It will be possible to safely photograph the Aug. 21 solar eclipse with your smartphone – or any camera, really – provided you have the right equipment and timing.
When one is in the path of totality – the time span in which the moon is directly in front of the sun – there's no need for a lens filter or eclipse glasses for your eyes to safely view what promises to be a memorable sight. In fact, during totality a lens filter would distort your pictures.
But that time of totality will vary depending on location, so one should be aware how much time they have before they need to make adjustments to safely view and photograph the sun as it starts to peek back out from behind the moon. Staring directly into the sun, even during a partial eclipse, can damage the eyes – and lens.
For those partial eclipse phases, “With any kind of lens, don't do it unless you have a special filter,” advises Brian Davidson, a freelance photographer who has done many assignments for The Examiner and plans to be in the longest-timed path of totality that day.
"Any kind of lens" includes a pair of binoculars, and even a smartphone with its small lens. In that case, holding eclipse glasses in front of the phone will work, though to be safe one should also wear a pair themselves or look away and take a picture blind, Davidson said.
To safely practice using your smartphone before Aug. 21, Davidson recommends taking pictures of the moon.
“If they want to know the best way and how it will fill the frame, shoot the moon at night,” he said. “You don't need a filter or safety glasses.”
It should be noted that limited exposure capabilities mean a smartphone picture during full totality likely won't be sharp.
For more professional cameras, proper filters still can be purchased online if you don't have one already – better to use the fastest shipping available. Davidson said putting welder's glass in front of a camera will work for the lens, but not your eyes, so have those eclipse glasses, as well. The American Astronomical Society says the welder’s glass strength needed for solar viewing (shade No. 14) typically can’t be found in stores.
With such cameras and lenses, Davidson also says to use caution with how long you point the lens at the sun, even with a filter, to avoid burning something due to magnifying the sun's rays.
No matter what, one should never directly look into the sun without those eclipse glasses. “But during full totality,” Davidson said, “they should be fine."