How to Photograph a Total Solar Eclipse

©2023 by Fred Espenak


Photographing an eclipse of the Sun is fun and easy. However, you will need to use a special Solar Filter to protect your eyes and your camera.

A solar eclipse occurs whenever the Moon's shadow falls on the Earth. This can only happen during New Moon when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth. Although there is a New Moon every 29 1/2 days, there are usually only 2 or 3 solar eclipses each year. That's because the Moon's orbit is tipped 5 degrees to Earth's so the Moon's shadow misses Earth during most New Moons. (see: Solar Eclipses For Beginners)

Watching and photographing an eclipse of the Sun is a relaxing activity since it progresses at a leisurely pace. The eclipse begins as a small notch slowly appears along one edge of the Sun. During the next hour, the Moon gradually covers more and more of the Sun's bright disk. You'll need a Solar Filter to both view and photograph the partial phases. If the eclipse is a total one, the last remaining minutes of the partial phases can be quite dramatic and beautiful. The crescent of the Sun grows thinner as the Moon's shadow approaches. The abrupt darkness of totallity is stunning and quite unlike you've ever seen. And the incredible solar corona is simply the most awe-inspiring naked-eye sight in all of nature. Certainly the most a remarkable sight (see: The Experience of Totality).

Solar Filters

Telescopes, camera lenses, and binoculars offer the possibility of seeing a magnified view of the eclipse. But this can only be done by using a special filter designed for viewing the Sun. Such filters fit snuggly over the FRONT END of the telescope or lens and permit just a tiny fraction of the Sun's light to pass through.

Solar filters for telescopes, camera lenses, and binoculars are available from a number of companies in the list below. Additional filter sources can be found through the American Astronomical Society.

These filters are essential for safely viewing the PARTIAL phases of an eclipse. But if you want to also use your telescope/binoculars to view the TOTAL phase of the eclipse, the solar filter needs to be quickly and easily removed when TOTALITY begins. It must be put back on quickly when TOTALITY ends.

Visit Safe Solar Eclipse Viewing for more information.

eclipse glasses
Safe Eclipse Glasses from American Paper Optics (click here)


Over the past decade or so, digital cameras have completely replace film cameras in virtually all aspects of photography. Solar eclipses can be captured easily with all types of digital cameras. The simpler Point and Shoot cameras have a non-interchangable lens with a single focal length. Better models are equipt with a 3x or larger zoom lens. The most versatile (and expensive) cameras are the DSLR (digital single lens reflex) and the ILMC (interchangeable-lens mirrorless camera). These cameras allow you to replace the kit lens with any number of other lenses from wide angle to super telephoto. You can even connect a DSLR or ILMC directly to a telescope so that the Sun fills the entire frame. No matter what kind of camera you own, one or more of the following techniques can be used be used to shoot a solar eclipse.

For simplicity, we will refer to both DSLRs and ILMCs as DSLRs. But all comments refer to both types of cameras.

Solar Eclipse Image Scale

Lenses and Image Sizes

A solar eclipse may be safely photographed provided that certain precautions are followed. Almost any kind of camera can be used to capture this rare event; however, a lens with a fairly long focal length is recommended to produce as large an image of the Sun as possible. A standard 18mm lens on a DSLR yields a minuscule image of the Sun, while a 200mm telephoto or zoom produces an image four times larger. A better choice would be one of the small, compact catadioptic or mirror lenses that have become widely available in the past decades. The focal length of 500mm is most common among such mirror lenses and yields a great image scale for capturing solar eclipses.

The sensor size of most DSLRs falls into on of two categories. The Full Frame Sensor (measuring 24 x 36 mm) is used in professional or upper end DSLR cameras. The Crop Sensor (measuring 16 x 24 mm [Nikon] or 15 x 22 mm [Canon]) is used in the less expensive consumer DSLRs. Either category can take excellent eclipse images, but the sensor size plays a determining roll in the apparent size of the Sun as seen with various focal length lenses.

As a general rule of thumb, the relative size of the Sun’s image appears 1.5 times larger in crop sensor DSLR compared to the image in a full sensor DSLR when using the same focal length lens. For example, a 500mm lens on a full frame sensor DSLR produces the same relative image size as a 330mm lens on a crop sensor DSLR. The figure above shows the apparent size of the Sun (or Moon) and the outer corona in both full frame and crop sensor formats for a range of lens focal lengths.

The following table gives the field of view (in degrees) for a various focal length lenses. Note that crop sensor cameras have a smaller field of view than full frame cameras for any one focal length lens. For reference, the Sun's (and Moon's) apparent diameter is about 0.5°.

Field of View for
Various Focal Lengths
Focal Length Field of View
(Full Frame)
Field of View
(Crop Sensor)
14 mm 98° x 147° 65° x 98°
20 mm 69° x 103° 46° x 69°
28 mm 49° x 74° 33° x 49°
35 mm 39° x 59° 26° x 39°
50 mm 27° x 40° 18° x 28°
105 mm 13° x 19° 9° x 13°
200 mm 7° x 10° 5° x 7°
300 mm 4.6° x 6.9° 3.1° x 4.6°
400 mm 3.4° x 5.1° 2.3° x 3.4°
500 mm 2.7° x 4.1° 1.8° x 2.8°
1000 mm 1.4° x 2.1° 0.9° x 1.4°
1500 mm 0.9° x 1.4° 0.6° x 0.9°
2000 mm 0.7° x 1.0° 0.5° x 0.7°

If full disk photography of the partial phases of the eclipse is planned, the focal length of the optics must not exceed 2500mm on a full frame DSLR (1700mm on a crop sensor DSLR). Longer focal lengths permit photography of only a magnified portion of the Sun’s disk.

In order to photograph the Sun’s corona during totality, the focal length using a full frame DSLR should be no longer than about 1500mm (1000mm with crop sensor DSLR). However, a focal length of 1000mm (700mm crop sensor) requires less critical framing and can capture some of the longer coronal streamers.

Based on the above diagram and table, the optimum focal length range for photographing a total solar eclipse (with room to include the corona out to one solar diameter beyond the limb of the Sun) is:

  1. Full Frame DSLR - 600mm to 1000 mm
  2. Crop Sensor DSLR - 400mm to 700 mm

Another issue to consider is the lag time between digital frames required to write images to a DSLR's memory card. This is particularly important if rapid image bursts are planned to capture the formation of the diamond ring effect or Baily's beads.

It is also advisable to turn off autofocus because it is not reliable under these conditions; focus the camera manually instead. Use sunspots and the horns of the solar crescent to refine your focus as totality approaches. A piece of masking tape or gaffers tape around the focusing ring will help ensure it it is not changed accidentally. Preparations should be made for adequate battery power and space on the memory card.

Sturdy Tripod

A sturdy tripod is needed to support a telescope or long telephoto lens while photographing the eclipse. The Sun slowly moves across the sky from east to west (moving its own apparent diameter every two minutes), so you will need to recenter it in your camera every few minutes. This can be done with tripod having an adjustable pan head. Some tripod manufacturers offer a head with slow motion knobs to make fine adjustments and these work well for eclipse photography. For example, the Manfrotto 410 3-Way, Geared Head is one the author has used for many years.

An even better solution is to use a star tracker. This is a motorized device that rotates the camera/lens/telescope to counteract Earth's rotation, and thereby track the Sun, Moon, and stars. Most star trackers can be mounted on a sturdy camera tripod, replacing the original head. A good review article is AstroBackyard's Choosing a Star Tracker for Astrophotography. PetaPixel offers a more recent article on Best Star Trackers in 2023.

A star tracker must be set up with its polar axis pointed towards Polaris (the North Star) in order to work properly. To do this in the daytime, see the Sky & Telescope article Daylight Polar Alignment Made Easy.

2017 Total Solar Eclipse Sequence
2017 Total Solar Eclipse Sequence
This seven image sequence captures the essential stages of the eclipse.
Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 Aug 21 (Casper, Wyoming)
(click to see more photos)

Partial Phases and Correct Exposure

A solar filter must be used on the lens throughout the partial phases for both photography and safe viewing. Such filters are most easily obtained through manufacturers and dealers listed in Sky & Telescope and Astronomy magazines. The American Astronomical Society has also created a list of Sources of Solar Filters These filters typically attenuate the Sun’s visible and infrared energy by a factor of 100,000. The actual filter factor and choice of ISO speed, however, will play critical roles in determining the correct photographic exposure.

Almost any ISO can be used because the Sun gives off abundant light. An ISO of 200 is an good for eclipse photography. The easiest method for determining the correct exposure is use the camera's built in spot meter mode on the uneclipsed Sun. With a solar filter on your lens or telescope, put the camera into manual exposure mode and adjust settings while metering on the Sun. Take a shot and examine it using the camera's histogram display - a good exposure should peak in the middle of the histogram range. If it does not, make any necessary adjustments to the exposure.

If your camera does not have spot meter mode, you can determine the best exposure through trial-and-error. In manual exposure mode (and using a solar filter), shoot a series of exposures of the mid-day Sun at a fixed aperture (f/8 to f/16) using every shutter speed from 1/1000s to 1/30s. Select the best exposure using the camera's histogram display.

Make note of the best exposure since you will use it on eclipse day. The Sun’s surface brightness remains constant throughout the eclipse, so no exposure compensation is needed except for the narrow crescent phases, which require one or two more stops due to solar limb darkening. Bracketing by several stops is also necessary if haze or clouds interfere on eclipse day.

Always use the camera RAW file format to get the best quality images. Smaller JPEG files can be made from RAW files after the eclipse is over.

Photographing Totality

Certainly the most spectacular and awe-inspiring phase of the eclipse is totality. For a few brief minutes or seconds, the Sun’s pearly white corona, red prominences, and chromosphere are visible (see: The Experience of Totality). The great challenge is to obtain a set of photographs that captures these fleeting phenomena.

The most important point to remember is that during the total phase, all solar filters must be removed. The corona has a surface brightness a million times fainter than the photosphere, so photographs of the corona are made without a filter.

Furthermore, it is completely safe to view the totally eclipsed Sun directly with the naked eye. No filters are needed, and in fact, they would only hinder the view. The average brightness of the corona varies inversely with the distance from the Sun’s limb.

The inner corona is far brighter than the outer corona; thus, no single exposure can capture its full dynamic range. The best strategy is to choose one aperture or f/number and bracket the exposures over a range of shutter speeds (i.e., 1/1000s to 1s). Rehearsing this sequence is highly recommended because great excitement accompanies totality and there is little time to think.

Exposure times for various combinations of ISO speeds, apertures (f/number) and solar features (chromosphere, prominences, inner, middle, and outer corona) are summarized in the Solar Eclipse Exposure Guide above. This guide was developed from eclipse photographs made by the author, as well as from photographs published in Sky and Telescope.

To use the guide, first select the ISO speed in the upper left column. Next, move to the right to the desired aperture or f/number for the chosen ISO. The shutter speeds in that column may be used as starting points for photographing various features and phenomena tabulated in the Subject column at the far left.

For example, to photograph prominences using ISO 400 at f/16, the table recommends an exposure of 1/1000. Alternatively, the recommended shutter speed can be calculated using the ‘Q’ factors tabulated along with the exposure formula at the bottom of the table.

Keep in mind that these exposures are based on a clear sky and a corona of average brightness. The exposures should be bracketed one or more stops to take into account the actual sky conditions and the variable nature of these phenomena.

2001 Eclipse Wide Angle
Exposure Bracketing Sequence
The sequence above was made by shooting a series of bracketed exposures
ranging from 1/1000 to 1 second (ISO 200, f/9).
Total Solar Eclipse of 2006 Mar 29 from Jalu, Libya.
(click to see more photos)

It should be pointed out that the exposure table above is only a guideline for planning purposes. The brightness of the corona may vary from one eclipse to the next based on the relative point in the sunspot cycle as well as the current activity on the Sun during the eclipse. Because of the high dynamic range in the brightness encompassed by the corona, there is no one single exposure that is "correct." The best strategy is to bracket widely during totality to shoot a large range of exposures. I typically shoot at ISO 200, f/9 and will use shutter speeds ranging from 1/1000 down to 1 or more seconds.

2006 HDR Composite
HDR Composie Image of 2006 Corona
An HDR (High Dynamic Range) composite image of the total solar eclipse of 2006 was produced
from 26 individual exposures obtained with two separate telescopes.
Total Solar Eclipse of 2006 March 29 (Jalu, LIBYA)
Nikon D200 and Vixen 90mm f/9 Fluorite Refractor + TeleVue Ranger 70mm f/6.8 Refractor
Exposure Range: 1/1000 to 2 seconds at ISO 200, Photo ©2006 by Fred Espenak
(click to see more photos)

After the eclipse, use a program like Adobe Photoshop to combine multiple exposures of the corona though stacking. Solar Eclipse Composite Photography discusses some of the basics of this process. Photomatix Pro is a stand alone program designed specifically for creating a High Dynamic Range (HDR) composite from multiple images of a subject shot using a range of bracketed exposures.

The image above was created from a series of exposures combined using Photoshop and Photomatix Pro. My PDF article "Digital Compositing Techniques for Coronal Imaging" is a bit dated but gives a detailed description of some of the digital processing techniques I used to process my 2006 eclipse image (above).

Another excellent resource on the eclipse photography and processing is the eBook written by Alan Dyer: How To Photograph Solar Eclipses.

References for HDR Processing of Eclipse Images

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Image Processing Software

Camera Control Software for Automated Eclipse Imaging

2017 Total Solar Eclipse Matrix
2017 Total Solar Eclipse Matrix
This 25 image sequence captures the entire eclipse from start to finish.
Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 Aug 21 (Casper, Wyoming)
(click to see more photos)

Timed Exposures

From start to finish, an total eclipse lasts about two and a half hours. Many eclipse photographers choose to shoot a sequence of images spanning the entire eclipse. But it can be monotonous to sit next to a camera shooting an image every few minutes.

Fortunately, there is an easy solution. Many cameras have a built in interval timer. The start time, interval between shots, and the number of shots can all be set in advance. The photographer only needs to keep the telescope or camera lens trained on the Sun during the eclipse. Battery operated star trackers work well in this regard.

If the camera does not have a built in interval timer, there are inexpensive external timers available from camera shops and Amazon. The typical interval between each image is one to five minutes. After the eclipse, the images can be combined with editing software into a linear sequence or a two dimensional matrix that illustrates the entire eclipse in one composition.

An excellent resource on eclipse photography and processing is the eBook written by Alan Dyer: How To Photograph Solar Eclipses.

2001 Eclipse Wide Angle
2001 Eclipse Over Zambia
This wide angle eclipse photo used a 28mm lens and tripod.
during the total solar eclipse of 2001 Jun 21.
(click to see more photos)

Point and Shoot Cameras

Point-and-shoot cameras with wide angle lenses are excellent for capturing the quickly changing light in the seconds before and during totality. Use a tripod or brace the camera on a wall or fence since slow shutter speeds will be needed. You should also disable or turn off your camera's electronic flash so that it does not interfere with anyone else's view of the eclipse.

Of course modern cell phone cameras and action cameras like GoPro also work great for wide angle photos and videos of totality.

2017 Pinhole Crescents
Crescent Suns Under a Tree During a Solar Eclipse
Hundreds of eclipsed Sun images appear under a shade tree durning an eclipse.
Total Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017 (Casper, Wyoming)
(click to see more)

Pinhole Camera Effect

Another effect that is easily captured with any camera (even a cell phone) is not to be missed. Look for the patterns of sunlight on the ground under any shade tree. The gaps between the leaves act as pinhole cameras - each one projects a tiny image of the eclipse onto the ground below. The pinhole camera effect is most prominent when the eclipsed Sun is reduced to a crescent.

Use a straw hat or a kitchen colander and allow its shadow to fall on a piece of white cardboard placed several feet away. The small holes act like pinhole cameras and each one projects its own image of the eclipsed Sun. The effect can even be duplicated by loosely interlacing your fingers - the small gaps between the fingers project eclipse images on the ground below. Any camera can be used, but make sure the flash is turned off because it would obliterate the pinhole images.

Eclipse Photo Book
How To Photograph the Solar Eclipses by Alan Dyer

"How To Photograph the Solar Eclipses" by Alan Dyer

Noted astrophotographer Alan Dyer's new ebook How To Photograph the Solar Eclipses contains detailed descriptions of many techniques you can use to capture great still images and movies of the 2023 and 2024 eclipses of the Sun.

This is the most complete book on eclipse photography ever written. It is a must for all eclipse photographers.
A detaled review can be found in Astronomy Technology.

The 350-page ebook is available in two formats – Apple Books (for Mac and iPad) and PDF (for Windows and Android).

For more information, see How To Photograph the Solar Eclipses.

eclipse timer

Solar Eclipse Timer App

The Solar Eclipse Timer app is the original "Eclipse Talking Timer." It calculates the eclipse contact times based on the GPS coordinates of your smart phone or tablet (you can also enter coordinates manually). The app then runs a script based on these times and gives audio countdowns for each contact time, announcements for important observing events before, during and after totality and gives helpful photography reminders. This app is a great aid to eclipse observers and photographers alike.

The Solar Eclipse Timer app also has three additional unique features.

  1. A built in practice session where the timing functions are synchronized to the author's video so you can run practice sessions.
  2. A practice script allowing you to hear all of the announcements and practice using your device (learn how to unlock it and continue to time the eclipse like on eclipse day).
  3. The Partial Phase Image Sequence Calculator (PPISC) that automatically provides distributed times before and after totality to get a perfect sequence of 20 partial phase images.

The Solar Eclipse Timer app is available for both iOS and Android devices. It's also available in English and Spanish versions. Order it on the Apple App store (iOS) or the Google Play store (Android).

For more information, see Solar Eclipse Timer app.

eclipse day 2024

Eclipse Day 2024 and More!

Eclipse Day 2024 and More! is an optional companion book to the Solar Eclipse Timer App specifically aimed at preparing you for the 2024 total solar eclipse.

It's a comprehensive guide, that is easy to read, to prepare for Eclipse Day. The unique format of the book takes Eclipse Day and divides it into 28 separate essential elements, from arriving at your observation site to leaving at the end of the eclipse. Each of those elements is its own chapter where the information about the astronomy, the science, the observation, photography, and videography techniques are discussed together.

The Appendix is organized more like a traditional eclipse book with the following chapters: Basic Eclipse Astronomy, Simplifying Eclipse Photography, Wide Angle Eclipse Photography, Video Recording Ideas, Mistakes I've Made, The Next 10 Total Eclipses.

The book contains 240 photos, 225 illustrations, 175 dialogue boxes, 12 image galleries, 10 embedded videos, 18 audio files.

For more information, see Eclipse Day 2024 and More! .

Future Solar Eclipses

To plan your eclipse photography, you'll need to know when upcoming solar eclipses will occur and the contact times of the partial and total phases. This information is available at Solar Eclipse Preview: 2015-2030.

The last two total solar eclipses visible from the continental USA occured on Feb. 26, 1979 and Aug. 21, 2017. A total solar eclipse was visible from Hawaii and Mexico on July 11, 1991. The next total solar eclipse visible from the USA occurs on Apr. 8, 2024. The 2024 eclipse is also visible from Mexico and Canada.

Solar Eclipse Publications

jpeg jpeg


The five volumes of the Eclipse Almanac publication series include maps and diagrams
of every solar and lunar eclipse from 2021 to 2070 (each volume covers a single decade).
Each vomume available in Black & White, Color, and Kindle editions.

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1999 Aug 11 Total Solar Eclipse
1999 Total Solar Eclipse Sequence
This sequence encompasses the entire eclipse from start to finish.
(click to see more photos)

More On Solar Eclipse Photography

Solar Eclipses and Eye Safety

Solar Eclipse Photographs

Solar Eclipse Predictions

Other Links