A total solar eclipse – the entire sun blocked by the passage of the moon – is one of the most awe-inspiring natural events you can experience. I travelled to Germany to view one in 1999, and I remember it vividly today. The light getting gradually dimmer and dimmer, a deep twilight and then the sudden and dramatic transition into total darkness.
Monday will see America’s first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in almost a century. You need to be in quite a narrow band of the U.S. to experience the totality (see map below), but you can experience a partial eclipse from anywhere in the country …
Keen photographers will be readying their DLSRs and telescopes to take photos of the eclipse. You do need the right kit and know-how to get pro-level photographs like the one above, but you can get your own ‘memory standard’ shots using nothing more than your iPhone and a couple of low-cost accessories.
But before we get into specifics, it’s worth thinking about whether you really want to do it. As with many amazing sights, focusing too much on photographing it can mean missing out on the full experience. If you’re going to view the whole thing through a screen, you might as well just watch a video.
There will be no shortage of professionally shot photos and videos to enjoy afterwards, so I’d think carefully about whether you even want to shoot your own.
But if you really do, then my first tip is how not to photograph the eclipse: don’t try to manually take a photo of the moment of totality. The totality is very brief, and will be over before you know it. If you try to capture the moment manually, you’re going to be looking at the screen rather than enjoying the experience first-hand.
So my top tip is to put your phone on a tripod – more on this in a moment – and shoot a time-lapse. You can then set it going as the light starts to fade, enjoy the whole experience first-hand and then stop the time-lapse once it’s all over. That will give you a video of the whole thing, and you can take screengrabs to choose your favorite still shot.
What do you need to shoot the timelapse? Technically, you don’t need to put anything in front of the iPhone lens: you won’t do any damage by pointing it directly at the sun. But there will be so much light that the image will be very distorted, so the best plan is to give your iPhone lens exactly the same protection you give your own eyes: eclipse glasses.
There are plenty of eclipse glasses to choose from. Some cost three-figure sums, but others cost just a few dollars. Provided you choose ones from a reputable supplier, and ensure that they are both CE and ISO certified, it doesn’t much matter which ones you choose. There are lots of multipacks, so this can often be the best deal – one for each of the people in your household who’ll be viewing, and an extra pair to cut out the filter to tape over your iPhone lens.
If you already own a tripod, you can simply buy a low-cost iPhone adapter. These typically cost somewhere around ten bucks. If you don’t, then a GorillaPod for smartphones is ideal. You can stand this on the ground just like a conventional tripod, but they are incredibly flexible things. You can attach it to a railing, a tree branch, car roof-bars, you name it.
The one thing to be aware of is that the iPhone is only being held by spring-mounted arms, so don’t ever try to use it with the camera pointed down (not that you would to shoot an eclipse!).
Shooting a time-lapse on your iPhone is incredibly easy. Open the camera lap, then scroll the options (photo, video and so on) over to time-lapse on the left.
Press the record button to start, and press it again to stop. That’s it! The iPhone will automatically adjust the length of the clip to give you a time-lapse of around 30 seconds in length (you can read more about that here).
And that’s all there is to it. The iPhone will adjust the exposure automatically. This won’t give you pro-quality footage, but it will give you your own personal memory.
Remember to always use your eclipse glasses any time you are looking at the sun – even during totality. You can easily damage your eyesight by failing to do this.
You can see below the map of the path of totality. Enjoy the show!
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