The Great American Eclipse on Aug. 21 is expected to draw millions of Americans to cities along the centerline path of totality, where the moon completely blocks the sun, the earth goes dark and the sun’s corona shimmers in the blackened sky.
And with all the hype surrounding the total eclipse, you’re probably wondering if you can sneak a selfie in during the mega celestial event.
While we (along with most professional experts) recommend you put your phones down and enjoy the brief, once-in-a-lifetime experience sans technology, wanting to capture the moment digitally is certainly tempting.
If you’re planning to take a selfie (or use your smartphone camera at all), Nathan Yanasak and Jeri Ann Beckworth, both in the Department of Radiology and Imaging at Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia, have some advice.
Eclipse selfie precautions and tips:
Lower your expectations. The eclipse will look very small in your selfie. Focus on getting the wide views of the sky and atmosphere, along with the eclipse.
Keep your solar eclipse glasses on. Safety is paramount during an eclipse, especially during its partial phases. Don’t look directly at the sun and keep your safety equipment on just in case the sunlight begins to creep in again after totality.
Limit your photos to the totality period. Yanasak and Beckworth recommend limiting selfies to the brief totality period, when your eyes will be safer and your camera settings will be easier to navigate.
Be quick. Again, totality is brief — approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds (or less). Snap your photos quickly, with enough time left over to breathe it all in.
Practice adjusting your camera’s control exposure settings. This is the most difficult part (aside from assuring safety) of capturing the eclipse in your selfie. Familiarize yourself with your phone’s camera settings and practice adjusting them during one of these two scenarios from Yanasak and Beckworth:
1. Practice during a nearly full moon. Try to snap a picture where a nearly full moon fills half of the view and is not overexposed—it should appear as a grey disk with clear features.
2. Use two dark rooms with a 25W incandescent light bulb in a clip-on lamp. Set up the lamp in one room, wrapped in a single paper towel. Stand in the other room about 30 feet from the bulb to practice your picture. Practice in the evening, and close your curtains to avoid stray light from outside.
Consider downloading an advanced phone app, such as ProCamera. Even with all the practice, your smartphone camera might not be as sophisticated or sufficient for exposure control. Download advanced camera apps that give you more exposure settings and features.
Don’t zoom. Experts recommend using a wide-angle view and not the digital zoom on your phone while taking a selfie.
Do you need a solar filter for your phone? According to NASA, solar filters must be attached to the front of any optics, including camera lenses. But that’s not the case for most GoPro and smartphone shots, because the shots will be wide-angle views.
Apple told USA Today the iPhone camera sensor and lens would not be damaged during the solar eclipse, just as they wouldn’t be damaged if you pointed the camera toward the sun at any other time.
This is because the iPhone camera (and that of other similar smartphones) have a 28mm wide angle, whereas larger Canon or Nikon DSLR cameras have large zooms with high multiplification.
The GoPro lens is even wider at around 14mm.
“Apple and others suggest shooting wide shots of the scene, capturing not only the eclipse, but also the atmosphere...and the amazing shadows that are naturally cast,” USA Today reported.
Because you won’t see as much of the sun in a still photo, consider taking a time lapse or video instead.
How to actually take an eclipse selfie, according to Yanasak and Beckworth:
- Switch your flash from “Auto” to “On.”
- Turn on your front-facing camera so that you see youself on the screen.
- Move around so that you position the moon over your shoulder.
- Use your right hand to adjust the exposure to the moon and hold.
- Use your left hand to take the photo.
- Now, put your phone away and enjoy the moment, whether you got the photo you wanted or not.
Plan to photograph the eclipse? Here are general eclipse photography tips from NASA.