Photographing Solar Eclipses - Basic Camera
Author: Bill Kramer
Last update: Thursday, 26-Nov-2015 09:36:24 EST

Using a Basic Camera

A Basic Camera is one that you would use to take a picture of some friends at a picnic. A camera-phone, "instamatic", or tablet computer qualify as a basic camera. These types of cameras are largely automatic. You point the camera at what you want a picture of, and capture the image. Pretty simple! Problem is, a total solar eclipse is hardly something simple to image.


You do not need a flash attachment on the camera. If you do have one, simply tape over the flash with black electric tape in such a manner so as no light escapes when you take a picture. Using a normal camera you can capture the memories of the day by taking pictures of people with their telescopes and cameras, eclipse shadows, and celebrating eclipse chasers.

Please note that flash photography is absurd and unwelcome during totality! (see Basic Rules, #3)

  • It is absurd because of what you are trying to light up with the flash. Are you trying to light up the face of the moon? If so, you will need a much more powerful flash! And beside, the reflected light of the earth is already lighting it up (see Earthshine in the longer focal length information under Camera Setups).
  • It is unwelcome because everyone else would like to see the eclipse and the last thing they want is to be blinded by a flash camera. Although no fatalities have ever occurred due to the use of a flash camera during totality, there have been reports of some damaged cameras and very brutal threats. One of the basic rules is - don't use a flash camera during totality.

People pictures   Shadows on the ground   Eclipse 1972 after

Totality lasts only a few minutes, but hours are spent in preparation. And as totality approaches, the sky and surroundings take on very surreal aspects. This is the best time for a basic camera to be busy capturing your friends and fellow eclipse chasers setting up equipment, getting excited as it nears, strange looking high contrast shadows, pinhole camera effects, the horizon colors, and more.

After totality you can get great pictures of everyone celebrating and reviewing what they have just seen. A total solar eclipse is surreal and it is not uncommon for people to have varied reactions. Have your camera ready to capture them forever. Regular settings can be used. And if you missed getting any partial pictures, the drama is playing out in reverse. Strange shadows and so forth will be visible for a while.


Low battery

Be mindful of your memory and battery! The heat of the day (or deep cold) can drain batteries. If you don't need to be online, turn off any WiFi or other wireless interfaces. This will prolong the battery life. Batteries should be charged up the night before. Setting camera-phones to airplane mode greatly conserves power. Of course, that also cuts you off from online resources you might want to reference as well as phone calls from fellow eclipse chasers.

Another thing you might need to mind is the available storage. It is easy to get carried away in the excitement of the eclipse event and take a lot of images. A fresh memory card is not a bad idea on eclipse day. Be sure to test it after installing!

During totality, increase the exposure time or lower the f/stop (if possible) or use the flash option for automatic cameras (make sure the flash is covered properly). A small camera, mounted on a tripod, with a "bulb" setting so that it can be held open for a half second or more can get some great pictures of the coronal streamers and surrounding bright planets.

It can also be used to obtain horizon color changes and group pictures. There is about as much light as a full moon during totality allowing you to see the camera settings and other people. The sky near the horizon is bright and gets darker towards the eclipse. Foreground objects will be dark in comparison to the background sky. To get a picture of people during the eclipse, use a long exposure and orient camera to be looking down on the observers or with a darker background behind them. When doing this sort of picture it is critical to remember NO FLASH!

70mm 1 second
Zambia 2001 - 70mm lens, tripod mounted,
2 seconds
Shadow people
Hand held digital camera - camera lower than subjects
Nancy Little
Hand held digital camera from standing position - above subjects, shows more horizon

Zimbabwe 2002
Hand held 50mm SLR Zimbabwe


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