How to Photograph a Solar Eclipse
August 07, 2017 • Leave a Comment
Way back in May of 2012 we had a solar eclipse visible in the southern part of the USA. Since successful viewing of an eclipse requires a clear sky, I was not willing to commit to driving any distance in the hopes I would be lucky enough to witness this event. I had at least a 50/50 chance of missing it due to weather.
I went to breakfast that morning near my home in Crested Butte, Colorado and check the weather and the track of totality for my area while I waited for my bacon. As it turned out, the weather would be perfect. The nearest landmark along the path of totality was Shiprock, New Mexico. That's about a 5-hour drive from my home but, since it was May, I had nothing better to do than driving to Shiprock for the evening eclipse.
I had an idea of the photo I was hoping to get but I had never photographed an eclipse before and rarely point my cameras toward the sun, even for sunsets. I had a lot of time to think this thing through but no time to practice my technique.
After arriving at my destination I had a few hours to find a perfect location. Much of the land around Shiprock is Navajo Nation private property and I knew from previous visits that they can get pretty excited about people crossing fences and even driving on their roads. I staked out my place along the highway in the state's right of way just to be safe. I was not alone!
Getting the mountain and the sun in the same shot was my goal but I really didn't know exactly where the sun was going to be when it was eclipsed. I ended up using my 80-200mm, my 300mm, and my 400mm lenses for the photos. My first shot was using the longer lenses just to capture the shadow of the Earth falling across the sun.
I quickly realized that getting an acceptable exposure while looking into the sun was going to make it impossible to see any kind of landform or mountain. If I exposed for a dark sky with a little foreground the sun would be too blown-out to see the shadow of the earth. Bummer! I also came to the realization that if I properly exposed the totality of the earth's shadow within the outline of the sun I was going to get a really boring image.
I could easily create this graphic in Photoshop without having to travel to another state and hope for good weather!
So, as I continued to make images with my long lenses and work through the exposure issues, I realized another problem. When I shot with my 80-200mm zoom I got lots of unwanted lens flare and ghosting of the sun/earth part of the image. I hate lens flare! I know it's really popular in a lot of portrait situations but for a landscape photographer, it's bad news. What to do?
As it turned out, the location I had chosen was about perfect. Except for the power lines and pole. I was able to achieve a good exposure using HDR techniques and an exposure range of about 6 stops to achieve the photo above. I still wasn't thrilled with the power pole and the size of the sun was a little underwhelming. Since I think using HDR for my landscape photos is cheating just a bit, I decided to cheat some more and try a composite image. The photo/illustration below is my final result. I'm pretty happy with it. It involves a 6 stop HDR shot of the mountain with most of the lens-flair and ghosting retouched composited with my favorite frame of the earth eclipsing the sun. It's not perfect. It was a huge amount of work using a lot more post processing than I'm comfortable with but I'm pretty happy with the result.
I hope you all have fun chasing the next eclipse later this month. Happy hunting!
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