Why you need to plan now to photograph 2024's 'Great North American Eclipse'

Multiple combined exposures taken during the last total solar eclipse in the US on August 21, 2017.
Multiple combined exposures taken during the last total solar eclipse in the US on August 21, 2017. (Image credit: ESO/P. Horálek/Solar Wind Sherpas project)
Jamie Carter
Jamie Carter

Capturing the precious moments at the peak of a total solar eclipse is on the bucket list of most photographers, let alone astrophotographers – and the next one is in North America. Lasting just a few minutes, totality is when the moon moves across the sun to perfectly block its light, exposing the latter’s tenuous, textured outer atmosphere called the solar corona. 

On April 8, 2024, one of the longest totalities in over a decade will be visible from within a 120-mile-wide, 10,000-mile-long path of totality stretching from the Pacific coast of Mexico to the Atlantic coast of Canada via 15 US states. Meanwhile, the whole of North America will experience a partial solar eclipse. It’s going to be a massive event. 

What’s unusual about this solar eclipse

This will be the second total solar eclipse in the US since August 21, 2017, an event nicknamed the ‘Great American Eclipse’. However, totality during that event lasted 2 minutes 40 seconds but on April 8, 2024, the maximum duration is a whopping 4 minutes 27 seconds – plenty of time for photography! 

It will be the longest land-based totality anywhere on Earth since July 11 2010, which was visible on Easter Island. It will also be Mexico’s first total solar eclipse since July 11 1991, and Canada’s first since February 26, 1979.

There are a few other quirks. Pick any spot on Earth’s surface and, on average, it will experience a total eclipse of the sun every 375 years. However, on April 8, 2024, residents of part of Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky will experience their second totality in 6 years, 7 months, and 18 days. As well as this crossroads of the eclipses, it will arrive just five months and 25 days after a ‘ring of fire’ annular solar eclipse in the US. The Texas Hill Country – including Bandera, Kerrville, Uvalde and the Frio River – will see a ‘ring of fire’ on 14 October 2023 and experience totality on 8 April 2024. 

A time-sequence composite of the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse, running from left to right, from the last filtered partial phases shot, through unfiltered shots of the rapidly changing last glimmer of sunlight disappearing behind the advancing Moon at Second Contact, forming Baily's Beads, to totality at centre. The sequence continues at right with the Sun emerging from behind the Moon in a rapid sequence at Third Contact, followed by two post-totality filtered partials to bookend the total eclipse images. The C3 limb had a beautiful array of pink prominences. The Contact 2 and 3 images were taken in rapid-fire continuous mode and so are only fractions of a second apart in real time. Most are 1/4000sec exposures. The totality image is a blend of 7 exposures, from 1/1600sec to 1/15sec to preserve detail in the corona from inner to middle corona. The partials are 1/2500sec exposures through a Thousand Oaks metal-on-glass solar filter for the yellow color. The placement of the frames here only roughly matches the actual position and motion of the Sun across the sky during the time around totality. Partials and C2 and C3 images layered into Photoshop and blended into the background totality image with a Lighten blend mode, and masked to reveal just the wanted bits of each arc.  (Image credit: Alan Dyer / Stocktrek Images / Alamy)

Why you need to make a plan now

The 2017 eclipse was one of the most well-publicized, observed and photographed eclipses in history. However, there are reasons to believe that the 2024 eclipse will be a much bigger deal. It’s thought that 32 million people live inside the path of totality. That’s 20 million more than in 2017. Furthermore, since Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC are all within 200 miles of the path of totality, there could be a last-minute surge. Expect high crowds. 

The closer you stand to the center of the path of totality the longer the duration of totality. Click within this interactive Google Map to see the circumstances for specific locations.

How to plan a trip to shoot the eclipse

There are three major factors in choosing where to be to photograph any total solar eclipse. Here’s what you need to think about: 

Attending large spectator gatherings such as Lowell Observatory’s Eclipse Over Texas event at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas or at the NASA-sponsored event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be excellent for crowd shots and people’s reactions, but they may be a mistake if you intend to set up a camera/cameras on tripods. You might find roped-off areas at such events that make it relatively easy, but it’s never guaranteed. Besides, even if there’s less chance of your tripod being kicked it’s unlikely you’ll find a good foreground at big events for context shots. 

Although it’s tempting to zoom in on totality with a 600mm lens, the more interesting and memorable shots tend to feature the weird-looking mid-totality sky and a totally eclipsed sun around an interesting foreground subject. 

Previous examples include a dinosaur, an observatory and a scheduled flight. Scouting-out good locations with unusual or interesting foregrounds ahead of time is a good idea, but don’t forget to have a shortlist rather than a favored location because by far the most important factor is the weather. After all, a cloudy sky during the eclipse will render this a non-event, photographically-speaking, yes, it will get dark – actually much darker under clouds than if the sky is clear – but you won’t get to photograph the eclipsed sun. 

Where will the best weather be? 

Bright red prominences – loops of plasma flowing up from the sun's surface – captured during totality on July 2, 2019.

Bright red prominences – loops of plasma flowing up from the sun's surface – captured during totality on July 2, 2019. (Image credit: ESA/CESAR)

That’s unknown and all you can do in advance is look at the climate and historical weather conditions in early April for all regions of the path of totality.  April is not the perfect time for this eclipse in the US, where it’s thunderstorm season in the midwest and where snow may still be around in the northwest, ditto maritime Canada. 

Eclipse meteorologist Jay Anderson, on his website Eclipsophile, ultimately concludes that the most likely locations to be clear are in Mexico, where April is the final month of the winter dry season. There’s just a 25-35% chance of cloud at Mazatlán on the Pacific Coast, which reaches about 50% for Texas. Many dedicated eclipse-chasers will therefore travel to Mazatlán, Durango and Torreón, while those wanting to stay in the US will be in Texas, primarily in its Hill Country area between Uvalde and Fredericksburg, a region that has the best chance of a clear sky in the US

But that’s the climate. What the weather will be on the day is a complete unknown. This is why it’s best to have wheels (rent a car now!), read local weather forecasts – which are incredibly detailed for all areas of the US – and be prepared to drive a long distance the day before the eclipse. Making a plan to camp or sleep in the car is the best way to maximize your chances of seeing this (and any) total solar eclipse. 

Suggested observing locations

The path of totality on April 8, 2024, through the US, Canada and Mexico (Image credit: Michael Zeiler/GreatAmericanEclipse.com)

Note that if you want only to capture close-ups of the solar corona it matters not where you observe from – you just need clear skies – which some of these locations are ideal for. However, if you want to be somewhere special to attempt wide-angle images with a sense of place then you’ll also find some tempting locations:

1. Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico
Totality from this seaside town – complete with a historic district and the highest lighthouse in the Americas – occurs at 11:07 am MST for 4 minutes 20 seconds with the sun 69º above the southeast horizon. 

2. Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico
Totality from this large city on the arid Mexican Plateau occurs at 12:16 pm MST for 4 minutes 9 seconds with the sun 70º above the south-southeast horizon.

3. Fredericksburg, Texas
Totality from the most famous Texas Hill Country town occurs at 1:32 pm CDT with the sun 67º above the southern horizon for 4 minutes 25 seconds. The town is getting organized for the influx. 

4. Dallas, Texas
Totality from this city of skyscrapers and 1.3 million people occurs at 1:40 pm CDT with the sun 65º above the southern horizon for 3 minutes 52 seconds. 

5. Beavers Bend State Park, Oklahoma
Totality from this, one of seven state parks in Oklahoma in the path of totality, occurs at 1:44 pm CDT 63º with the sun above the south-southwest horizon for 4 minutes 13 seconds. 

6. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
Totality from these ancient thermal springs occurs at 1:49 pm CDT with the sun 62º above the south-southwest horizon for 3 minutes 38 seconds. An event is being organized

7. Cape Girardeau, Missouri
Totality from this historic town occurs at 1:58 pm CDT with the sun 57.5º above the south-southwest horizon for 4 minutes 7 seconds.

8. Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois
Totality from the Southern Illinois Crossroads Eclipse Festival occurs at 1:59 pm CDT 57º above the south-southwest horizon for 4 minutes 9 seconds. 

9. Niagara Falls, Canada
Totality from the Niagara River’s western shore (overlooking Horseshoe Fall) occurs at 3:18 pm EDT with the sun 46º above the southwest horizon for 3 minutes 31 seconds. 

10. Mont Mégantic Observatory, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada
Totality at this astronomical observatory occurs at 3:28 pm EDT 38.5º above the west-southwest horizon for 3 minutes 28 seconds. An event is being planned

When is the next total solar eclipse after 2024?

The next total solar eclipse will occur on 12 August 2026 across Greenland, Iceland and northern Spain. Europe’s first totality since 1999, observing locations will include the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and Reykjavik in Iceland and León, Burgos and Zaragoza in Spain. From Mallorca in the Balearics, an eclipsed sunset will be visible. The maximum duration of totality will be 2 minutes and 18 seconds off the coast of Iceland. The British Isles will see a substantial partial solar eclipse, with Dursey Island in Eire seeing a 97.88% partial eclipse while Belfast and Cardiff (93%), London (91%) and Edinburgh (90%). 

All timings are from timeanddate.com. Exact timings for specific points on the map are available on Xavier Jubier’s interactive Google Map

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Jamie Carter

Jamie has been writing about all aspects of technology for over 14 years, producing content for sites like TechRadar, T3, Forbes, Mashable, MSN, South China Morning Post, and BBC Wildlife, BBC Focus and BBC Sky At Night magazines. 

As the editor for www.WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com, he has a wealth of enthusiasm and expertise for all things astrophotography, from capturing the Perseid Meteor Shower, lunar eclipses and ring of fire eclipses, photographing the moon and blood moon and more.

He also brings a great deal of knowledge on action cameras, 360 cameras, AI cameras, camera backpacks, telescopes, gimbals, tripods and all manner of photography equipment.