Last Minute Tips for the Great American Solar Eclipse

April 04, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

We are less than a week away from the Great American Solar Eclipse.

This will be the last total solar eclipse to pass over North America until August 2044. I missed photographing the last total solar eclipse in 2017 for a couple of reasons but I did capture this photo of people watching the eclipse on the lawn of The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. 

I don't want to miss this one but Mother Nature's weather dwarves seem to have something different in mind. 

I had plans to visit Texas for the eclipse on April 8 with a particular vision of a photo in my mind that I hoped to scout out this weekend. But the weather seems to be the worst along the path of totality in Texas so I am looking at other options before I hit the road. I have some new ideas for photos in Missouri now, where the weather is looking a little better.

And that is the challenge with any celestial photography – the weather must cooperate and you can't do a thing about it if it does not. 

So, as I pack my bags to hit the road, I thought I would share some last-minute tips to help you get the images you are envisioning. 

App for guiding you through the eclipse

Download the SET: Solar Eclipse Timer app onto your phone.

I didn't photograph the last total solar eclipse so I can't give any direction for using this app but it does walk you through the different stages of the eclipse and notifies you when you should change settings, helps you prep and has a practice session – a very important feature when you consider that totality only lasts a little more than four minutes. 

Make sure to test the settings BEFORE the day of the eclipse so you have it ready to go on game day. I'll be right there with you working through the demo.

Practice, practice, practice

You can't practice photographing the totality portion of the eclipse but you can practice photographing the sun. 

What lens will you use? Do you know where its sweet spot is for sharpness on something so far away? Do you want to photograph just the sun and the phases of the eclipse or do you want to capture a scenic image with the sun in the sky? The eclipse happens during the midday to early afternoon – does that align with the landscape image you have in mind or will the sun be too high? 

What equipment do you need? Are you doing one setup or two? Will you need extra tripods? Do you plan to do a time-lapse video? Will you use your cell phone for that video? If so, do you have a tripod to put your cell phone and a filter for the lens to protect it from the sun's harmful rays? Does you cell phone time out after so much time when doing a time-lapse video? Do you have your phone charged and is there enough space on it to record the whole eclipse? 

Equipment to photograph the eclipse

At a minimum you must have a special solar filter for the front of your lens/lenses. 

I bought two this year: one for my 24-70mm and one for my 80-400mm. Make sure you know the filter size for your lens.

One of the filters is a natural light and the other is a white light. Each will create a different color of the sun, giving me more variability in the images I produce. Both are from Mr Star Guy but not available on Amazon. Other options are available, like the K&F Concept 20-stop neutral density filter. There is a lot that goes into selecting the right filter for your lens and you should review your options before purchasing. Options like neutral density filters, solar filters, screw-on filters and the type that attaches to the end of your lens with external screws rather screwing on, like the Orion Solar Filter

At this point, unless you order off of Amazon, you may not have enough time to get the filter delivered in time. Try your local camera store for possible stock too. Hunt's Camera in the Boston area, Mike's Camera in the Colorado area, Pictureline in the Salt Lake City area, Precision Camera in the Austin area and Allen's Camera in the Philadelphia area are options to try. 

And remember to have a pair of solar viewing glasses as well. These should be certified ISO 12312-2 compliant solar eclipse glasses to ensure proper eye protection. No part of the eclipse except totality should be viewed without eye protection to block nearly all of the sun's infrared and ultraviolet light. This includes your camera equipment. 

Where to go

Nearly 32 million people live along the path of totality, compared to 12 million during the total solar eclipse in 2017. There are also 150 million people living within 200 miles of the path of totality. 

In 2017, during the last total solar eclipse in the U.S., NASA estimates that 215 million adults saw it directly or virtually. That number should be exceeded this year because of the path and the interest in the event since another total solar eclipse won't be experienced in the U.S. until August 2044.

You will be out there with a lot of your newest friends, and expect major traffic delays after the eclipse ends. Bring a chair, some snacks and water to enjoy the eclipse and wait out the traffic.

In Colorado, where I live, the path of totality does not pass through the state but much of the state will experience a 54 to 78 percent partial solar eclipse. For example, Estes Park, where I watched the eclipse in 2017, will experience the eclipse from about 11:30 a.m. to 1:53 p.m. reaching a maximum partial eclipse of about 60%.

There are two things to consider when planning where to go to watch the eclipse.

First, you must look at weather predictions. The National Weather Service (NWS) updates the forecast daily at 2 p.m. on their X/Twitter feed (@NWSWPC). Right now they are predicting the worst weather along the path of totality to happen in Texas and the best to be in the northeast (Vermont, Maine, upstate New York). Be flexible and ready to move to a new area as needed.

Second, look at the path of totality. NASA has an interactive map for the locations along the path of totality. Click on a location or enter a zip code and the information provided tells you the times for various phases of the eclipse, how long the eclipse lasts and the weather forecast. Think about crowds, access, restrooms and what kind of photograph you want to capture. Do you need a foreground subject or will just a wide-open sky be enough? 

Have fun with the eclipse. Enjoy the moment and remember to take in the whole experience. You don't have to just witness from behind a camera. 


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