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Pro tips: How to safely capture the best shot of the total solar eclipse

By Bianca Barr Tunno, AccuWeather staff writer

The total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 will be a compelling scene to photograph, but it will also be complicated.

The path of totality does not cover the entire United States – only 14 states from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast will have complete darkness.

The length of time to capture that iconic photograph is incredibly short – 2 minutes 40 seconds or less.

Add in safety, creativity and enjoying the event with your own eyes, and you have a photography challenge for the ages.

If you want to learn a few safe photography basics, this short list of tips and techniques will prepare you for a day of visual storytelling.

eclipse photographers

Italian visitors wait for the start of a total solar eclipse on a hill beside a hotel overlooking the sea and Torshavn, the capital city of the Faeroe Islands, Friday, March 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Preparation is paramount

Go a few days early and scout out a location without light pollution, according to Hudson Henry, a professional adventure and travel photographer who’s hosting an eclipse photography workshop in Oregon prior to the astronomical event.

Upgrade your gear now if you want to invest in something new, or rent items and ship them to your location. Even if you choose to use your current camera, Henry urged photographers of any skill level to have a reliable tripod, filters that protect the camera sensor and a cable or remote shutter release so you don’t bump the camera while shooting.

“The time you spend ahead of time is going to really pay off so that you are not struggling, trying to figure it out during the middle of this amazing event,” he said. “You should be spending at least half of your time just enjoying it.”

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Plan your position

Figure out the composition of your shots in advance and know where to put your tripod. Henry suggested positioning the eclipse in a landscape of crowds, buildings or nature. The eclipsed sun will be smaller, but he said the result will elicit more emotion.

“Find a scene and put the eclipse happening in it,” Henry said. “That will tell the story about the place and the moment. I want an image to tell a story.”

If you want to take things a step further, Henry said online mapping and sun/moon tracking apps can help fine-tune your tripod position, allowing you to anticipate the light’s movement and lock in your composition ahead of time.

Hudson Henry sun photo

Even with the eclipse happening high in the sky, it's possible to find interesting foregrounds like this Greek windmill to include in the frame. Partially obscuring the sun like this is a great way to practice with your equipment for the eclipse. (Photo/Hudson Henry Photography)

Protect your peepers and paraphernalia

You must protect your eyes and camera with solar filters. That means eclipse glasses for you and professional, treated glass filters for your camera. The American Astronomical Society reminds photographers to put proper filters on the front of camera lenses, telescopes and other optics.

Utilize the ‘Live View’ option in your camera where the screen displays what the sensor sees and stay away from the viewfinder, Henry told AccuWeather.

“You do not want to be looking through the viewfinder at the sun with your eye,” Henry said. “It is only going to magnify it into your eye.”

Photograph, but pause

This will be a complicated exposure. It will be dark and you will need a slower shutter speed.

Henry said the best way to capture the right image will depend on a stable tripod, a way to remotely fire the camera and bracketing, which is a mode in your camera that will capture the image while underexposed, exposed and then overexposed.

If you are in the path of totality, remove your glasses and camera filters to see the sun’s corona, and remember to pause. Get your shots, but be sure to take in the scene with your own, unfiltered eyes.

“Don’t worry about using filters or sunglasses for that little bit of time that the sun is completely occluded, but when it starts coming out from behind again, protect your eyes and protect your camera,” Henry said.

Pictures of the partial

Millions of people will be outside the path of totality, but they will still see a darkening of the sky. You must use solar viewing glasses and camera filters throughout the partial solar eclipse, which will last several hours, depending on where you live.

The partial eclipse will give photographers a little more time to set up their shots, but there won’t be the elusive corona in the images. And, of course, the weather will play a big part in whether you get that one-of-a-kind image.

“There’s a primal connection to our past and our placement in the universe,” said Henry. “When the middle of the day goes dark and there’s this weird ring in the sky instead of the sun and it gets cooler and shadows are weird and silvery…It’s going to be the kind of moment to put goosebumps on your skin if you are paying attention to it.”

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