How To Shoot The Solar Eclipse Without Frying Your Phone's Camera

A major solar eclipse is set to take place on August 21, and it will be visible across a major portion of the U.S. People from all over are planning to see it in person, and no doubt many will be hoping to capture it on camera for those sweet, sweet Instagram hearts. If you're among them, take heed: photographing a solar eclipse can be damaging to both your eyes and your phone's camera if you're not careful.

The key problem with amateurs attempting to photograph solar eclipses is that they often don't know what to expect or how to properly set up their system. Of course, you're going to need a tripod and a basic understanding of your phone's manual settings, but you're also going to need a key piece of equipment.

The controversy

First things first, know this: there's some controversy over whether a smartphone camera could be damaged by photographing a solar eclipse. NASA itself has some input on this controversy, pointing out the arguments for and against such worries. On one hand, your smartphone has a tiny lens and a tiny sensor, and that reality offers some level of protection that wouldn't be applicable to, for example, a DSLR.

On the other hand, not all phones are the same and neither are their cameras. While a budget phone probably has a very small lens and sensor, some of the latest flagships sport larger sensors and lenses, and this could be problematic. Compounding this fact is that such phones — the higher-end handsets with larger cameras, that is — often cost several hundred dollars.

Are you willing to risk your phone's camera to get a shot yourself? If yes, then just point and shoot and leave the rest to fate. If it's not worth the risk, you'll need to use a solar filter.

Solar Filter

A solar filter is exactly what it sounds like — it's basically the camera equivalent of solar eyeglasses, only it is designed to keep your camera sensor safe instead. Here to talk about the use of solar filters when photographing solar eclipses is Nikon USA, which explains, 'Full-aperture solar filters are the preferred filters of choice.' Finding one of these for your phone's camera can be tricky, though.

It's important to note that this filter is needed when portions of the sun are visible, but not during the eclipse's totality. In fact, NASA explains, 'There is no valid reason why you would want to point your smartphone camera at the brilliant, un-eclipsed sun without putting a filter over the lens.'

If you decide to be cautious and use a solar filter, your best option is a universal kit designed specifically for smartphones such as this. If you have a popular phone like the iPhone 7, you may be able to find a kit designed specifically for your phone, but otherwise you'll need a universal kit.

Keep in mind that with these universal kits, the fit may not be perfect on your camera and light may be able to leak through to ruin your shots — be sure to test it ahead of time and mask off any loose areas prone to light leaking.

NOTE! Be sure to buy only from qualified, reputable companies. Knock-off and fake filters may be cheaper, but they could cost you much more in the long run.

Protect your eyes!

More important than your phone's camera are your own eyes, both of which need to be protected by the appropriate solar eye gear. No, regular sunglasses will not work. There's no point in protecting your phone's camera if you put your eyesight at risk while getting the shot. NASA has a page dedicated to keeping yourself safe during the eclipse.

Wrap-up

The solar eclipse will be a great event for many, and one that you don't really need to photograph yourself — there will be many, many professional photos of the event to enjoy later on. If you're wanting to capture your own image, though, be sure to use the appropriate filters and caution to avoid damaging your phone's camera (and your eyes).