Aug. 21 solar eclipse may become the most photographed in history as photographers gear up with their DSLR

Aug. 21 solar eclipse may become the most photographed in history as photographers gear up with their DSLR

Washington,August3:The Aug. 21 solar eclipse may become the most photographed in history, with tens of millions across North America attempting to capture the long-awaited event with everything from high-performance film and digital single-lens reflex cameras — DSLRs — to inexpensive point-and-shoots.

And in the age of smartphones, when taking quick snapshots is as simple as reaching in purse or pocket, the urge to capture an event as heavily publicized as the August eclipse will be irresistible to many.

But professionals have a few words of strongly urged advice: never, ever point any type of camera, telescope or binoculars at the sun, even during a nearly full eclipse, without a certified solar filter firmly attached to the front of the lens.

The only exception is during the brief period in a swath of the country when the moon completely blocks out the sun’s dazzling brilliance. For the Aug. 21 eclipse, that fleeting opportunity will last just two- to two-and-a-half minutes along the 70-mile-wide path of totality that stretches from the coast of Oregon to the coast of South Carolina.
All of North America will see at least a partial solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, and a 70-mile-wide swath of the country from coast to coast will get a total eclipse.


And even in the path of totality, filters are a must during the partial phases before and after totality when the moon covers some, but not all, of the sun’s visible surface.

“IT IS NEVER SAFE TO LOOK AT THE SUN WITHOUT PROPER EYE PROTECTION WHEN ANY PART OF IT IS VISIBLE BEHIND THE MOON!” camera-maker Canon states on its eclipse photography website, using red, boldface, capital letters.


As amateur astronomers and even school kids know, unfiltered sunlight passing through even a small lens can quickly ignite a leaf or a sheet of paper. Without a proper filter, a camera’s lenses will intensify the sun’s light to extreme levels that will quickly destroy internal components.

And if one’s eye is at the viewfinder of an unfiltered camera, permanent injury can result in a fraction of a second.

“Every press release that anybody’s issuing, at least from knowledgeable sources, is including safety messaging,” said Rick Fienberg, a spokesman for the American Astronomical Society. “But of course, no matter how safe you make a car there are always going to be accidents and there will be, I’m sure, some reports of some (eye) injuries.

“But fortunately, even in past eclipses that went over populated areas, the actual incidents of eye injuries was very, very small, and most eye injuries ended up being temporary. But if somebody looks through (a telescope) at the partially eclipsed sun without protection, well, there’s nothing we can do about that.”

Certified solar filters

So the first item on the casual photographer’s eclipse checklist is a certified safe filter. But what sort of filter? Some filters are safe for eyes and cameras, some are safe for cameras but not eyes.

“There’s a huge issue with solar filters that people aren’t aware of,” said Canon photographer and veteran eclipse shooter Dave Henry. “First of all, a solar filter is completely different from a neutral density filter. Solar filters have other transmission characteristics that a typical photographic neutral density filter doesn’t have.”

He said stacking multiple ND filters, polarizers, etc., to simply cut down the brightness of the sun is not a viable solution.

“Cutting the volume of light down is not the whole story. You also need to minimize the transmission of ultraviolet and infrared. But not all solar filters are created alike. There are solar filters that are safe for viewing and photography and there are solar filters that are only safe for photography.

“So the consumer really needs to do the research on the filter they’re buying to make sure it’s safe for viewing and photography.”

An inexpensive filter, like the DayStar white light filter seen here from B&H, is essential for protecting both eyesight and sensitive camera components from the harsh light of even a partially eclipse sun.WILLIAM HARWOOD/CBS NEWS

Several vendors offer inexpensive filters in cardboard frames that will snugly fit on the front end of many common camera lenses, small telescopes or binoculars. Check to make sure they meet the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 12312-2 safety certification recognized by NASA as safe for cameras and direct viewing of the sun.

Such filters work fine for DSLRs. But many point-and-shoot cameras feature lenses that retract into the camera body when not in use and many will retract automatically. Henry advised against taping a filter to any point-and-shoot camera with a fully retractable lens unless the auto retract function can be disabled.

For most point-and-shoot cameras, such jury-rigging is “not recommended because if for some reason you happen to be holding the camera up and you’re just looking at the eclipse through the LCD screen and the timer goes out and the lens retracts, it will rip it off the front of the lens … and it would fry your sensor.”