If you want to be able to enjoy photographing the solar eclipse without fumbling with your phone and cursing your procrastination, you should plan ahead. There are a few things you need to track down ahead of time, and a little bit of practice will go a long way, too.
Astrophotographers — the professionals and enthusiasts with their giant cameras hooked up to telescopes — will probably tell us it’s a fools errand to attempt to get a high-quality photo with anything less than a thousand dollars’ worth of equipment. But it is possible to get a decent and memorable photo with whatever you have in your back pocket — iPhone, Android or otherwise.
Just don’t let the desire to get that perfect Instagram shot distract you from the once-in-a-lifetime event itself.
[No firm travel plans for the solar eclipse? Here’s what to expect if you wing it.]
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.
[Here’s what happened to people who tried to watch a solar eclipse without special glasses]
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. The dark sky will trick your camera so that you just see a bright ball of white light. You will need to outsmart your smartphone by adjusting the exposure.
Iphone: tap the screen for a box to appear, then slide you finger up or down to adjust exposure.
Android: find manual mode through the camera app and adjust from there.
7. 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.
8. 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.