Photographing eclipse without proper solar filter will damage camera sensors

Becky Campbell • Updated Aug 19, 2017 at 12:36 AM

As the nation readies for the coming solar eclipse, officials in a variety of professions continue to warn viewers not to look directly at the sun without proper eye protection.

Looking directly at the sun can burn the retina and create lifelong vision problems. But it isn’t just the eyes that need protection. Photography professionals have also issued warnings to those who might not know that the sun’s damaging rays pose similar danger for camera sensors.

Alan Broyles, director of operations for the Johnson City Press and a professional photographer, said a person’s eyes and camera need special protection.

“Do not photograph the eclipse unless you have a solar filter on the front of the lens,” Broyles said, even issuing the warning to Press employees tasked with taking photographs during the rare event. “The eyeglasses being sold are not considered solar filters. A camera lens magnifies the effect more, which could cause damage to the sensors in the camera just like it would in your eye.”

Specific manufacturer's warnings from Nikon and Canon give the same advice.

“Never point your camera into the sun without a special solar filter,” a Canon advisory stated. “All camera lenses need an accredited and approved solar filter mounted on the front of the lens. This includes super-telephoto lenses which normally rely on small, drop-in filters which fit into holders toward the rear of the lens. Even super-tele lenses require approved and properly-fitted solar filters, covering the front elements of these lenses. Not using a solar filter at eclipse magnifications can ruin your camera in seconds.”

Looking through a camera viewfinder will also damage the viewer’s eye, Broyles said.

It may be too late to purchase the specialized filters needed to photograph the eclipse, but just like there are different viewing options, there are also different options to photograph the event.

There are tips listed on various websites, including www.nasa.gov.

“While the sun is the most commanding element of an eclipse, remember to look around you,” the website suggests. “As the moon slips in front of the sun, the landscape will be bathed in long shadows, creating eerie lighting across the landscape. Light filtering through the overlapping leaves of trees, creating natural pinholes ... will also create mini eclipse replicas on the ground. Everywhere you can point your camera can yield exceptional imagery, so be sure to compose some wide-angle photos that can capture your eclipse experience.”

NASA photographer Bill Ingalls recommended focusing on the human experience of watching the eclipse.

“The real pictures are going to be of the people around you pointing, gawking and watching it,” Ingalls noted. “Those are going to be some great moments to capture to show the emotion of the whole thing.”

One last tip from professionals is not to use a flash as it will interfere with the experience of those around you.

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