On Monday night, the moon will rise around 8:15. It will be the last full moon before the solar eclipse on Aug. 21, and an excellent moment to practice your smartphone photography skills if you really want to get pictures of the event.
The moon is a particularly great thing to practice on. A night with a full moon will closely mimic the conditions of a total solar eclipse — at least as close as we can get. So if you have your solar filters and your tripod, perhaps take a few minutes tonight to frame up a shot.
Things to think about when you practice:
—Your phone may not automatically focus on the moon, but you can force it to focus on the moon by tapping the moon on the screen. This will also help to adjust the exposure so the moon isn’t too bright.
—Without zoom, the moon will be very small in the frame. Use your telephoto lens attachment to enlarge the moon. Play around with your lens and photo zoom settings until you can see some of the moon’s details. If you zoom too much, the photo may turn out blurry. You’ll just have to play around until you find the best balance of settings.
—I personally don’t have any experience with them, but there are some third-party apps that claim to enhance your smartphone’s camera abilities. It might be worth exploring some of these to see if they provide better results.
Stuff you need
A smartphone tripod — The slightest bit of motion, even a rogue sneeze, could ruin an otherwise perfect photo. You’re going to want to put your phone on a tripod so you can set the timer and back away. (Photo hack: Use a bag of sand or a beanbag to prop up your phone. Whatever keeps the phone pointed in the right direction without the aid of a hand will work.)
A telephoto lens attachment — One that has an optical zoom between 12x and 18x. There is a zoom function on your phone, but it’s a digital zoom that results in a lower-quality picture. You’re already trying to take a photo of a celestial event that’s very far away, so give your phone the best chance possible. These lenses cost $20 to $40.
A solar filter sheet — This is crucial for the moments before and after totality, when any part of the sun is still visible. If you don’t have one of these, partial-eclipse photos are not going to work. You can buy a sheet of the material that the solar eclipse glasses are made of and hold it in front of the camera.
Pro tip: Practice this on the moon a couple of times before the eclipse.
1. This is the most important rule: Don’t stare at the sun! We all know not to do this, but when an eclipse starts to happen it may be tempting to sneak some peaks without your special glasses. Even a few moments of staring will damage your eyes.
2. Clean your lenses with a soft cloth.
3. Attach the solar filter in front of the telephoto lens.
4. Connect the telephoto lens to the front of the phone per the instructions that came with the lens.
5. Set the phone up with your tripod or beanbag so it’s pointed at the sun. (Remember that the sun is going to move in the sky as the eclipse happens, so be prepared to shift your phone, too.
6. Take your photos with the solar filter during the partial eclipse. When totality happens, you can take the filter off to take pictures since the moon will be blocking out the sun. We recommend snapping a couple of photos at this point, but don’t get caught up in your phone — this may be the only time you get to experience a total eclipse.
7. When the sunlight begins to reemerge, put your solar filter back on the camera if you want to continue taking pictures. Or bag it and enjoy the rest of the event without your phone.
More on the solar eclipse: