The northern hemisphere is about to get a solar eclipse. A rare celestial event where a New Moon slips precisely between the Earth and the Sun, what happens today (10 June 2021) will look drastically different depending on your location on the planet. From some locations this eclipse will look like a dramatic ‘ring of fire’ around the Sun with an annular eclipse, though most of North America, the Arctic, Europe and Russia will see a partial solar eclipse.
What will you see from where you are? What do you need to think about if you want to photograph it? And how do you stay safe while trying to image the Sun? Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming eclipse of the Sun…
When and where is the solar eclipse?
Visit Timeanddate.com to find out exactly what you’ll see from your location, and the local timings. Technically speaking, what happens on 10 June, 2021 is an annular solar eclipse (not an annual solar eclipse, as is often mis-reported). Annular simply means ring-shaped, which is what observers standing beneath a 430 miles-wide path across the Earth’s surface will see.
For a maximum of 3 minutes and 51 seconds it will be possible for photographers in Canada’s remote northern Ontario, Quebec and Nunavut regions, eastern Greenland and over the North Pole to eastern Russia to image a ‘ring of fire’ around the Moon as 89% of our star is blocked by our natural satellite.
For anyone either side of that path the event will be a partial solar eclipse, from where the Moon will appear to take a bite out of the Sun. Your distance from that path through Canada, Greenland and Russia determines how much of the Sun will be blocked by the Moon, and at what time of day. In northeast U.S. states and eastern Canada a huge partial solar eclipse will occur at sunrise, while in the UK and Europe a much smaller partial solar eclipse event takes place in late morning.
Either way, this is a big event; North America hasn't seen a solar eclipse of any kind since 2017, while Europe hasn't experienced anything like this since 2015. It’s also a potentially dangerous event, especially for those touting cameras.
Why you MUST use solar filters on your camera
The Sun’s infrared and ultraviolet rays are incredibly dangerous. At no point on 10 June 10 will the Sun’s light be blocked anywhere near enough for observers to look at the event with unprotected eyes or equipment. You must use solar eclipse glasses to look at this event and put solar filters on the front of any telescope, binoculars or camera lens. Don’t look through your camera’s optical viewfinder; use the LCD screen.
Solar filters from SeymourSolar, Thousands Oaks Optical and Baader are available, including options to purchase solar film so you can make your own filters. Traditional filter manufacturers such as LEE, Marumi, Hitech and Hoya also make special neutral density filters that are dark enough to use as solar eclipse filters.
Where, when and how to plan a shot of the solar eclipse
Travel restrictions within Canada, let alone between it and other countries, will prevent almost eclipse-chasers and photographers from attempting to capture the ‘ring of fire’ on June 10, 2021. However, positioning is everything wherever you see this eclipse from; North Americans will have to find a place where they can see the northeast horizon at sunrise while Europeans will see a much less eclipsed Sun much higher in the sky. You can work out exactly what you’ll see, when, and where it will be in the daytime sky using an eclipse calculator that only needs your location. For a more global understanding of what’s happening (and with handy links to PeakFinder so you can check out your horizon) consult an interactive Google Map of this eclipse. The Photographer’s Ephemeris or PhotoPills can help you plan a shot in exquisite detail.
“The challenge with any location in northwestern Ontario is that it is all rocks and trees, so finding a site with a low and clear horizon to the northeast will be tough,” says Canadian astrophotographer Alan Dyer, author of Nightscapes. “Pick sites as best you can and arrive a few days prior to the eclipse to check them out in person. Have alternate sites planned in case the Plan A site is not usable for some reason.” That advice stands wherever you plan to shoot from, though Europeans can probably make do with their back garden (clear skies allowing).
How to photograph the partial solar eclipse
Get hold of a solar filter. If you don't then this project is a nonstarter. The exact type you get will determine what color the Sun looks in your image; blue or yellow-orange. It would also be helpful to get the longest telephoto lens you can find; 300mm will suffice, but 600mm is better (see best 150-600mm lenses).
A 1.4x extender will bump up the focal length (see best teleconverters), but it may be at the cost of sharpness. Set the aperture to between f/5.6 and f/8. With your camera and long lens on a tripod, use your LCD screen on ‘live view’ to find the eclipsed Sun and then auto-focus on the edge of the Moon.
Put your camera into manual mode to lock that focus, set to ISO 100 and try shutter speeds of between 1/500sec to 1/1000sec. Consider bracketing either side of 1/500sec). That’s some basic settings, but you’ll need to experiment – preferably beforehand – to learn what works for your camera and the sky conditions. Always shoot in the raw format, and use a shutter release or intervalometer so you can keep the entire rig perfectly still.
How to photograph the solar eclipse from North America
Whether or not you’re in the right place for a ‘ring of fire’ or just a partially eclipsed Sun, everyone in North America will have a challenging time. “If you are shooting the eclipse at sunrise, then the first requirement is a site with a flat, unobstructed horizon to the northeast, perhaps with some scenic foreground feature if it's a unique photo you are after,” says Dyer. He advises scouting a site on the mornings prior to the eclipse to take test shots with the gear you plan to use, as the exposures on the mornings before the eclipse won’t be too different than on eclipse day if the weather is the same.
Even for the well prepared, this eclipse is going to be tricky. “Sunrise eclipses are a challenge, not only because of the high prospect of clouds or haze, but because the Sun can be too bright to shoot well without a filter but too dim to shoot with a normal solar filter,” he adds. That solar filter is absolutely required for all stages of the eclipse once the Sun rises high enough to be at its normal brightness – and that includes the ‘ring of fire’.
How to photograph the solar eclipse from the UK
Things are different in Europe, where all photographers will need a solar filter whatever the weather. In London the eclipse peaks at 11:13am BST on June 10, 2021 when 20% of the Sun will be eclipsed. In Cardiff it’s 22% at 11:08am, in Edinburgh it’s 31% at 11:17 am and in Belfast it’s 30% at 11:11am. It will happen at an altitude of 50º-55°, so over halfway up in the southeastern daytime sky. Finding a low horizon won’t be necessary.
Future solar eclipses
If the weather doesn’t play nice, or it proves too technical, there’s always another eclipse. In North America that happens again on 14 October, 2023 when another ‘ring of fire’ crosses the southwest U.S. states. Better still, on 08 April, 2024 a total solar eclipse will blast across North America. For Europeans the next partial solar eclipses will happen on 25 October, 2022 and 29 March, 2025.
Jamie Carter is editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com