Taking Photos of the Eclipse Can Ruin Your Phone (Here’s How to Avoid That)

Don’t attach it to a telescope either.

Taking Photos of the Eclipse Can Ruin Your Phone (Here's How to Avoid That)

A total solar eclipse may be a once in a lifetime event, but that doesn't mean you should be careless. Here is how you can protect your phone from any accidental damage, and take the best possible photo.

How to Photograph the Eclipse with your Phone

There are a few important factors that determine what safety precautions you should take, including what type of eclipse you're photographing, what sort of picture you want to take, and what equipment you're using. We'll start with a bit about eclipses.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the Earth and the Sun. Most eclipses are only partial eclipses, meaning that the moon never completely obscures the sun. Total eclipses are rarer, and occur when the path of the moon is such that it completely obscures the sun. The few minutes when the sun is completely hidden from view is called totality.

NASA says that it is safe to view totality without wearing eye protection. Just be sure that you don't start looking too early or keep watching too late.

Use a Filter Until Totality

If you're going to try to use your phone to capture a picture of an eclipse that is not at totality, we'd recommend that you use a filter for two reasons.

First and foremost is safety. While your phone can take pictures with the sun in frame, attempting to photograph the eclipse usually involves taking a timelapse. Regardless of whether you're taking a video or a series of photographs, pointing your camera directly at the sun for a prolonged period could cause problems for your sensor.

The second reason is practical: the sun is just too bright to photograph without a filter and see anything other than a white circle. On the other hand, if you use a filter, you'll be able to clearly see the moon move across the surface of the sun, and you may even be able to see features on the surface of the sun itself, depending on what kind of hardware your phone has. It is possible to photograph large sunspots with any flagship smartphone, though phones with higher optical zoom will perform better.

Take a careful look at the photo below. If you look at the bottom-right side of the sun, you can see sunspot 3615. This photo was quickly snapped on a slightly hazy day freehand—even a little bit of preparation would go a long way to improving it.

Taking Photos of the Eclipse Can Ruin Your Phone (Here's How to Avoid That)

Since you can view totality without eye protection, it will also be safe to photograph the eclipse with your phone without a filter. Just be sure that you're not premature, and that you don't keep looking for too long. Totality only lasts a few minutes.

Be Careful With External Telephoto Lenses

There are tons of smartphone telephoto lenses available on the market, but you should avoid almost all of them if you're going to attempt to photograph the eclipse.

Regular telephoto adapters have much larger lenses than your smartphone camera, and gather much more light. In practice, that means too much energy concentrated on a tiny point on your phone's camera sensor, resulting in damage from excessive heat. This will cause irreversible damage to your phone.

Do not use an add-on telephoto lens attached to your phone to attempt to photograph the eclipse.

There are some solar telephoto lenses available (or telephoto lenses that accept a solar filter), and you can use those to photograph the eclipse. However, they're specialty items and cost quite a bit.

If you're wondering if you can use a solar filter (like those found on eclipse glasses) in front of a regular clip on telephoto lens, the answer is yes–it'll work. However, it is a bit too easy to accidentally drop the filter away from the front of the lens and damage your phone. We don't recommend it.

Use a Tripod

You can pick up a tripod designed to fit your smartphone online or in brick-and-mortar stores, and we'd highly recommend you use one if you want to capture a picture or video of the eclipse, especially if you're using the telephoto lens built into your phone.

Just be sure to keep an eye on it. The sun and moon move across the sky faster than you might expect, and you may find that they move out of frame if you don't adjust your tripod regularly.

Use Burst Mode and Lock Your Focus

Burst mode, if your phone supports it, is a great way to capture the motion of the moon across the face of the sun.

We also highly recommend that you go into your camera app's settings and set the focus to infinity. That will prevent autofocus from interfering with your perfect shot.

How to Buy Safe Solar Eclipse Glasses or Filters

There are fake, unsafe solar eclipse glasses for sale. The American Astronomical Society has put together a list of safe solar filters and glasses, and we'd recommend you buy from that list.

How to Test Solar Eclipse Glasses and Filters

If you already purchased solar glasses and want to find out if they're safe to use, begin with a basic inspection. Examine the lenses for any tears, holes, scrapes, or scratches. If you see any, don't use them.

If the glasses aren't physically damaged, the next thing to test is how much light they filter out. Turn on your phone's flashlight, put the glasses on, and hold it up to your face. Ideally, you should only be able to dimly see the light. You should not be able to see the body of the phone or anything in the room. Other bright lights may also be faintly visible.

If you can see your surroundings, or your phone, the glasses are probably insufficient to protect your phone (or your eyes!) from the sun.

If your glasses pass the first test, take them outside on a sunny day and look around. You shouldn't be able to see anything besides bright reflections from the sun itself. If you can see anything, don't use the glasses or filter to view the sun.

If your filter or glasses pass both tests, they're likely good enough to protect your phone. However, always err on the side of caution if you have any doubts. Replacing some eclipse glasses is much less expensive than replacing a phone, and certainly preferable to damaging your vision.

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