but it sounds like almost anywhere in Utah will be affected enough to perhaps get an opportunity for an unusual landscape image.

The risk here is getting so fascinated by the event itself  you watch it  … very dangerous. We do have some special “eclipse” glasses coming into the store, so you might want to have a pair of those handy.  Take normal precautions that you would similar to shooting a sunset when composing through the viewfinder, but it seems taking pictures of the sun is something most of us do frequently and this doesn’t seem much different.

A special filter designed to shoot the sun directly will reduce the exposure by about 17 stops, which leaves you an exposure of around 1/500th at f/8 or so. With these filters everything else is basically black,  and you can see detail in the sun itself.  An example is the upcoming transit of Venus in June where Venus will move directly across the sun.  With a filter like this you can see or photograph the small dark shadow of Venus against the sun itself.

But what I”m seeing in my mind for the eclipse is a little different.  I see a normal landscape image of some kind, with this odd other worldly sun in the sky.  Perhaps a silhouette, perhaps a full typical landscape image.  Using this filter I could shoot two images, one with it and one without it, but to be honest I’ve photographed thousands of sunsets with the sun in them and ND filters seem to be more than enough.  So that’s my plan, I have my full range of split ND filters as well as two glass ND filters (a 4 and a 6 stop one).  If I can find the right foreground I think this will offer me the best chance to get an image I like.


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