How to photograph the ‘ring of fire’ solar eclipse

First published:
June 2, 2021
February 12, 2024

How to photograph the ‘ring of fire’ solar eclipse

First published:
June 2, 2021
February 12, 2024

Cover image by Tom Duffin

Here's how you can photograph a 'ring of fire' solar eclipse

The partial solar eclipse will be the first one visible from Europe since 2015 and the first from North America since 2017 (when about 215 million people watched), though don’t confuse it with that year’s total solar eclipse.

In fact, this event is very similar in terms of the cause – the Moon drifting in front of the Sun – but the effect is very different. Instead of a totally eclipsed Sun, what will  type of partial solar eclipse called an annular eclipse.

The main difference is a brief and stunning ‘ring of fire' around the Moon, though that will only be visible from a narrow track across the planet. The Moon’s monthly orbit around Earth is slightly elliptical, and during the eclipse the Moon will be at its farthest from Earth. Consequently it’s at its smallest in the sky so can only cover 90% of the Sun.

So who will see it, and what will they see? Those within a 430-miles wide track beginning in far north Ontario in Canada and crossing Greenland then into eastern Russia will see a ‘ring of fire’ for a maximum of 3 minutes 51 seconds, though even that must be viewed through solar eclipse glasses and cameras must wear special solar filters.

Seeing the ‘ring of fire’ will require a carefully planned trip into remote areas, but those in parts of North America and Europe will be able to see a partial solar eclipse across a wide area. In will occur just after sunrise in northeastern US, with New York City and Boston experiencing a 72% eclipse of the Sun that peaks at 5:32 a.m. EST just 20 minutes after sunrise. In the UK it will be possible to see up to 32% of the Sun eclipsed by the Moon at around 11:00 a.m. BST, so much higher in the sky.

Here are some of our top tips to get you a rare shot of a partially eclipsed Sun.

Edinburgh solar eclipse 2015 at Salisbury Crags
What will happen on 10 June 2021 will be a type of partial solar eclipse called an annular eclipse. Those in North America and Europe will be able to see it across a wide area. Image by Tom Duffin

1 Staying safe

Do not look at the eclipse with your naked eyes. You must use solar eclipse glasses.
Solar eclipses can be incredibly dangerous because of the Sun’s infrared and ultra-violet rays. Although some will see a ‘ring of fire’ and others a big or small chunk taken out of the Sun, the fact is that everyone will see an a partial eclipse of the Sun so at no point will the Sun and its intense light be blocked. That means everyone must take safety precautions to avoid permanent damage to your eyesight and to your camera.

Real solar eclipse on March 20, 2015 through solar eclipse glasses
Safety first: You must always use solar eclipse glasses when looking at the eclipse - never look at the eclipse with your naked eyes. Image by Rhyhor Bruyeu
Author tip:

You must also never look at a partially eclipsed Sun directly through any optical equipment. That including binoculars, telescopes and cameras. Above all, do not look at the eclipse through your camera’s optical viewfinder. You must use solar filters (which you can purchase) or fashion your own using solar film such as an A4 sheet of Baader Planetarium AstroSolar Film. Another option is to use a dense ND filter rated 5.0 – that’s 16.5 Stops. 

2 Gear you’ll need and basic settings

In terms of the gear you’ll need, reckon on a DSLR or mirrorless camera on a tripod and the longest lens you can get your hand on. The bigger the lens, the better, though you can also crop to zoom later, so 300m is enough to work with. You’ll also need a solar or ND filter on that lens at all times. Set your camera to ISO 100 and keep the shutter speeds rapid; about 1/1000 on f/5.6 to f/8, but experiment until you’re happy with your shot. Always shoot in RAW so you can post-process your images later in editing software.

October 23, 2014 partial solar eclipse from Vancouver, Canada. Image shows large sunspot cluster.
Make sure you're well practiced with the gear you need, and also the exposure setup in order to get the most out of the short time you'll be able to see the eclipse
Author tip:

Your camera’s LCD screen is your best friend during solar eclipses. It’s the only safe way to compose and review shots of the eclipse, which is too dangerous to look at through your camera’s optical viewfinder. It’s also helpful for making your images tack-sharp. Once the eclipse has begun, autofocus on the Moon’s edge on the Sun and then lock it by switching to manual focus. Take some images and zoom in on them on that LCD screen to check their sharpness, then make manual adjustments until you’re happy. 

3 Where and when to photograph a ‘ring of fire’

If you’re in North America this eclipse is going to be very low on the eastern horizon just minutes after sunrise. For example, from the northern shore of Lake Superior in Canada, the ‘ring of fire’ eclipse will be visible virtually on the eastern horizon at sunrise. Those in the northeastern US will see a deep partial eclipse visible just after sunrise.

This is going to require a lot of planning because you need
an obstruction-free horizon. Those after a ‘ring of fire’ eclipse will need to plan very carefully to avoid missing the spectacle altogether, though a sunrise-proximity ‘ring of fire’ eclipse is a big (if uncertain) prize. Safer options, in terms of seeing the ‘ring of fire’ at all, include flying into Polar Bear Provincial Park on Hudson Bay where the ‘ring of fire’ will be visible a few degrees above the eastern horizon. Another option is to take an organised tour to Nunavik in Quebec, Canada or to Qaanaaq in Greenland, where the eclipse will be much higher in the sky. Regardless of where you try to see the ‘ring of fire’, the process of actually shooting it remains exactly the same as for a partial solar eclipse – you need to use solar filters.

Full Solar Eclipse in Maldives, 15 January 2014, photographed through the green filter
Make you've you've got a plan in place as to where exactly you're going to see the eclipse in order to avoid missing it altogether (see above). Image by Jenny Rainbow
Author tip:

How big will the eclipse be where you are? This useful Google Map will give you the exact conditions for any location, and also includes a link to PeakFinder so you can see exactly where the Sun will be in the sky from that precise location. You should also enter your intended location into this eclipse calculator to get a full schedule of exactly when the Moon will begin to cross the Sun, when the eclipse will reach its maximum (i.e. it’s most impressive point), and the time when the Moon eventually drifts off the the Sun’s disk. The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE) and PhotoPills can help you plan shots in advance. 

4 What happens if it’s cloudy? 

If it’s very cloudy you’ll see nothing of the eclipse and probably won’t even notice it’s happening. So the priority is to search for clear skies. Sure, get your photography gear ready and make sure you’re well practiced for the big event, but you’d do better to obsess over weather reports and making new travel plans than on any pre-planned shot. However, if you’re restricted to your backyard or a particular location, and it’s cloudy on the day, don’t despair because even a small gap in the clouds may be enough to get a souvenir shot. The surrounding clouds can act as a filter to dull the Sun’s rays and can even provide an interesting surrounding to the partially eclipsed Sun.

Partial Solar Eclipse, Bath Abbey roofline March 2015
Try to find an area with clear skies to see the eclipse at its best, but if you can't a small amount of cloud coverage can act as a filter to dull the Sun’s rays and can even provide an interesting surrounding to the partially eclipsed Sun. Image by Chris Dawson
Author tip:

Clouds can help with more creative shots. Although it will be too low on the horizon as seen from North America, observers in Europe may be able to photograph a slight partial solar eclipse beside buildings or nature by using a regular wider-angle lens.

Shooting without a filter is only really going to be possible if there’s a lot of cloud and the eclipse becomes visible momentarily. However, the advice remains the same; do not look directly at the eclipse either with your naked eyes or through the camera viewfinder – only the LCD screen is safe – and know that shooting the Sun without a solar filter is risky. 

Get creative

An eclipse is particularly awe-inspiring if you watch it with others, so why not photograph them, too? Instead of just zooming-in on the tiny spectacle of the eclipse itself, try to capture the big effect it has on the people around you. Although eclipse-chasers spend years trying to perfect their technique for close-ups, the images you’ll see in the media will almost certainly be of people watching the eclipse. So aim your camera at relatives and friends wearing eclipse glasses, or set-up a group shot of you and your family watching the eclipse. This human-centric approach also requires no special equipment – just your smartphone camera.

Eclipse watching in Sparta, Tennessee, August 2017
Get creative and photograph those watching the eclipse too - some of the best shots of the event might not be of the moment itself–but of the activity around you. Image by Maria Maza
Author tip: If you’ve got a smartphone and no solar filters, in a pinch you can use a pair of eclipse glasses positioned across a smartphone’s camera sensor. A nice idea can be to ask someone to hold their solar eclipse glasses up to the eclipse while you position your smartphone or DSLR/mirrorless camera until you can see a crescent Sun on your smartphone’s screen/your camera’s LCD screen.
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