How To Take Photos of the Sun with your DSLR
- By: Luis Argerich
In the coming days the Sun will get a lot of attention. On May 20th, the US west coast will be able to see an annular eclipse of the Sun and then on June 5/6 Venus will transit the disc of the Sun, an event that will only be repeated in 105 years. In this article I will present basic information on how to photograph these events and the Sun in general using a DSLR camera.
The most important thing about viewing and photographing the Sun is eye-safety. Never attempt to see the Sun thru any optical instrument without proper filtration otherwise permanent damage to the eye will happen if you are not careful.
There are several filters that can be used to view and photograph the Sun; a cheap and effective alternative is a filter made of solar filter sheet (Mylar). These filters will block UV and IR radiation and will only let a minimum amount of visible light pass thru. They are safe for viewing and photographing the sun as long as the filter is in perfect condition without tears or punctures. You can buy an already made filter or make your own. The Baader astrosolar sheet is one of the many options you have. There are other filters available and usually if it’s safe for your eye it’s safe for your camera. Buy good quality filters from telescope & astronomy shops. Think that if a filter is safe for your eye thru a telescope then your camera sensor will be perfectly safe.
For extra security don’t look at the Sun thru the camera viewfinder, use live-view.
Try to use a long focal length, longer the better, and a tripod. You will be quickly surprised; finding the Sun using a filter with a long lens it’s not very easy. The sky will be pitch black except for the disk of the Sun, use the shadow of your camera/lens from a tripod as a quick approximation and then quickly scan the area using live-view until you find the Sun.
Once you’ve found the sun, focus manually using live-view. Then find a normal exposure by taking some test shots and if you want to be extra careful bracket different exposures. The sun will move fast with a long lens so make sure to follow it around using your tripod head.
After taking the shots you will see that the sun is white with the sky pitch black. To adjust the color of the Sun just change the white balance when you process your RAW files. For the sky you can leave it black or replace it using a shot of just the sky opposite the Sun, your choice.
Practice a lot with the Sun every day before May’s eclipse or the transit of Venus to see what you can do and then decide what kind of photo you want for each event. Make sure you check and double check the weather, the visibility of the event, and the location because if you are not at the right place at the right time then you’ve missed your chance.
A simple solar filter can turn your DSLR and telephoto lens into a solar astrophotography tool. You can use it for Sunspots, for ISS transits or for special events like the ones mentioned in this article. The best thing about solar photography is that your target spends a lot of time in the sky ready for your photos every sunny day. Enjoy!