The moment the sun crept into my frame, backlighting the CN Tower and presenting me with its silhouette, was a thrilling experience to see.
It’s not often that one can witness the wonders of an eclipse. It’s also not often that it happens to align itself perfectly with Toronto’s most iconic architectural structure in the skyline. This was the case for the partial solar eclipse that occurred earlier this month.
Have you ever seen photos of the solar eclipse where the sun is cut out and wondered, how is the sun so perfectly sharp without any halos surrounding it? This can only be done using a solar filter as it blocks so much of the incoming light. Not even a 10-stop Neutral Density filter will filter out enough light to get a properly exposed sun.
For the longest time I had always wanted to capture an eclipse using a solar filter. This specialized filter blocks a large portion of light coming into the camera’s sensor—not to mention blocking some of the harmful UV rays—allowing you to expose properly for the sun. Because it blocks so much of the light, you cannot see anything in your viewfinder once you put the filter on, so be sure to have your composition and focusing set prior to putting the filter on.
I bought the solar filter from Kendrick Astro Instruments only a few days before the actual solar eclipse—which is never a good thing. Only having one day to practice with it, I took to the shores of Lake Ontario the day prior to familiarize myself with the filter and figure out my settings. It’s a good thing I did because my initial set of photos from it turned out blurry from camera shake. Even though I knew I needed to use a remote shutter, I had mindlessly just used a timer to take the photos, thinking it would suffice. It didn’t. See below on what I did.
Here’s the settings you should have on your lens, should you ever have a solar filter attached.
- Set focusing to Manual; otherwise your lens will try and focus each time you press the shutter button, which is not what you want.
- Turn VR off since your camera is on a tripod.
Topaz Sharpen AI
Here’s the comparison between the original photo that I took using a three-second exposure delay, and the sharpened version. Even at that setting, the camera and lens was still shaking when the exposure took place. Fortunately, I was able to salvage that photo using Topaz Sharpen AI. It actually did a surprisingly good job at it.
Releasing Your Shutter
My practice shoot yielded in some blurry images because I had physically pressed the shutter button on the camera. Even with a three second exposure delay, your image can be blurry because you are shooting at such a long focal length. To work around this, use a remote shutter release if you have one with your camera.
On more recent Nikon systems we have the Snapbridge app available on iOS and Android, which can wirelessly connect to our cameras via wifi and bluetooth. This worked out great in my case—especially because the phone now becomes your viewfinder! I am able to change my exposure settings right on my phone, and I don’t need to worry about focusing since my shot had been pre-focused with autofocus disabled on the lens.
Where Should I Stand?
Now that I was fully aware of what I needed to do, I had to make sure I was in the right place at the right time. The sun was to rise behind the Toronto skyline during the partial eclipse. So, depending on where you were standing, you would see the eclipse beside certain buildings along the skyline. My thought was to be able to have the sun and partial eclipse rise directly behind the CN Tower’s main observation deck—which, with a quick google search, tells me it is situated at 350m above ground.
Knowing that the observation deck is 350m above ground level, in PhotoPills, I had to find the location where the sun would be at that level.
Step 1: Set the date and time to the moment you want to capture the eclipse.
Map Settings > Eclipse > Select eclipse date
Step 2: Place the black pin at your subject. In our case it is the CN Tower. Move the time slider on the bottom so the sun aligns itself to the subject. Wherever your red pin is located right now, is where you will see the sun behind the CN Tower at this particular time.
Step 3: Place the red pin around where you would like to stand and take your photo. On the top panel area, swipe to the second panel and make note of the height of the sun at the black pin. In our case it says 349.9m. This is the location you will see the sun at this height.
Step 4: Adjust your red pin location so that the sun is at 350m above the ground at the black pin. Be sure to make sure the sun still aligns with the subject at the black pin. If it moved slightly, move the time slider until it aligns properly again, then repeat this step until you get the red pin at the right spot.
Now you have the exact location of where you need to stand, and the exact time you need to be there for, in order to have the sun exactly at 350m above ground level at the black pin.
You’ll have to check the precision of PhotoPills but I found it to be precise to about +/-5m to where I needed to be. I actually went to this location for four mornings before the eclipse just to see if my predictions were accurate. Practice makes perfect!
No Solar Filter?
Here’s a photo I took with no filters on my lens. You can see the sun is completely blown out with a visible halo surrounding it. It provides a lot more light in the scene so you can see more of the skyline silhouetted. This does make for some interesting photos as well.
If you do some readings on the internet about looking at the sun with your camera, you’ll no doubt come across many posts stating never to look at the sun with your camera as it may permanently damage your eyes, and/or your camera as well.
This is definitely true for SLRs and dSLRs. As a kid, did you ever take a magnifying glass and point it at a leaf on the ground and see it burn/smoke? (It’s ok if you didn’t; perhaps I was just being reckless!) If you look at the sun through the viewfinder of a dSLR, you’re essentially doing the same thing, except this time the sun is pointing towards your eyes.
Mirrorless cameras are a little different since the viewfinders are electronic. But that just means the sun is pointing towards your camera sensor instead. This can in turn do some damage to your camera depending on how long you keep it there for.
If you’re taking a few snaps of the sun, I feel as if that would be ok—especially at wider focal lengths where the sun isn’t the main subject matter. Just be conscious of not keeping it pointed there for an extended period of time.
What About A Time-lapse?
I follow the same rule for time lapses as I do for photography. I would not do a timelapse of the sun without a solar filter if it was the main subject in your photos. If you’re doing a wider landscape time-lapse where the sun happens to be in it, use your judgement in determining how long you can point your camera towards the sun.
The next major eclipse we’ll be able to see in the Toronto area will be on April 8, 2024. Be sure to practice your eclipse viewing techniques by then!
Have you ever captured an eclipse before? Have you used a Solar Filter before? Let me know what your experience was like in the comments below!
Pin the image on the left!