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.

Solar Eclipse 2Solar Eclipse 2COPYRIGHT DUSTY DEMERSON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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.

Solar Eclipse 1Solar Eclipse 1COPYRIGHT DUSTY DEMERSON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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?

 

Solar Eclipse 3Solar Eclipse 3

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.

Shiprock EclipseShiprock EclipseComposite image of annular eclipse of May 2012 over Shiprock New Mexico.

I hope you all have fun chasing the next eclipse later this month. Happy hunting!

 

 


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