Safely Snapping the Sun’s Disappearing Act

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Q. Is it safe to take pictures of the sun with my digital camera during the solar eclipse this month?

A. The total solar eclipse headed for parts of the United States on Aug. 21 will be an opportunity for amateur and professional photographers alike, but precautions should be taken to protect both eyes and cameras. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has an extensive guide to viewing the event, with a page of frequently asked questions that covers the specifics of photographing the eclipse with either a standard camera or a smartphone.

The safest time to look up or snap photos during the eclipse is at the “moment of totality” when the moon fully moves into place to block out the sun, and only the faint ring of the sun’s corona is visible from behind the moon. Looking directly at the sun during a normal day or a partial eclipse can injure your eyes. Experts advise wearing a pair of special-purpose “eclipse glasses” or looking through a solar viewer device. (Make sure you purchase the products from a reputable vendor, like those recommended by the American Astronomical Society, as unsafe frauds have already been reported.)

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NASA’s special “Total Eclipse” site is full of information about how to safely view, photograph and share the event with friends.

Credit
The New York Times

If you are using a digital S.L.R. camera with its large sensor, definitely put a solar filter over your camera lens to reduce the sun’s intense brightness and protect your gear from damage. A solar filter is also a good idea for a point-and-shoot camera.

High-quality mobile cameras, like those used by the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S Android phones, have lenses and auto-exposure settings that should be able to take quick pictures of the sun without suffering damage. But to protect your eyes (and lingering doubts about sensor safety), taping on a solar filter is safer; a smartphone photography tipsheet on NASA’s site recommends using the filter.

Andrew Symes, who specializes in astrophotography with his iPhone 7, also has tips on his Canadian Astronomy blog. The cameras in the iPhone 7 line, which include optical stabilization and exposure controls, can handle lowlight photography for pictures down on the ground during the full eclipse; Apple Watch owners can also use those devices as a camera remote for the iPhone.

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