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How to take video of a solar eclipse: Advice from the experts

If you're going to the trouble of filming a video during the solar eclipse, make sure you do it right. And without sizzling your eyeballs. Here are tips from the pros.

One of nature's most spectacular events will occur on August 21, 2017 when a total solar eclipse arcs across the US and observers from Oregon to South Carolina will have approximately two minutes to view the awe-inspiring sight.

Capturing the best video of the solar eclipse can be tricky, and there's no point in doing it, and risking missing the eclipse, if you can't do it the right way. Some experts say there's no point in doing it at all, but if you're reading this article, you're probably want to give it a go. So here are the best tips for making the most of your video of the eclipse.

SEE: Watch the solar eclipse of the century: When, where, and how (TechRepublic)

Recording a video of a solar eclipse

Nikon shared these tips:

  • When recording video or capturing still images, make sure to use an approved solar filter on your camera, as the sun can damage both your eyes and the camera's image sensor. It is safe to use a smartphone without a solar filter.
  • When pointing a camera directly at the sun, it is important to have the proper filter in place—the sun's rays could damage the camera, as the light would hit the camera's image sensor directly.
  • At the point of totality, just like when capturing still photography, you may want to remove your filter, as it will be quite a bit darker than immediately before or after totality.
  • When capturing video, safety glasses are not needed if you're only looking through the screen of the camera at a live view; however, a filter should be used to protect the camera's image sensor. When looking up at the sky during the eclipse, safety glasses should be worn to protect any possible damage to your eyes.
  • When capturing video, you may need to remove the solar filter during totality, and then reattach it immediately after totality, in order to handle the changes in light. This could be challenging if you're looking to capture continuous video. You might look into capturing a time-lapse video of the eclipse if that better suits your desired outcome.
"Don't leave your video camera to do the work on its own. Autofocus is not friendly during a total solar eclipse due to the changing light." Amy Oliver

At B&H Photo, Steve Levine, senior product specialist, said he recommends shooting three-second to five-second clips of the sun every four to five minutes during the partial eclipse, before totality arrives, to allow for a time-lapse video. During totality, let the camera run the entire time. He also suggested filming a wide field-of-view to capture changing light levels, incoming or outgoing lunar shadows, and the crowd's reaction.

SEE: Video: How to watch the solar eclipse (TechRepublic)

Amy Oliver, NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador and NASA Total Solar Eclipse 2017 Subject Matter Expert, recommended double-checking the zoom capacity of your video camera. "Many handheld video cameras that people have at home sport a 50mm lens, although most have optical zoom. Without zoom the final video will show the sun as a pinprick with no coronal detail and a bunch of lost memories. Just like with taking still shots, the minimum focal length for capturing coronal detail—which is why you watch a total solar eclipse in the first place—is 200-300mm, so double check the capability ahead of time and practice, practice, practice on zooming in."

Oliver said, "Don't leave your video camera to do the work on its own. Autofocus is not friendly during a total solar eclipse due to the changing light. It is recommended to keep a close eye on the video camera throughout the duration of the event, not just for focusing issues but also because you have to remember to watch battery levels, and to remove and replace the solar filter [before] totality."

SEE: How to take the best photos of a solar eclipse: Tips from the pros (TechRepublic)

Capture video of the crowd viewing the eclipse

As with still photography, it's important to remember to capture the scene around you.

Patrick Clark, a NYC filmmaker, said, "The interesting thing to remember about video is that you can actually capture the social aspects of a solar eclipse—the awe, the dread, the encroaching path that the shadow makes across the environment. It's not often that you can film a real-life version of the sort of ominous lighting changes that they spend millions to fake in big-budget science-fiction films, so while the technical challenge of filming a solar eclipse can be fun, you also might be more interested in the actual effect of the eclipse on the world around you. Eclipses used to be seen as an act of god or sign of the end times—and in some circles still are—and video is perfect for documenting their psychological power."

Slavik Boyechko, video producer and blogger at Gear Dads, is based in Oregon and said that his state is treating the coming eclipse like a statewide emergency with millions of people descending on small, rural areas.

"And you can bet that those millions will all have their smartphones, DSLRs, and camcorders pointed right at the eclipse. Instead of taking yet another eclipse shot, why not point your camera at the people and the scene around you? Those photos and videos will be incredibly unique, and you'll enjoy looking back on the madness for years to come," Boyechko said.

Spyder Daniels, a videographer with Mad Monkey, said, "When filming the eclipse, do not forget to capture good audio as well. Quality sound could be easily overlooked during such a visual-based event. Whether it's the oohs and ahhs of people around you, or chirping crickets, these sounds will enhance your video quality."

David Makepeace, filmmaker and eclipse chaser behind the popular website eclipseguy.com, recommended setting up at least two or three smartphones on tripods to capture the scene with your friends and family as you view the eclipse. He suggested positioning one or two smartphones at an angle on the ground that will show the silhouettes of your friends during totality, with the eclipse in the background, and another one in front of the group to show their reactions to the eclipse.

"Show what it was like to actually be there," Makepeace said.

A GoPro is a great choice for documenting the eclipse, and whether you opt for a GoPro or a different video camera, set the lens to a wide angle to capture the entire scene, said Levi Dinkla, president of Digital Doc.

Make sure you still watch the eclipse

"Totality is so fast that it's possible to miss out on the show if you're focused on your high-tech gear, mobile device, camera, etc." Matthew Whitehouse

It's important to get everything set up in advance to minimize the need to tinker with photography and video equipment during the actual eclipse.

Matthew Whitehouse, observatory manager at the South Carolina State Museum, said, "Here at the South Carolina State Museum, we actually teach our guests to avoid gadgets, particularly during totality. Totality is so fast that it's possible to miss out on the show if you're focused on your high-tech gear, mobile device, camera, etc. Also, the experience of totality is so intense that people may find themselves suddenly foggy-brained and unable to use their gear effectively. This sounds like a joke, but many people who have experienced totality have written about how they suddenly couldn't think clearly and made goofy mistakes trying to use their tech."

Whitehouse added, "It seems super-counterintuitive in this techy, gadgety age, but the eclipse is best experienced in a low-tech way. You just need your eyes, eclipse glasses, a good viewing spot, and your family/friends. Leave the high-tech stuff to the eclipse pros with thousands of dollars (or more) worth of equipment."

There will be plenty of opportunity to view video from professionals if you choose to not create your own. For instance, NASA will be livestreaming on NASA TV on August 21 from 1-4 pm EDT while two WB-57 jets chasing the eclipse are shooting video at 50,000 feet. The Weather Channel will use a blend of augmented and mixed reality to take viewers inside the eclipse. And in Carbondale, IL, NASA is providing a 4.5 hour live telecast of the eclipse from the campus of SIU.

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About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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