Photographing people during the eclipse?
August 17, 2017 12:37 PM   Subscribe

I won't be spending the eclipse snapping away instead of enjoying it, but I'd like to get a quick picture of our family. The eclipse photography guides seem to focus on the sun itself. I have an SLR and a couple of lenses to choose from.

I've got a a tripod, no shutter release, and a choice of a 50mm f/1.4 or 50-200mm f/4-5.6 telephoto. My crop-sensor SLR does have RAW output and exposure bracketing. I was thinking about setting everything up beforehand in full manual mode: focus, exposure, aperture, and ISO. Then I'd just have to set the timer and go. I would try taking the same picture the night before. I'm assuming no flash, just a longish exposure. But what settings should I use? My tripod is about a foot high, I think that's going to be hard to set up so that it's pointed high enough in the sky if I'm using the 200mm focal length.But the fast lens isn't going to help a lot because I want a fairly narrow aperture to get some focus on the sun. If this is a bad idea I'm also willing to entertain the idea that I should skip it entirely. Thanks!
posted by wnissen to Science & Nature (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If this were me - and I'm just shooting from the hip here - I'd do it in Av / aperture priority mode with the 50mm.

I would go out the day before at the same time of day to get an idea where the sun will be in the shot. Stage it with a person if you have time. Try not to spend too much time looking through your viewfinder if you're using a DSLR, but get the shot framed up. Take an exposure if you want, you won't hurt your camera by taking a regular quick exposure of the sun.

Does it give you the composition that you want? Do you have person + sun in recognizable amounts?

If so, then great. You're set for tomorrow. Put the tripod in the same spot. Set your camera to aperture priority and go for something at least f/8 if not even narrower. Here's the key - tell your camera to manually under-expose by at least a stop, if not 1.5 stops. If you have exposure bracketing then start at -1.5 and bracket so that it's something like -2, -1.5, -1.

Point is: if you take your camera out at night and just push the button it's going to take a longer exposure and try to do what it thinks is right, which results in a scene that looks over-exposed to our eyes because we expect the scene to look dark. All you're doing here is telling the camera "it's okay that it's dark, don't worry about it."

My old Canon DSLR would handle a 12-second timer with 3 bracketed exposures, which is exactly what I would use here. Hopefully your camera has something similar.

and now I'll step back and let a real professional come along and give a better answer.
posted by komara at 1:44 PM on August 17, 2017

Coming back to add: if you're within the path of the totality then it should register as full dark when the eclipse happens. If so, then your inclination to do a test shot at night is the right way to go. You can determine just how much you want to under-expose, whether or not bracketing will help, and most importantly: what light sources exist that you're not mentally accounting for? It's weird how that street light almost half a block away will add some gross green color to your night shot and you don't even realize it until the exposure's done. Or now you'll know you [do want to / do not want to] screw in your porch light bulb to [add / prevent] illumination on your subjects' faces.
posted by komara at 1:48 PM on August 17, 2017

Is your goal to get the eclipse in the photo? It's going to be really tricky to get the eclipse in the photo and not have it be super tiny and exposed improperly.

My short answer is guess and check. Find one person to help you, put your camera on a high ISO (1600-6400) and test with exposure bracketing using Aperture priority mode, and maybe on-camera flash, until the photo seems right. Understand that the exposures might be as long as several seconds depending on how dark it is, and folks need to stand still during that time.

I am not a portrait photographer, so this is very much a guess. If you're not getting the eclipse in the photo, then you're basically taking a night shot, and you can practice that ahead of time. If you do want the eclipse in the photo and don't mind if it looks really small, you might change your camera to spot or evaluative/matrix metering and focus on the people. But be aware that the eclipse will probably be overexposed and maybe not super visible.

If you want both the eclipse and the people in the shot and both exposed correctly, my guess would be that you're looking at doing a composite image in Photoshop, or some combination of a telephoto lens, off camera flash and the correct angle from camera to people to eclipse.

As mentioned above, exposure bracketing is a must here. Additionally, if you have a mirrorless camera, you might be able to get a preview of the image before you take it. Turn your ISO up, as the exposure may be too long for people to stand still. Sorry this isn't terribly specific. Hopefully someone has a better answer! Good luck!

One final idea. You could intentionally setup a long exposure behind the family and have them stay in the same spot, but not necessarily stand still. It'd be tricky, but you might be able to pull off some cool motion blur. In this case, use Shutter Priority mode, let the camera expose and then take exposures with both a longer and shorter shutter speed for more or less blur. (Lower ISO for more blur). You wouldn't be able to see anyone's face, but it could be interesting! Search Google for long exposure people to see examples.
posted by cnc at 3:47 PM on August 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you want to get the sun to look decent-sized, stand far away from your family and use a telephoto lens such that your family looks normal-sized. The sun will look bigger that way. Probably still pretty small (not like if you zoomed way in o the eclipse itseld) and your composition might get weird depending how much telephoto you use, but that's the general direction that I'd be thinking in. Definitely use exposure bracketing, the sun (even eclipsed) and your family will have vastly different brightnesses.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:32 PM on August 17, 2017

So! We got out there, totality was great, traffic was unbelieveable. I was able to find a small hill to elevate the people in the picture, but it still wasn't enough to get the sun in the picture. Plus I screwed up my camera settings because it wasn't possible to do both exposure bracketing and a 2 second timer. And I didn't have it quite composed so the one picture I have doesn't have the sun in it at all and just shows a few very happy people at twilight. Anyway. Someone else got a few properly-bracketed snaps of us, but the sun is super tiny because it was more of a wide angle shot. Thanks for all your help.
posted by wnissen at 11:43 AM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

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