How to Get a Decent Photo of the Solar Eclipse With Your Phone

Research now so you won’t be fidgeting at the last second and can enjoy the magical spectacle.

While professional photographers decked out with telescopes and telephoto lenses from around the world will make their way to the path of totality for the Great American Solar Eclipse happening Aug. 21, most viewers will probably only have a smartphone with them. Here are some tips for capturing this big, once-in-a-lifetime event on your tiny mobile device.

Solar Eclipse

Solar Eclipse

Low angle view of a solar eclipse against clear sky.

Photo by: Getty Images/ Arya Manggala

Getty Images/ Arya Manggala

Always Use Protection (Except During Full Totality)

You’re probably aware that you need solar filter glasses to protect your eyes while viewing the eclipse, but you should also protect your gear. Cover whatever camera lens, phone or binoculars you plan to point directly at the sun.

To ensure your solar filters are legit, they need to be ISO-compliant, showing “ISO 12312-2” (sometimes written as “ISO 12312-2:2015”) on the packaging. There are some fakers out there though, so if you’re ordering online, consult this list from the American Astronomical Society for reputable vendors for solar filters and viewers. You can also get free ISO-compliant eclipse-viewing glasses at most libraries.

Depending on what gear or add-on lens you decide to use, you can buy solar filters, specifically for camera lenses or you can DIY your own lens covers by cutting out circles from sheets of solar filter. Once you’ve got your eyes and gear covered, it’s time to figure out your set up and how you’ll capture the event.

Tips

Don’t use flash. Just don’t.

Use a tripod. Even a tabletop one works great. A tripod will help avoid camera shake and let you be mostly hands-free during the event. Some phones shoot 4K video, so taking a video of all of the phases and then pulling still photos later is an option. Make sure you have enough storage space though; 4K videos take up about double the space.

Set a self-timer. Use a self-timer of five seconds, so any vibrations and camera shake caused by touching the phone will settle when the shutter actually fires. This will come in handy during full totality when it’s dark outside and you’ll want to use a slower shutter speed.

Use an attachable lens. Most phone lenses are not designed for night photography and only allow digital zoom, meaning the further you zoom in, the lower quality photo you’re going to get. Consider purchasing an attachable, telephoto zoom lens. You’ll get a slightly closer shot of the eclipse. If you don’t want to buy a lens, you can hack this effect with binoculars by simply putting the phone’s camera behind the eye piece or buying an adapter.

Practice before the event. Practice shooting a full moon and the sun, with proper filter protection, in your viewing area. You can also trace the path of the sun with the camera and lens you plan to use with the drift method.

Get more smartphone photography tips from NASA.

Apps to Use

Several apps can enhance the capabilities of your iPhone’s camera for little to no cost.

Solar Eclipse Timer - The time and duration of each phase of the eclipse will vary, depending on your viewing location. An eclipse enthusiast named Gordon Telepun, who you can see explain how to video the eclipse in this Smarter Everyday episode, designed this app that alerts you when each phase will start in your specific location based on your phone’s GPS. It alerts you via a voice command, so that you can focus on your camera and watching the eclipse instead of constantly looking at the clock. This app will help you know when full totality is approaching, when you can remove the solar filters from your eyes and gear.

NightCap Camera – This app is designed for low-light situations and allows you to set the shutter speed and ISO to get the best exposure possible. You can also shoot 4K time lapse videos with it.

Ultrakam 4K – This app allows you to shoot 4K video on an iPhone 6, which normally doesn’t have 4K capability. The 4K videos it shoots is much higher definition than 1080p, so you can grab still photos from it later.

VSCO – VSCO allows you to shoot in RAW files, which means you can manipulate and edit the photos with more controls compared to a compressed JPG file after the fact.

To ensure you’re not fidgeting at the last second, determine what kind of photo or video you most want to capture. Do you want to get photos of all the different phases that you can later layer on top of each other? Do you want to get atmosphere shot of the phases before the actual eclipse? Or do you mainly just want one photo of the eclipse in full totality? Prioritize what shot you want most, practice with your phone beforehand, hope for clear skies and sit back and enjoy the total solar eclipse. 

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