How to use apps to track and photograph the total solar eclipse

Monday’s total solar eclipse may be one of the most filmed and photographed events of the year.

As the moon passes in front of the sun, plunging parts of North America into a few minutes of darkness, crowds will take pictures or videos of the moment. But powerful sun rays and big changes in lighting create unique challenges in capturing that perfect image.

Here are some tips on how to get the best shot:

How can I find the best place to catch the eclipse?

First, get in the right location. You’ll want to be as close as possible to the path of totality, which goes over the Pacific coast of Mexico and ends in eastern Canada. Fifteen US states get to see the total eclipse.

There are online maps to check if you will be anywhere near the trail. NASA’s map shows how many minutes of totality there will be if you’re inside the path depending on location, and how much of a partial eclipse you’ll see if you’re outside it.

For viewers in Mexico and Canada, eclipse expert Xavier Jubier’s website overlays the path of the eclipse on Google Maps, allowing zooming in on street-level detail.

What can I use to plan a good shot?

With so many factors involved including cloud cover and the position of the sun in the sky, planning is key to getting the best image.

There are many smartphone apps for eclipse chasers. The American Astronomical Society has put together a list of useful ones for both iOS and Android devices, including its own Totality app that shows your location on a map of the path of totality.

The Solar Eclipse Timer uses your phone’s GPS to play an audio countdown to the moment of totality and highlights key moments. The app maker recommends using a separate phone to take photos.

Eclipse Calculator 2 for Android devices uses the phone’s camera to show what the event will look like in the sky from your location, using overlay lines on top of the camera image. For iPhone users, apps like Sky Guide and SkySafari have eclipse simulators. There are other iOS apps that use augmented reality to simulate the eclipse, but they are pricier and not yet on the society’s list.

How can I take a great photo of the eclipse?

Digital SLR cameras will take the best photos. Its exposed manual controls and the ability to zoom lenses and accessories like remote buttons will allow you to take great pictures.

Associated Press chief photographer Julio Cortez recommends using a smaller aperture — f11 or f17 — to keep the focus “a little sharper.” When he shot the 2017 total solar eclipse, he used an ISO setting of 1250 and 1/500 shutter speed.

The rest of us have our smartphones.

NASA published detailed guidelines for eclipse photography for smartphones in 2017 with the caveat that “smartphones were not designed for solar and lunar photography.” That’s because the wide-angle lenses on most devices won’t let you capture detail. Phones released since then come with sophisticated sensors, multiple lenses and image stabilization software that give a better chance.

Some experts recommend the HDR, or High Dynamic Range, method, which takes a series of pictures at different light levels and then merges them into one shot – ideal for combining very dark and very bright areas of the eclipse.

But don’t use flash. You can ruin the moment by ruining the vision of those around you whose eyes are adapted to the dark.

What do I need to protect from the sun?

The American Astronomical Society recommends using a solar filter to protect cameras against intense light and heat.

You can buy a filter that screws onto DSLR lenses, but it will take time to remove when fullness occurs. Cortez made his own with cardboard, tinted film and fasteners that he can rip quickly.

For smartphones, you can use a spare pair of eclipse glasses and hold it over the lens, or buy a smartphone filter. There is no international standard, but there is a list of models it considers safe on the society’s website. Make sure macro mode is not on.

If you intend to shoot for long distances, use a tripod. To line up his camera after mounting it on a tripod, Cortez uses a sun finder, which helps him find the sun without damaging your eyes or equipment.

Cortez also recommends bringing a white towel to cover your device after you set it up to keep it from overheating while you wait for the big moment.

Can I take a selfie with the eclipse?

It’s very tempting to make a TikTok or Instagram-friendly eclipse video. Maybe you want a video selfie, telling into the camera while the cosmic ballet between the sun and the moon is playing out over your shoulder.

Be careful: While you might think your vision isn’t at risk because you’re not looking at the sun, your phone screen could be reflecting harmful ultraviolet light, eye experts have warned.

And if you are using a sun filter on the selfie camera, it will turn the picture dark and you will not show.


Have a technical challenge you need help solving? Write to us at with your questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *