Basic Camera Settings for Photographing the 2017 Solar Eclipse

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If you haven’t already made plans to photograph this year’s solar eclipse on August 21st, time’s a wasting!

With cities along the eclipse’s path dealing with an overwhelming demand for hotels, campsites, and spots to photograph the event, the sooner you make your plan, the better off you’ll be.

A while back, I wrote about the basic gear essentials you need to photograph the eclipse. If you missed it, you can check it out here.

In this installment, I want to focus more on the basic camera settings that you’ll need to use to get the best images of the eclipse.

Don’t Forget a Solar Filter

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Before I launch into the settings you need to use, bear in mind that the recommended settings are for use with a solar filter.

Pointing your lens at the sun without a solar filter is a surefire way to ruin your optics.

There are plenty of choices out there for solar filters – some that cost as much (or more) than the lens they’re designed to protect.

But don’t think that you have to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars to get a solid filter that will protect your lens and allow you to get awesome photos of the eclipse.

Marumi makes a 16.5-stop solid neutral density (ND) solar filter that fits the bill perfectly.

The filter’s 5.0 density darkens the entire image, giving you a nice, even exposure from corner to corner.

And since it’s a solid ND, you can use a much wider aperture or a much slower shutter speed than would be possible without the filter attached to your lens.

That leeway gives you the opportunity to create unique shots with varying depths of field or different levels of indicated movement.

And since Marumi filters have anti-reflection coating, there is little worry of reflections or ghosting.

What’s more, a Digital High Grade coating means the filter has better protection against smudges and dirt. That means clearer photos with less time in post-processing trying to rid your photos of fingerprints and dust specks.

You don’t have to worry about odd colors, either. Marumi’s filter is made of optical glass for excellent color fidelity.

It’s a well-built filter, too, with an aluminum-alloy filter ring that will prove to be durable for this and future eclipse events.

Learn more about Marumi Solar Eclipse Filters, available in 58mm and 77mm sizes.

Now, onto the camera settings…

Shoot in RAW

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By shooting in RAW, you enable your camera to record as much detail as possible.

That means that you’ll also have as much detail as possible to work with in post-processing, too.

Because RAW files are so much larger than JPEGs, beware of the space they will consume on your memory card.

If need be, buy a new memory card with more space (at least 32GB), but also have multiple memory cards in case something goes awry with your primary.

Use Mirror Lock-Up

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If you have a DSLR, the mirror inside the camera body moves up and down as you take photos.

This simple movement is actually enough to cause vibrations that can diminish the sharpness of your image.

To get around this issue, use your camera’s mirror lock-up function to lock the mirror in place.

The manner in which you set this feature varies from camera to camera, so consult your owner’s manual for instructions if you don’t already know how to lock the mirror.

Shoot in Manual Mode

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Manual mode can be a bit intimidating as it requires you – not the camera – to decide things like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

However, shooting the 2017 eclipse in manual mode will enable you to get the sharpest image. To do so, begin with the following settings:

  • Aperture: f/8
  • Shutter speed: 1/4000 seconds
  • ISO: 100

Why these settings?

At f/8, you should be at or near the sweet spot of your lens. The sweet spot is the aperture at which the lens produces the sharpest results.

By using a fast shutter speed, you also minimize the impact of camera shake.

Even though you need to have your camera mounted on a tripod, a strong breeze can still cause enough vibrations to result in less-than-sharp images. The faster the shutter speed, the less time the camera has to record such vibrations.

Lastly, by minimizing the ISO, you also minimize the occurrence of digital noise in the shot. With less digital noise, you get a “cleaner” image that appears sharper.

Now, these settings are not going to get you a well-exposed image each and every time.

They are, however, a good starting place to do some experimentation.

If the image is still too bright, try using a faster shutter speed – 1/8000 seconds if your camera is so equipped – or shoot with a smaller aperture, like f/11.

Conversely, if the image is too dark, slow down the shutter – to 1/2000 seconds – or open the aperture by a stop. You can also increase the ISO to 200 without a significant increase in digital noise.

Learn more about shooting in manual mode in the video above by MyStudio Table Top Photo Studios.

Manually Focus the Lens, Too

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As I noted earlier, you’ll need to do a lot of planning to pull off the best 2017 eclipse photos.

That couldn’t be more true with it comes to focusing your lens.

Relying on autofocus isn’t an option here, so you’ll need to become adept at manually focusing your lens.

The evening before the eclipse, head to your desired shoot location, set up your gear, and while in manual focus, set the focus of your lens on a bright star. Be sure to do so without your solar filter attached.

To perfect the focus, use your camera’s live view feature to zoom in on the desired star to inspect the level of focus. Fine-tune the focus as needed.

What this allows you to do is preset the focus at infinity, that way when the eclipse occurs, you’ll already have the lens focused for the event.

Just be sure to use gaffer’s tape to prevent the lens’s focus ring from moving between your pre-focus outing and the eclipse itself.

Get more details on manually focusing in the dark in the video above by Milky Way Mike.

Wrapping It Up

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The planning and preparation that goes into photographing an eclipse is certainly time-consuming.

However, the more you plan, the more familiar you are with your gear and its settings, the better off you’ll be when the 2017 eclipse arrives.

Get yourself a quality solar filter, work on getting comfortable making the manual camera adjustments outlined above, and do some test runs of setting up your gear.

You’ll find that this kind of preparation will pay dividends on August 21, 2017!

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