Totality // 5 Things I Learned Photographing An Eclipse

There was quite a bit of fervor leading up to the “Great American Eclipse” a few weeks ago, to say the least. The little town of 2,000 we call home in the summer and fall, Pinedale, Wyoming, was expecting to swell to nearly 10x its normal size.

And Jackson, WY, just at the center line of totality and home to Grand Teton National Park, expected nearly half a million people to flood in to the town of around 20,000! Knowing what the area was expecting, the hype seemed a bit overblown to me.

I was wrong.

I’ve never experienced, much less photographed, a full solar eclipse. I’ve seen and shot several full lunar eclipses, and I was comparing my expectations for this to those… WAY different. WAY cooler.

So, what did I learn as a photographer, shooting my first, full solar eclipse?

1. If you plan to shoot any portion of the eclipse other than totality, you really do need a solar filter. I initially thought this was nonsense… just another way to try to sell me something. I was wrong. Thankfully, I had a few good friends that joined us for the festivities of the day, and they were prepared enough to have extra filters. The reason you need them is pretty simple…. your lens acts like a magnifying glass and channels the sun’s light and heat straight into your sensor, potentially frying the cells. Just like when you were a kid and you used a magnifying glass to fry ants.

2. You’d better be quick on your feet if you want to get great shots. You really need to be super comfortable shooting in full manual. If you’re not, you will be thinking way too much and might miss the shots you want. Everything happens quite fast, and if you are frenzied or flustered, chances are, the moment will pass you by AND you won’t get any good shots!

3.  Shade your eyes every time you look in to your viewfinder. This was something that I would’ve never thought of. Your eclipse glasses will allow you to see nothing but the sun, so as a consequence, you will likely not wear them much as you are shooting. So that means you are very vulnerable to accidentally damaging your eyes. Every time you look through your viewfinder to reframe your shot, you are protected because of your solar filter, but it’s in the moments just before and after your eye contacts the eyecup on the back of your camera that you need to be careful. It sounds like overkill, but I promise it’s not. Just use your hand or a hat to shade the sun. Simple as that, but oh so important.

4. Have a second camera body and look around you just before, during, and after totality. Two bodies is not within reach for everyone, but for the professional, it is an absolute must. So, if there’s any way you can get your hands on two, it will be of supreme value. One camera can be set up on the tripod with a long lens… ready for the traditional, up close shots (this one will definitely need a solar filter!). But the second can be wrapped around your neck, with a wide angle lens, ready to capture the overall scene. Perhaps a unique landscape during totality, or even the onlookers reveling at the sight of it all. Which brings me to point 5…

5. Don’t forget to enjoy the experience! There really is nothing like this experience on earth. So be present, and enjoy the moment! It is possible to step out from behind the camera and take it all in…

The next full solar eclipse will be passing through my home state of Texas on April, 8, 2024. You can bet that we will be there, ready to take it all in. I hope you will too. Check out this great, interactive map to see where you can experience totality.

— Andrew


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