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The total solar eclipse takes place on Monday, April 8 in New York City and across the country

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Monday, April 8, 2024
How to get the perfect shot during the solar eclipse
A total solar eclipse comes to North America on April 8. It will enter over Mexico's Pacific coast, dashing across the U.S. from Texas to Maine before exiting over eastern Canada into the Atlantic.

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RELATED: Everything you need to enjoy the eclipse safely including solar glasses and more

Getting to see even one total solar eclipse is a rare occurrence. Photographer Stan Honda has three under his belt. His first experience took place in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, in 2015 - what he saw was a singular spectacle and chance for anyone wielding a camera.

Below are his tips for safely taking photos.

Setting up for eclipse photos

For the upcoming eclipse, Honda will be in Fredericksburg, Texas, taking pictures on behalf of international news agency Agence France-Presse.

"I was looking at weather maps and historically, as you go further south, there's less chances of clouds. Texas is as far south as you can go in the US to view the totality part of the eclipse," he said. "Fredericksburg is just west of Austin, so it's easy to get to. It seems to be a pretty popular choice, and it looks like this area of Texas is getting ready for pretty big crowds."

Honda said he usually plans two kinds of pictures. One is taken with a wide-angle lens to capture the eclipse and also the landscape around it. "To me, that's actually a better photo, because it kind of puts the eclipse in a location, it puts it in a setting," he said. "And also, it shows you where you were at the time."

The other kind of image he aims for involves using a telephoto lens and prioritizes the celestial event. "You've probably seen a lot of those shots, just focusing on the sun itself," he said, "and the sun makes up a large part of the picture."

As part of his professional setup, Honda will have a third camera with a really wide-angle lens to try to get even more of the landscape, and a fourth camera around his neck, with a wide-angle zoom lens, to photograph the people around him and document their reactions.

But you don't need all that.

"With pretty much any kind of camera or any lens, you can get a good picture of the eclipse," he said. "I would just recommend a fairly sturdy tripod, to make your setup pretty steady, and a remote shutter release, because that allows you to take the pictures without jarring or moving the camera too much."

Eclipse moments to capture - and how to do it safely

Just like your eyes need protection during the partial phases of the eclipse - ISO 12312-2 compliant eclipse glasses or a handheld solar viewer to watch it safely - your camera does, too.

Remember that it's not safe to look at the eclipse through an unfiltered camera, even when wearing protection on your eyes. That's because optical devices can concentrate solar rays, which can then cause eye injury, according to NASA.

"A safe solar filter really is a necessity for the partial phases, and the American Astronomical Society has a whole section on its website about solar eclipse glasses and filters that they approve as being safe to use," Honda said.

RELATED: How to make a pinhole projector with a cereal box to safely view an image of the solar eclipse

The filter cuts out a huge amount of light, and different filters produce different colors, depending on the material they're made of, Honda said, adding that you should switch your exposure setting to manual mode.

"The automatic settings just won't work with the filter on, because most of the frame will be black, so it'll be like taking a picture at night," he said. "Manually focusing would be a big help, too - you can autofocus on the sun, but then you have to disable the autofocus so that your camera doesn't try to keep focusing through the filter. It's so dark that it'll be fooled by the darkness, and it won't be able to focus."

Right at the beginning of the totality period, you might be lucky to capture something called the "diamond ring" effect, which happens just before the moon completely covers up the sun.

"It's this very bright section of the sun, just on one corner of it - it looks like a ring with a diamond on it, and that lasts for just a few seconds, maybe 10 or so," Honda said.

Equally as elusive are Baily's beads, which might appear right as the moon and sun appear to align.

"The moon isn't perfectly smooth - there's mountains, craters and other formations - so as it's covering up the sun, some of the sunlight will stream through these formations and create spots of light along one edge," Honda said. "Again this lasts a couple of seconds before you transition to the full totality, when you see the corona."

During the eclipse, there could even be the chance to witness a coronal mass ejection - a large, spectacular plume of material rising from the sun's surface, weighing billions of tons, according to NASA.

Once the moon covers up the face of the sun, you will have to take the filter off the camera; otherwise, you won't be able to see the sun's corona, which is really the money shot, Honda said.

"When you take the filter off, you'll have to increase the exposure by quite a bit, because the corona itself is fairly dim, about the brightness of a full moon, so compared to the brightness of the sun that's a pretty big difference," Honda said. "Keep the shutter speed and the ISO consistent and just slow down the shutter speed, because that will give you more and more exposure as you increase the time of the shutter speed, and you'll catch more and more of the corona on each frame."

During totality, you can also look at the eclipse directly with your naked eyes, but knowing exactly when it's safe to take filters and glasses off can be tricky. If you're in a group of people, it's likely that the moment will be announced. Otherwise, you should look out for when the sun reaches a super-thin crescent, Honda said.

How to practice eclipse photography

Of all the stages of a total solar eclipse, the moment of totality is special and the one most photographers covet. "That's also a pretty dramatic shot, especially with the wide-angle lens," Honda said. "Everybody wants that picture during totality, to show the sun's corona."

Luckily, you'll have plenty of time to photograph this phase in April as this event's totality will last at least 2 minutes and up to well over four, depending on your location. Once it's over, the cycle that reveals Baily's beads and the diamond will start in reverse.

"As you get closer toward what's called third contact, when the moon is ready to move off the face of the sun, then you have to remember to reset your shutter speed back to the original setting - when you were shooting the partial phases before totality - and put your filter back on," Honda said.

How many pictures should be taken during the eclipse is up to you, but Honda recommends buying the largest memory card you can find.

"What I do is, I'll set my remote trigger to take a picture every minute as the eclipse progresses. During transition for Baily's beads and the diamond ring, I'll take a picture at least every second, maybe a couple times a second, because that only lasts a very short time. And then during totality, I'll probably try to shoot as many as I can. So the idea is to try not to run out of space."

If you get a good exposure in your camera, Honda said you don't really have to do too much afterward in terms of image processing, but you should shoot in the "RAW" setting if you have the option, because it will give you the highest quality.

After each eclipse, he always creates a composite shot showing the sequence from the start to the end in a single image.

If you want to get some practice beforehand, you can simply put your filter on and take pictures of the sun (without looking at it unless through your camera): "That will help you determine a base exposure setting for your camera, or the lens you're going to use," Honda said. "You can shoot with a variety of exposures and see what looks good on your computer. On eclipse day, you might have to adjust a little bit here and there, but you probably won't be very far off."

And if you only have a cell phone? "I used one on the past eclipses, just on the automatic settings, and it actually seemed to work OK," Honda said. "Just leave it on the standard wide-angle setting - if you start to zoom in on the sun to try to make it bigger, it throws off the automatic exposure."

A wider shot with a phone might be less dramatic, but it will capture either the people or the landscape around you, and that might make for a better picture, Honda added.

However, don't forget to make looking at the eclipse the priority, he advised. "Photography should be the secondary objective, because this is a truly amazing natural event that you might not ever see again," he said. "So, if you're in the path of totality, make sure you spend more time looking at it with your eyes than with the camera."

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