How to photograph the Total Solar Eclipse without missing out on experiencing Totality

Photo credit: Jamie Carter

To Instagram the eclipse or not to Instagram the eclipse?

When it comes to photographing a Total Eclipse of the Sun, FOMO — fear of missing out — works both ways. No-one wants to miss experiencing Totality, but nor will millions want to miss out on the chance to get a photograph of it. If Totality is indeed nature’s greatest spectacle (and it definitely is) then shouldn’t you try to photograph it?

Opinion is divided.

“If you’ve never done astrophotography before, don’t spend Totality fiddling with equipment because you’ll miss the experience,” says Eddie Mahoney, the only Nasa Ambassador, and Director of Astronomy and host of Tour of the Stars at the Hyatt Regency Maui.

“Just get yourself a nice comfortable lawn chair, sit back, relax and just experience Totality — don’t let anything else distract you.”

Everyone says the same thing: if it’s your first experience of a Total Solar Eclipse, do not attempt to photograph it. Totality is way too special and short-lived to waste on fiddling with cameras and filters, they say. So put your cameras and phones away.

But not everyone says that.

“I’m not sure I totally buy that theory,” says Eric Adams, a journalist and photographer whose image from the Faroe Islands of the Total Solar Eclipse in March 2015 was flashed around the world by AP and continues to be used frequently. “You can do both.”

Although Eric admits that he did indeed mostly miss his first experience of Totality in 2012 because he was attending to cameras, he thinks there is a way to photograph the spectacle without it ruining the actual moment. “I wasn’t smart about it,” he says, but he has a solution. “What I’d do is shoot like crazy from -5 seconds to +15 seconds with a telephoto lens on a tripod, then stop and take a full 1 minute 30 seconds to soak it in and enjoy it,” he says. “Maybe burn-off one or two frames midway if you feel like it.”

However, the temptation is to vary the shot, too. “Do some wide angle with your friends or the landscape, then zoom in again toward the end,” he advises. “Then start shooting again, or just switch to binoculars to catch the ending — you’ll be bummed if you don’t have something to save/share.” That said, anyone contemplating changing a lens during Totality should reconsider; instead, borrow another camera.

After all, it’s not like eclipse-chasers are actually going to listen to the ‘no cameras’ advice, is it? We’re all far to obsessed with photography and, well, photographing a Total Solar Eclipse isn’t actually that difficult with modern cameras.

“Auto mode on your DSLR is fine your first time if you want to minimize stress — it’s not a terrifically challenging exposure situation unless you’re going for something specific.”
“When it’s over, high-fives all around!”

Will you attempt to photograph the eclipse on August 21, 2017?

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