This coming Monday, Aug. 21, something extraordinary will happen. For starters, it’ll be the first total solar eclipse to be visible from the contiguous U.S. in roughly 40 years. But perhaps more importantly, it’ll also be the first total solar eclipse of the smartphone era. Here’s what you need to know.
Why Is This Solar Eclipse Special?
Total solar eclipses are a rare celestial phenomenon that occurs when the moon completely blocks out the sun’s light. This year’s eclipse is also the first to be viewable only in the United States, prompting some to dub it “The Great American Eclipse,” according to Time.
Importantly, the eclipse has a “path of totality” where its full effects will be visible, which you can see above (courtesy of Today). When the eclipse passes through these areas, they will be engulfed in sudden and fleeting darkness — even in the middle of the day. It’s a spectacular phenomenon, and close to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The eclipse will make landfall in Salem, Oregon around 10:18 a.m., and eventually wrap up in Charleston, South Carolina around 2:46 p.m.
Outside of that path, only a partial solar eclipse will be visible. Still very cool, but a much more common phenomenon. Perhaps that’s why would-be skygazers have been making plans to be in the path of totality for months. Again, it’ll also be the first total eclipse to occur in an age where smartphones and photography equipment are ubiquitous. So yes, that means we’ll undoubtedly be treated to a deluge of photos and videos across social media.
How to Experience the Solar Eclipse
Of course, your first instinct may be to snap a picture or record a video of the eclipse using your trusty iPhone. But not so fast, say some photographers. For starters, using a smartphone camera pointed directly at the sun would probably result in a picture with a bright blob drowning out any actual detail. But that’s not the only concern, according to Canon eclipse photography expert Ken Sklute.
“In this case, we’ve got the ultimate bright, with very dangerous ultraviolet and infrared rays coming through, and we can almost bet money that folks are going to zoom in as close as they can to the sun,” Sklute toldToday. “First off, that can’t be good for the product, but my real concern is for the user.” Even quick glances at the sun can cause significant and even permanent damage to your eyes — and in many cases, you won’t even know if that damage has occurred.
It might be smarter to leave the eclipse photography to the professionals, and just be happy to experience the eclipse without the use of technology. There is, of course, that old-school paper method we probably all remember.
But if you have your heart set on using your iPhone to capture this rare celestial occurrence, here are some tips below.
Solar Eclipse iPhone Photography Tips
NASA recommends that you use a solar filter when attempting to capture the eclipse with a smartphone camera. While Apple has said that its iPhone doesn’t need a filter to view the eclipse, it might be best not to risk your beloved smartphone’s photography equipment. This is especially true for prolonged shots or recording video.
Additionally, it might be smart to invest in a pair of certified, eclipse-safe glasses for your own two eyes. As we said above, even the smallest glance at the sun can cause injury and permanent damage. Don’t risk it.
Use a smartphone tripod. For an event as rare as a total eclipse, you’ll definitely want to avoid shaky cam syndrome and blurry photos as best as you can.
Practice, practice, practice. You’ll only have a few minutes to capture that perfect shot when the total eclipse is occurring, so NASA recommends that you rehearse your photography plans. Go to your photo-taking location of choice and practice shooting some photos (or video) just after sunset. If you’re in the path of totality, the level of light during twilight will be similar to the eclipse.
Lastly, if you’re really worried about damaging your iPhone’s camera module or components, use a simple point-and-shoot camera. Like with an iPhone, it’s also recommended that you use a solar filter and a tripod when going this method, too.
If you’re really interested in learning more about smartphone-eclipse photography, NASA has a comprehensive guide — available here. For more general information about the eclipse, a great resource is the aptly named site: thegreatamericaneclipse.com.