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Capturing Monday’s Solar Eclipse: Tips & Ideas

How to Capture a Solar Eclipse: Tips and Ideas

“For a cosmic event of such rarity and strangeness, an artist’s eye seems like a useful tool indeed.” — The Atlantic

On Monday, August 21, 2017, the moon’s shadow will pass over North America in the middle of the day.

Find the specific times and more general info on this page. While you plan, consider how you’ll want to capture the event. Your unaided smartphone probably won’t take a satisfying photograph, so it’s time to get creative.

Here are some basic safety tips along with some ideas we’ve brainstormed to get you started. How will you capture the solar eclipse? Do you have any eclipse art to share? Let us know in the comments, below!

A Pueblo rock carving, possibly depicting a total eclipse in the year 1097. Read the story here. (Image: University of Colorado)


  • Don’t hurt your eyes: Safety first! If you don’t have solar viewing glasses, don’t look at the sun. Here’s where you can still find them around DC.
  • Don’t hurt your camera: Direct sunlight can also damage your camera’s sensor or shutter. Buy the appropriate filter for your camera, or hold an extra pair of glasses in front of your phone camera. And don’t look at the sun through your viewfinder!
  • Turn around: For every awe-inspiring event in front of you, there is an awestruck crowd behind you wearing funny glasses. (Photographer’s rule.)
  • Plan ahead: After Monday’s event, the next solar eclipse will hit the continental United States April 8, 2024. That gives you a few years to prepare — like painter Howard Russell Butler, who practiced a shorthand sketching system in preparation for painting the 1918 solar eclipse.
The Moon’s shadow on Earth during a 1999 eclipse. (NASA)


Lots of people are going to be photographing the eclipse. Here are some ideas for making your own memories of the event:

  • Photograph it better: Here’s a guide with some details.
  • Create pinhole art: An ephemeral approach, but also a safe one if you struck out on finding viewing glasses. Each pinhole creates its own image of the sun — try watching the scene unfold with multiple pinholes in a fun pattern. NASA has a quick guide here (they call it a pinhole camera, but it lacks film.)
  • Sketch the scene: For this one, you’ll just need paper and a drawing tool. Capture the landscape, the crowd, and the sky above them. With your viewing glasses on, you can’t actually see anything but the sun, so be careful as you put them on and take them off.
  • Capture the flow of time: One of the coolest parts of an eclipse is watching the shape of the sun change with the minutes. You could create sequential art, like a comic, or collapse the time span into a single landscape with multiple suns.
  • Shadow selfie with the sun: Things like trees can create natural pinholes, throwing tiny sun images all over. See if you can capture a shady self-portrait like Claudia Welsh’s.
From the National Park Service.

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