I don’t remember much from my first eclipse experience. It was during elementary school in Jefferson City, in 1979. Our class had made pinhole shoebox viewers. I was ready to be amazed.
As day turned to dusk, I peered through the pinhole and saw a tiny yellow dot on the cardboard wall. It was ... underwhelming.
Trying to capture the upcoming eclipse with a smartphone will probably lead to a similar experience.
Shooting a total solar eclipse that rapidly changes in brightness and lasts only a couple of minutes poses technical challenges that raise the question of whether it’s even worth trying to photograph at all.
“If they just point their iPhone up at the sky, they’re going to be disappointed,” said Joe Lopinot of Scopedawgoptics.com in Highland. Lopinot has been an astrophotographer for 15 years. His website is devoted to the upcoming solar eclipse. He offers tips and also sells eclipse gear, like cellphone kits, to view and photograph the eclipse.
If you want to take a photo during the eclipse with your smartphone, Lopinot suggests the following steps:
First, you will need a solar filter for your smartphone. You can buy one or make one by cutting it out from a pair of solar glasses. During totality, no solar filter is needed, so remember to remove the filter during that time.
To capture the sun as more than just a dot in the sky, have a telephoto lens. There are many brands of lenses that clip onto a smartphone easily and produce sharp images (prices start at $20).
If you don’t have a telephoto lens, cellphone adapters are available to attach to binoculars and telescopes, but you would also need a solar filter for this setup.
A small tripod will steady the camera and allow you to use a time delay to take the picture without touching the phone.
If your phone has an “HDR” (high dynamic range) setting, select it. The setting tells the camera to take three exposures, and from them, create one image. It helps with tricky exposure situations. Even without using this setting, the smartphone’s auto exposure function can measure light during the partial eclipse.
During a total eclipse, it may be too dark for the camera to focus. The sun’s corona will be visible as a ring around the moon. Tap the image of the corona on your screen to help the camera focus.
It’s a good idea to practice. Shoot the sun, or the moon, as both will appear roughly the same size during the eclipse. Lopinot suggests practicing until you can execute a picture in one minute, which should give you another minute to see the eclipse. “You don’t want to be fiddling with your camera and miss the whole thing,” he said.
In 1979, Lopinot first experienced an eclipse while attending the University of Colorado. He piled into a van with a group of six friends and saw the eclipse from a gravel road in North Dakota. “It is the most spectacular thing you’ll ever see,” he said. “(Afterward) people were walking around in a daze.
If you don’t want to risk missing the eclipse, consider these options:
Famous astrophotographer Alan Dyer offers his images for sale through Flickr for $25 to $85 and has published detailed books on how to take your own pictures, including one just for this eclipse, “How to Photograph the Solar Eclipse: A Guide to Capturing the 2017 Total Eclipse of the Sun.” It costs $9.99.
The Royal Astronomical Society in Great Britain sells photos through sciencephoto.com
NASA.gov promises images from hard-to-reach places, including 11 spacecraft and 50 high-altitude balloons. NASA will broadcast live in Jefferson City, from the Capitol. Its website is eclipse2017.nasa.gov.
If you decide to buy a photo, a smartphone can snap photos of you and your friends watching the eclipse together.