Tag Archives: photography

Smartphone Photography of the April 8, 2024 Eclipse

Many people, including me, will try to capture some images of the eclipse on Monday, April 8. This blog is aimed at people in the Greater Washington DC area who will experience a partial eclipse. If you travel 6 hours due-west of Washington DC you will be on the Path of Totality and your experiences will be dramatically different.

In the Washington DC area, the eclipse will start at 2:04 PM with the dark lunar disk taking its first little bite out of the solar disk, and end at 4:33 PM as the moon leaves the disk. The maximum partial eclipse will occur at 3:20 PM when the moon will block about 89% of the solar disk. Here’s what that looks like:

You will notice a rapid darkening of the daylight sunshine so that instead of the normal mid-afernoon sun it will look more like early twilight for about 5-10 minutes before the daylight finally starts to return.


This is a partial eclipse. Only use approved ‘eclipse glasses’ and not sunglasses. You will not be able to see the fabulous corona unless you are on the path of Totality.

I know it is tempting, but good photography practice is NOT to point your camera at the sun with no filter…including your smartphone. Smartphones have faint light meters for twilight photography and you run the risk of damaging this meter so that you may not be able to take low-light-level photos anymore.

Manage your expectations. You will not see the corona that everyone talks about. With your Eclipse Glasses you will see a sequence of partial stages that look something like this. This was taken by NASA/Noah Moran at the Johnson Space Center during the August 21, 2017 eclipse which was only a partial eclipse over Houston, TX. Also, instead of seeing a super-huge image with the naked eye, you will only see a disk as large as the full moon in the night sky.

Smartphone Photography Tips.

  1. On sunday at 3:30 pm go outside and check that your viewing location will give you a good view of the sun. Put on your Eclipse Glasses and check that your view of the solar disk is unobscurred. The higher the sun is above the clutter at your chosen location the better your experience will be.
  2. On Friday, Saturday or Sunday before the eclipse, place one of the lenses of the Eclipse Glasses over the selfi-camera lens located at the top edge of your smartphone just below the center of the top edge.
  3. Start-up your camera and place it in selfi mode.
  4. With the sun’s disk over your left or right sholder, check that your camera display shows a bright orange disk of the sun and adjust your camera angle so that the disk is centered and unobstructed by your head.
  5. Your camera should automatically be able to focus on the edge of the sun disk and set the camera’s exposure. This photo on a cloudy morning on Friday April 4 without editing was automatically taken by my iPhone 13 Pro camera at 1/15 of a second at an ISO of 1600.

With no clouds, the sun disk should be crisp with a good clean edge. You may need to experiment with the manual focus if your camera allows you to do this.

6. You might want to experiment with manipulating this test image of the filtered sun to get the best clarity and background. With stray clouds this is a challenge as the image below, adjusted with Photoshop, shows. I adjusted the brightness and contrast.

The crispness of the solar disk was compromized by the diffusing of sunlight in the foreground clouds. You will have a better experience if there are no clouds in the way. To get an idea of what this optimal picture would look like in selfie-mode, here is an image of the moon taken by my iPhone 13 Pro in selfie mode. You will see a similar-sized solar disk with the filter covering the selfi camera lens but you will only see the sun disk and not the foreground trees etc. This was the best focus my camera in this mode was able to provide with its smaller lens.

A second mode of solar photography is to take your camera out of ‘selfie’ mode and use the normal forward camera. It has better lenses and resolution than the selfie camera. Here is an example of a photo of the moon taken in this mode. Notice that the lunar disk is much clearer. Your eclipse picture in this mode will have the same clarity but of course the sky and foreground will be completely black through the filter.

The set-up for a higher-resolution direct image requires some preparation. You might want to create a sun shield out of foamboard that covers a 1-foot x 1-foot area.

Cut out a square hole in the center that your camera lens can peak through as shown in the left-hand image.

Cover the camera lens opening with the Eclipse Glasses filter and secure all pieces in place with tape as shown in the middle picture.

When you want to photograph the sun, start up your camera in its normal ‘forward’ mode and place it over the filter opening as shown in the right-hand image. Keep your eye close to the camera display so that your head is shadowed by the shield. If you want, you can secure your smartpone to the foamboard with tape, but be sure that you place a 3×5 index card over the display so that you don’t get glue on it. Otherwise, you can hold the camera to the filter opening manually.

As before, your camera should be able to automatically focus on the eclipsed solar disk to give you the best clarity your particular camera is able to provide.

Good luck…but make sure you take the time to enjoy the eclipse and not worry about getting a perfect photo with your smartphone!!!

That was then, this is now!

Back in the 1960s when I began my interest in astronomy, the best pictures we had of the nine planets were out of focus black and white photos. I am astonished how far we have come since then and decided to devote this blog to a gallery of the best pictures I could find of our solar system neighbors! First, let’s have look at the older photos.

First we have Mercury, which is never very far from pour sun and a very challenging telescopic object.

Above is what mars looked like! Then we have Jupiter and Saturn shown below.

Among the hardest and most mysterious objects were Uranus shown here. I will not show a nearly identical telescopic view of Uranus.

Finally we come to Pluto, which has always been a star-like object for most of the 20th century.

These blurry but intriguing images were the best we could do for most of the 20th century, yet they were enough to encourage generations of children to become astronomers and passionately explore space. The features of mercury were mere blotches of differing shaded of gray. Uranus, Neptune were slightly resolvable to reveal faint details, and distant Pluto remained completely star-like and unresolved, yet we knew it was its own world many thousands of kilometers across. Mars continued to reveal its tantalizing blotchy features that came and went with the seasons along with the ebb and flow of its two polar ice caps. Jupiter was a banded world with its Great Red Spot, but the details of these atmospheric bands was completely hidden in the optical smearing of our own atmosphere. Saturn possessed some large bands, and its majestic ring system could be seen in rough detail but never resolved into its many components. As for the various moons of these distant worlds, they were blurry disks or star-like spots and never revealed their details.

The advent of the Space Program in the 1960s, and the steady investment in spacecraft to ‘fly by’ these planets led to progressively higher and higher resolution images starting with Mariner 4 in 1965 and its historic encounter with Mars, revealing a cratered, moonlike landscape. The Pioneer spacecraft in the early 1970s gave us stunning images of Jupiter, followed by the Voyager spacecraft encounters with the outer planets and their moons. Magellan orbited Venus and with its radar system mapped the surface to show a dynamic and volcanic surface that is permanently hidden beneath impenetrable clouds. Finally in 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft gave us the first clear images of distant Pluto. Meanwhile, many return trips to our own moon have mapped its surface to 2-meter resolution, while the MESSSENGER spacecraft imaged the surface of Mercury and mapped its many extreme geological features. Even water ice has been detected on mercury and the moon to slacken the thirst of future explorers.

For many of the planets, we have extreme close up images too!
Jupiter’s south pole from the Juno spacecraft shows a bewildering field of tremendous hurricanes each almost as large as Earth, swirling about aimlessly in a nearly motionless atmosphere.

Pluto details a few hundred meters across. Can you come up with at least ten questions you would like answers for about what you are seeing?

Here is one of thousands of typical views from the Martian surface. Check out the rocks strewn across the field. Some are dark and pumice-like while others are white and granite-looking. ‘Cats and dogs living together’. What’s going on here?

The Venera 13 image shown below from the surface of Venus is unique and extremely puzzling from a surface that is supposed to be hotter than molten lead.

We also have images from a multitude of moons, asteroids and comets!
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter gave us 2-meter resolution images of the entire lunar surface allowing us to revisit the Apollo landing sites once more:

The dramatic canyons and rubble fields of a comet were brought into extreme focus by the Rosetta mission

Even Saturn’s moon Titan has been explored to reveal its extensive liquid nitrogen tributaries

This bewildering avalanche of detail has utterly transformed how we view these worlds and the kinds of questions we can now explore. If you compare what we knew about Pluto before 2015 when it was little more than a peculiar ‘star in the sky’, to the full-color detailed orb we now see, you can imagine how science progresses by leaps and bounds through the simple technique of merely seeing the object more clearly. It used to be fashionable to speculate about Pluto when all we knew was its size, mass and density and they it had a thin atmosphere. But now we are delightfully challenged to understand this world as the dynamic place that it is with mountains of ice, continent-sized glaciers, and nitrogen snow. And of course, the mere application of improved resolution now lets us explore the entire surface of our moon with the same clarity as an astronaut hovering over its surface from a height of a few dozen feet!

We Old-Timers have had a wonderful run in understanding our solar system as we transitioned from murky details to crystal clarity. All of the easy low-hanging fruit of theory building and testing over the last century has been accomplished for the most-part. Now the ever more challenging work of getting the details straight begins, and will last for another century at least. When you can tele-robotically explore planetary and asteroidal surfaces, or perform on-the-spot microscopic assays of minerals, what incredible new questions will emerge? Is there life below the surface of Europa? Why does Mars belch forth methane gas in the summer? Can the water deposits on the moon be mined? Is Pluto’s moon Charon responsible for the tidal heating of an otherwise inert Pluto?
One can only wonder!

Check back here on Tuesday, April 18 for my next topic!