When preparing to shoot the upcoming solar eclipse, the most important consideration is safety for you, your eyes and your camera equipment.
Part of the planning involves not only where will you cover the eclipse from, but also how will you stage it.
For most of the country, the eclipse will happen midday, during the hottest month of the year.
The eclipse will be viewed by millions of people across the country. Re-read our article on the path of totality to find a suitable location for covering the eclipse.
Try to find a location with easy access and convenient restrooms.
If you’re shooting on either the west coast or east coast prepare for early morning clouds or fog. It may or may not burn off before the eclipse begins.
The entire eclipse will last about 2½ hours, where you will be constantly shooting every minute or so through the first partial phases. Then, the roughly 2½ minutes of totality, and through all of the final partial phases until the end of the eclipse. You will be hot, thirsty and tired of standing.
Try to find a location with a lot of grass as that will be cooler during midday. If your location is on sand or open dirt, consider bringing a roll of indoor/outdoor carpeting for your shooting area. This will serve to cool down your space and will really help to keep the dust down.
Consider bringing a “pop-up” style tent or a large beach umbrella that you can situate close to your camera. Unfortunately, for most, you’ll be shooting almost straight up at an angle somewhere between 55º and 65º so the tent or umbrella might not give you much shade while shooting. Folks on the west coast will have a morning eclipse so the angle and heat won’t be as great.
A tent or umbrella will give you a few moments out of the sun during the partial phases.
A camp or beach chair will allow you to sit during this time. Situate your tripod low enough so that you can conveniently view your LCD screen as well. You’ll still be hot but at least your feet won’t be sore, and a chair will make things a lot easier on your back.
Eclipse day will be very hectic not only in city/urban areas, but also in rural areas.
Cities will suffer from huge crowds of people in tightly compressed areas where roadside services such as food, water, gas and restrooms will be stretched to the max.
Rural areas will have similar problems on the day of the eclipse, because roadside services are fewer and farther between and roads are narrower, so traffic congestion may be worse.
Resist the temptation to relocate moments before the eclipse due to weather. You will likely be joining large numbers of others with the same idea and chances are, you won’t be able to out-run the clouds anyway.
Bring all your food and drinks with you in an ice chest well stocked with ice (especially if you’re in a remote area, be sure to locate a source of ice well in advance of the afternoon of the eclipse). Remember, you’ll be out there for well over three to four hours at least.
If you bring a pop-up, why not bring a folding table as well. It will give you somewhere to spread out your gear before the eclipse and somewhere to comfortably eat during this time. If you’re bringing a laptop computer, you will have the work space.
Make your Space your Own
Making a place “your own” is important. There will be a lot of people around you including parents that don’t control their children. Children running wild can endanger your equipment by knocking over your tripod and stirring up dust and dirt.
Bring a roll of yellow “Caution” tape (available at big-box home centers) to tape off your tent and the shooting area in front of it. Bring along two extra chairs to put a few feet beyond the front of your tent for your tripod and extend your “Caution” tape out and around those chairs. It sounds like you’re being un-neighborly, but this is exactly what the pros do! Months or years of planning and experimenting can be lost in a few seconds.
This is especially important if you’ve set up an equatorial-type tripod head to automatically track the sun all day. To track accurately, this type of head needs to be set up the night before or a couple hours before dawn to align with the North Star, Polaris. If uncontrolled children or meandering adults knock the tripod, precise realignment during the day is impossible and all your planning is lost.
Also, plan to secure your tripod legs with tent stakes or lots of gaffer’s tape if you’re viewing from a solid surface. You can accidentally move your tripod legs even in your own space!
Setting up Camp
If you are setting up a tracking device, you will need to set it all up the night before or pre-dawn on eclipse day. Unless you are in your own back yard, plan on bringing a sleeping bag and possibly a small tent with insect screening to spend the night in. That means you’re camping. Many will elect to come a couple hours before dawn.
Insect repellant and sunscreen, along with any medications, are a must to bring, along with a lantern and some sort of electrical power and anything else you may need to spend the night.
Instead of camping, consider setting up your site and your equatorial tripod head several hours before sunrise on eclipse day. That way, you’ll have spent part of the night in your hotel.
Setting up this late though might mean you won’t have the best viewing spot.
If you’ll be based in a city or county park there may be restrictions on camping, so setting up a few hours before sunrise on eclipse day may be your only option. Just plan to snooze for a few hours on your lawn chair and scout for restroom facilities.
Please respect private property, especially in rural areas. Check in advance where you can legally and safely park your car. As we’ve said before, law enforcement in many areas may not allow you to simply park on the side of a road. Don’t assume that open land is public property, even if it’s not fenced-in, or near a known state or national park. What may seem as unobtrusive to one person is trespassing to another. You don’t want to be forcibly removed just before the eclipse begins.
We’ve gone over this in just about every article here in our eclipse coverage, and there’s a reason — it’s vital to protect your camera gear, and especially your eyesight.
If you’re simply observing the eclipse, bring special solar glasses or a solar viewer for those that wear eyeglasses. The eclipse is important, but not that important so as to ruin your eyesight. If you have family or friends in your group, plan on bringing viewing filters for them as well. Especially for the children, because they have a natural tendency to look up like everyone else–not realizing that everyone around them is wearing these special glasses.
Your camera lenses need a special solar filter as well. Not just a regular visible spectrum multi-stop neutral density filter. They’re not the same as a solar filter regardless of how many photographic stops they may have. They are dangerous because they don’t block the infrared or ultraviolet light that a true solar filter blocks. Even some “solar” filters aren’t recommended for viewing through the camera eyepiece, just for photography. Re-read our article on solar filters to make sure your eyesight and camera/lens are protected.
As we’ve pointed out earlier, the eclipse is happening midday during the hottest month of the year, so you need to take extra precautions to keep cool and hydrated as best you can. There will undoubtedly be numerous reports in the media of heat related illnesses the next day. Don’t be one of the statistics. Protect yourself from the midday sun: bring high-SPF sunscreen (and use it!), bring a wide-brimmed hat to protect your head, ears and face, and consider wearing a lightweight, white or light-colored long-sleeve shirt, to further protect you from the sun during set-up, the eclipse and through breakdown of your site.
If you aren’t feeling well, give up on the eclipse or at least give up on the partial phases and concentrate on the 2½ minutes of totality. It’s better to be healthy and safe than to be viewing the eclipse through the window of an ambulance.
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Click here for more information on photographing the solar eclipse!
SAFETY FIRST: Never look at the sun without accredited and approved solar filtration over your eyes. Permanent, irreversible eye damage and/or blindness can result in seconds. Never point your camera into the sun without an approved solar filter over your camera lens(es). Not using a solar filter at eclipse magnifications will ruin your camera in seconds. Never improvise, modify or use general photography neutral density filters.