Photography / Features

Mark Your Calendars: North American Solar Eclipse 2017


North American friends, mark your calendars for August 21, 2017, when there will be a total eclipse of the sun traversing the middle of the United States.

The last time a total eclipse crossed the entire continental U.S. was in June 8, 1918. A total eclipse touched part of the continent in February, 1979. If you miss the 2017 eclipse, you will have to wait until 2024 for the next total eclipse over North America.

What causes a Solar Eclipse?

A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun in a path that positions the moon right in front of the sun. The moon, sun, and Earth are directly aligned.


The moon passes between the Earth and the sun on every lunar cycle (28 days); this is the “New moon.” But, because the moon’s orbit is offset from the Earth’s orbit around the sun by 5 degrees, the shadow cast by the moon does not always reach the Earth.

Depending on the orbit of the moon (its distance from the Earth and its path), an eclipse is categorized as total, annular, or partial. In a total eclipse, like the one next August, the entire sun will be obscured by the moon. An annular eclipse occurs when the moon passes directly between the Earth and sun, but is too far away to completely cover the sun. And, a partial eclipse happens when the moon only blocks a part of the sun. Partial eclipses are the most common.

The May 20, 2012 annular solar eclipse as viewed from a mostly-cloudy San Diego, California. ©Todd Vorenkamp
The May 20, 2012 annular solar eclipse as viewed from a mostly cloudy San Diego, California. Todd Vorenkamp

Where are the best places to view the 2017 eclipse?

Eclipses generally happen a few times each year, but they are often only visible over the ocean or in remote places. The duration of a total eclipse is short, therefore, the true total eclipse is only viewable over a small section of the Earth each time it happens. However, you can still view part of the eclipse from the areas to the right and left of the sun’s path across the Earth.

The path of the August 21, 2017 eclipse will span the US, west to east, from the Oregon Coast to the Carolinas.

The 2017 eclipse will transit the United States starting on the Oregon Coast and passing over the states of Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and finishing in South Carolina. The time from start to finish will be less than 2 hours and totality will only last approximately 2 minutes, 41.7 seconds. The viewing region of greatest totality will be in western Kentucky and the greatest duration will occur in southern Illinois.

This map shows the point of the GD—greatest eclipse duration (over southern Illinois) and GE—greatest eclipse (northwest of Nashville). The GD is where the length of the eclipse reaches its maximum, and the GE is the exact spot the axis of the moon’s shadow cone falls closest to the axis through the center of the Earth.


Do NOT view a solar eclipse with unprotected eyes. Permanent damage to your vision may occur. Special eclipse viewing glasses are needed to protect your vision. The protection afforded by regular sunglasses is insufficient.

Lunt Solar Systems 3" / 80mm f/7 ED Doublet Refractor

The Gear

People will be able to experience phases of the partial eclipse in many areas of the United States, but since totality will only happen in a thin band across a handful of states, dedicated solar telescopes, binoculars, and add-on filters for conventional astronomical telescopes will be absolute necessities to safely view and enjoy this incredible astronomical event.

To enhance your eclipse viewing beyond using eclipse viewing glasses, be sure to check out the complete line of Lunt Solar Systems solar viewing telescopes and binoculars.

Over the next 12 months, B&H will be sharing other viewing gear and tips, as well.

Animated Map of the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 Aug 21

The Event

Because this is the first North American total eclipse of the Internet Age, the web is already buzzing with websites and information about the 2017 North American eclipse. Read more on the B&H Explora blog about viewing and photographing the eclipse in the leadup to August 21, 2017.

For the quickest way to get your solar viewing and solar eclipse gear, click on this link!

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Everyone, I have observed 3 Total Solar Eclipses overseas and I am thrilled to have this one in the USA.  I will try to to observe in in Tennessee or Kentucky depending on the weather approaching right before eclipse day.  I guess I am "almost" an expert at knowing what to do to observe one properly.  I have dedicated the last 8 months to updating a eclipse timing program I first developed in 2001 for my next eclipse in 2002.  "Solar Eclipse Timer".  I just released it in the iPhone format early February, the Android format with follow shortly.  It is simply the most unique timing program out there!  And since this is a photography site, what you will be thrilled about is what I call the Partial Phase Image Sequence Calculator (PPISC).  This will automatically calculate the clock times you need to take 10 equally spaced partial phase images before totality and 10  equally spaced images after totality.  So 10 shots between C1 and C2 and 10 between C3 and C4, because the times are almost never exactly the same.

My website has a worksheet that you can print out to write the times down (off your phone) and then on eclipse day just follow the prescribed times and you will be able to create that beautiful sequence that you oftern see published. Please Check it out:

Thansks Foxwood Astonomy

Thanks for sharing the link, Gordon! I believe I will be downloading the app now!

I have 7 acres in the Columbia, SC area and am inviting all friends for Monday, 8/21 viewing. Some are visiting from as far away as Washington, DC.  I've a pool and hot tub in which to relax during the day.  

It'll be fantastic to see this event.  I do hope some of my astronomer friends will be joining us.

Hi Cheri,

Do you need my address to send an invite? :)

Have fun viewing from the pool!

My main goal is to experience the eclipse personally.  Should I just plan on the experience or can I take a photo keepsake with just my tablet camera?  Would it just be a waste of time and take away from experience?  LOCATION - How wide is the line of totality?  Do I really need to be specifically located or just is the general area of the path?  Any comments will be appreciated.....

Hey Robert,

You can get a photo with your tablet, but it will likely just prove that you were there and not be something you will print out to frame on your wall. 

The line of totality isn't very wide, but it isn't razor thin, either. There is an interactive map on the NASA eclipse website that, I believe, precisely tells you where you should be to experience totality.

Sorry for the delay in replying!

I have 20 acres of private owned land in an open field atop a hill in Cobden IL 10 minutes south of Carbondale IL and I would like to rent it out for the eclipes, any ideas on what I should do.


Airbnb? Not sure if they have a "hilltop" section.

You might want to reach out to your local astronomy clubs and see if they would be interested in setting up there. My guess is they won't be paying top dollar for the view.

Thanks for reading!

I live in Chicago and my daughter's family would like to use your farm.  We would arrive by train and go to your farm on Sunday. Set up a camping site.  We would need water and toilet facilities.  We would come by train and is there anyway to get to your farm?

Does B&H get a finder's fee?

I have two film SLRs, one camera is loaded with B&W film and the other with color. Would it be worthwhile to load the B&W camera iwith psuedo-infrared, Ilford SPX 200, or infra-red, Rollei Infrared 400? Or just stick with Tri-X or TMAX 100 or 400?

Hey Ralph,

Sorry this one snuck in and I didn't reply.

Honestly, I would have to do some research to get you an answer. Check out Fred Espenak's website as he has shot many eclipses with film in the past and also see if you can find info on what Akira Fujii uses.

I'll do a little digging as well!

I live in Denver and have booked a room in Casper WY.  It's a half-day drive away and cloud cover, on average is 20%.  If I went to Ketucky, it would take 2 days, I would get only 15 seconds more of totality, and cloud cover is higher.  I'm curious about bracketing exposures to produce an optimal image.  I'm also curious about the best exposure to use for the "diamond ring" that lasts only a few seconds.  I saw the '91 eclipse in Cabo and regrettably my bracketed images went down the drain in processing.  Never the less, it was one of the most extraordianry things I have ever seen.

Hey Scott,

I'm traveling to somewhere less scenic for the 15 extra seconds of totality! I hope it isn't cloudy!

I did some web searching and found 1/4000th at f/11 at ISO 200.

You might want to start with that as a baseline, but my suggestion is to shoot a LOT of photos and bracket the snot out of them.

Thanks for stopping by! Fingers crossed for clear skies!

Upon searching the web, Fred Espenak, "Mr. Eclipse", has execellent guides for exposures he used in the past.  He recommends 1/250 at f/8 at ISO 400 for the "Diamond Ring".  With limited time, I'll shoot two sets of brackets covering 1/1000 to 1 sec, and one set for the Diamond Ring. It should only take about 20 or 30 seconds.  Seeing the eclipse with your own eyes is more important than photographing it. I've told people that a picture of an eclipse resembles the experience as much as a picture of a waterfall resembles an actual waterfall.

Unbelieveably,  Our business, Casey Jones Distillery, and home are right on the ecli[se path center line and within 2 miles of the points of most totality and longest duration in Hopkinsville, KY. Hopkinsville, KY and we are SO excited to be the optimum place to be 08/21/2017

Hi Peg,

Will you be saving a spot for me?

Thanks for stopping by!

Dear Ms. Hays: It is not lost on me that this upcoming eclipse of sunshine will be observed by folks whose company produces moonshine.

—Copy Editor, B&H Explora

Fred Espenak, NSF's "Mr. Eclipse" - spokesman on Solar Eclipse Viewing and Weather prospects spoke to a gathering of several thousand amateur astronomers this month at 'Stellafane' near Springfield, VT. He detailed the circumstances we can expect to see for the August, 2017 Total Solar Eclipse. It will be a morning eclipse in Oregon and the Willamette Valley seems far enough away from the fog-ridden coast to be safe. The longest duration will be in the state of Missouri and the Carolina's will likely have considerable afternoon cloudiness.

A "supertelephoto" lens may be useless for all but very short exposures - less than 1/500th sec. UNLESS it is mounted on a tracking equatorial mounting that is compensating for the Earth's rotation rate. For the 2006 total eclipse in western Egypt, I discovered through the B&H catalog that Canon has a 400mm. F/5.6 Fluorite telephoto that is ideally suited to a wide view of the coronal streamers. With a wide range of exposure times, using the APS-C format of the Canon 20D I used, I captured coronal streamers out to 8 solar radii and had several eighth magnitude stars shining through the veil of the Corona. My maximum exposure was 20 seconds with slight blurring, to 1/10,000sec., at ISO 1600. The lens uses an ED Glass - Extreme Dispersion Fluorite, to minimize color aberration, however, one must avoid extremes of temperature that could crack the ED lens element. At the time, the price was $1200, far less than the competing Zooms in that F.L. range.

For large format cameras, and the intent to capture blood-red prominences, an 800mm to 2,000mm lens would be appropriate with the optical designs of a Maksutov Telescope.     Starman Paul     

Hey Starman Paul,

Great information and tips! Thank you very much for sharing and for stopping by! I'm taking notes!

Following the August 2017 eclipse, the next two readily accessible total eclipses are in Dec 2020 (duration of totality 2m10s), which crosses Argentina, and on April 8, 2024 (max durtion 4m28s), which crosses Mexico, the central time zone of the US as well as NY state, and the Maritime provinces of Canada.  A good place for a beginner or even an experienced eclipse tracker to start for the upcoming eclipse is with the book, "Totality:  Eclipses of the Sun," by Mark Littmann, Fred Espenak, and Ken Wilcox (Oxford University Press).   

As for equipment and technique, there's no need for anyone to make it so complicted they get intimidated.  I got a terrific set of eclipse photos and videos during the November 2012 eclipse in the South Pacific using a simple Panasonic FZ200 superzoom camera, and every picture---sharp as can be---was handheld.   My philosophy is that the photography should not get in the way of anyone enjoying the sight and experience of one of Nature's greatest display.  Take pictures, take movies, but be sure to take your eye away from the camera to  just look for yourself and enjoy the scene. 

Thanks for the comment, Baba!

Great point about not letting the photography get in the way of enjoying the eclipse. I often add that tip to my How To articles. Enjoyment is often longer lasting than the images!

Thanks for reading!

Well, I'm seeing a range of advice here, some of it is very, very good; but worrying is that some really need to learn a bit before trying this for real, especially if they are using an optical viewfinder and telephoto lenses. Severe injury can result if you do not take care. Do thorough research and don't make assumptions or try your own jerry-rigged filters. Stick with Thousand Oaks or Baader filters, removable, but securely mounted on the front on the lens only.

I'd just like to add a couple of aspects I didn't see mentioned.

1 - start practising for the eclipse right now; it is pointless and very challenging and likely to be very disappointing to learn about how it all works on the day (which is different to how you imagine it will work). There is an eclipse almost every day, when the Earth moves between you and the sun; and of course the sun is available most days, all day, to practice on, figure out focussing and exposure.

2 - doing this , especially with a decent telephoto, will make it really obvious that it is worth considering some kind of tracking mount, even a cheap one. Not so much for still images (though still useful,) but required for timelapses and video. And also useful for exposure bracketing.

Consider looking in the other direction; practice on the moon as well. There are a lot of similar challenges there, and a lot of beginners have trouble with photographing such an obviously simple subject. Then consider the challenge of a lunar eclipse; they are a lot more common than solar eclipses, and are challenging to capture, due to movement and huge exposure variations.

And hey, if you miss this eclipse, there's a much longer one in Australia, in 2028, literally in the middle of nowhere; that's the one I'm planning for :-)

Hey rjh,

Thanks for the awesome tips! You are a bit ahead of us! We are planning on writing more follow-on articles about viewing and photographing the eclipse as we lead up to the event.

See you Down Under in 2028 after I practice on the next two in North America! Thanks for reading and commenting!

If you miss this one, there is another one (a longer event) on 8 April 2024 --

It moves from Texas into the northeast and Canada, and covers cities such as Dallas, Little Rock, Evansville, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Plattsburgh.

Let's hope its not cloudy on both of those days, Jeffrey!

Thanks for reading!

Are converted, 720nm infrared cameras safe for eclipse photograph?

Andrea, Safe?, yes, but since such cameras operate in the near Infrared, there is little need for night vision unless you want to photograph stars in the daytime. THe corona shines with a pearly-white color from plasma heated to millions of degrees that is best captured in the visible light range or in the UltraViolet. UV is highly attenuated at sea level, so the top of a mountain above 10,000 ft is needed. That puts you in the Rockies.

Because of the rotation of the Earth, you will need an astronomical equatorial tracking mount for exposures greater than a fraction of a second. NIR has lower resolution than visible light but may help reduce blue scattered skylight.

NASA has several satellites and solar observatories monitoring the Sun 24/7 and from a number of different viewpoints around the 

inner solar system. Capturing the faintest coronal streamers out to ten solar radii used to be an important research need - no linger true - just pretty pictures.

  Starman Paul

Thanks for helping a fellow Explora reader, Paul!

I defer to Paul's expertise!

One of the topics you might want to include in the upcoming series on eclipse photography, especially for people who don't have telescopes and will be using cameras with telephoto lenses, is how to achieve a sharp focus during the partial phases (ingress and egress) when the solar filter is on, and then how to REFOCUS for totality when the solar filter has been removed.  The optimal focus setting will not be the same for totality as it is for the partial phases.  The solar filter has to suppress the light of the sun by a factor of 100,000 times or more, so it's not surprising the focus position might change.  In addition, for most advanced cameras these days it's not sufficient to simply set the focus point to the infinity mark that may be inscribed on the lens.   Doing that is likely to leave your eclipse pictures well out of focus.  

One approach that I've found succesful is to use the dark limb of the moon as a knife-edge in projection against the bright disk of the sun, either the preceding limb shortly after first contact and the trailing limb soon after third contact.  That should work for most camera autofocus systems or better yet for manual focus, which allows you to set it and then forget it.  Ditto during totality:  if your camera has an adjustable size focus box, use the dark limb of the moon as a knife-edge in projection against the solar corona. Keep in mind the bright face of the sun itself will have too little structure or contrast for an AF system to focus properly on a tiny area of the sun's disk.   

Thanks, Baba! Great advice and tips! We will definitely include this stuff in our article(s)!

Solar filters are needed when looking at the sun before or after the eclipse or during the partial phases (penumbra) where raw sunlight would impinge on your eyes. During totality (when you are in the umbra), you do not need a filter. It's safe to look at the eclipse directly with your eyes or optical aid.  Only the dim solar corona is visible (and glorious as it spans several solar diameters). Just be carefull at 3rd contact (end of umbra period) to look away until you can switch back to using a filter.

Great advice, Lee! Thanks for reading and sharing! We will be getting more in-depth about safety and viewing in upcoming articles, but the safety stuff cannot be stated too often!

I've already started my planning for the total eclipse of the sun. I want to rent one of Canon's supertelephoto lenses. I inquired from a rental company about the use of their super teles and mentioned about my plan to drape a covering like a windbreaker or a large format focusing cloth over the lens opening. They mentioned that shooting at the sun would damage the lens since that is a giant magnifying glass. I can see where that could happen, but I would cover the lens opening between photos.

Also, is there a solar filter that can fit in the Canon 400-800 drop in filter?

Would covering the lens opening with a focusing cloth prevent damage to the super telephoto lens between photos?

I plan to be on an island in Lake Murray South Carolina (near Lexington 100% totality) for the eclipse. With two film cameras, I'd probably have my camera for B&W loaded with infrared film.

Hey Ralph,

Thanks for writing in, as always!

It looks like you are well ahead of the planning game! Start hoping it isn't cloudy!

Yes, you definitely have to be careful to not damage your lenses or camera gear. We will be writing articles in the next months to let folks know more about the precautions needed for viewing and photographing the eclipse.

What sized filters does that lens take? A quick internet search left me without an answer.


Hi Todd,
I think all the Canon EF supertelephotos take this filter: Canon - Drop-In Filter Holder for 52mm Screw-In Filters (B&H#: CAFHS52 • Mfr#: 2612A001). I don't know if I can rent another drop-in filter, but I think having two would be better, one with a solar filter and swap the other without during totality.

My 80-205 for my Canon film SLR takes 55mm. I'll have to check what my Spiratone 400mm f6.3 takes; I may just use that for totality.

Roger, Ralph.

Let me check with the B&H buyers to see what types and sizes of filters we will be carrying.

I have read that you should NOT use certain ND filters or polarizers (but I read that in a film-era article). If you use ND, it has to be strong enough to protect your eyes and your camera!


Thanks Todd.

That would be awesome if B&H stocked solar filters in various sizes. I've some some searching for solar filters and I don't know if what I've found are appropriate for cameras or not' they seem more geared towards telescopes.

My 400mm takes a 67mm filter size; I have a lens hood for it. I'd probably buy an infrared filter and shoot infrared film on that camera just for totality. Unscrewing two ends to replace a filter would be too time consuming.

With the Canon EF 400, 500, 600, and 800 Ls, the drop-in filter is probably a key point with the lens; without it, there would probably be light leaks. I don't know if this will work for protecting lenses, Harrison  Silver Classic Dark Cloth - Small (B&H # HASDC  •MFR # 2035), but use the silver side to reflect the sun between photos.

I'll be buying goggles or pretective eye wear also since I don't want to spend all my time behind cameras.

Hey Ralph,

Fingers crossed on my end to hope we get some more gear as well. FYI, the Genustech filters  - 
"Eclipse" and "Solar Eclipse" - are NOT for solar viewing...they just have catchy confusion-causing names.

With the drop-in filters, I would definitely use a UV filter or a blank in the drop-in to prevent light leaks...and protect the front of the lens from the power of the sun. Whatever your setup, you'll need to be able to quickly remove the filter during totality and then replace it as the eclipse continues.

Good idea with the glasses. You can also find filters for binoculars as well—a nice way to enhance the viewing!



Yep! See the link above for the Lunt binoculars.


For both your gear and your own personal safety, you need a full aperture filter on the front of any lens, normal or large, and that filter needs to be made specifically for solar viewing or solar photography.  There are several styles and brands available that are meant for the front of telescopes, but they can work fine on super telephoto lenses.  Search for solar filters, and you will find several brands.  Check out the mounting methods, and measure your lens carefully for proper fit. 

Do not try to use any filter in the drop in slot as the primary filtering, because you would likely still damage the lens internally, plus you likely would be trying an un safe filter.  Never use any regular neutral density filters that are meant for photographic use, because they may not block all the required wavelengths, and they are subject to cracking from the heat, which can instantly cause an un safe condition.  Focused UV light from the sun can damage your eyes without you even feeling anything happening. 

Please find authoritive sources for information, and please be very safe.  Do not let this beautiful once in a life time event become a time when your eyesight is permantly damaged, or you fry a $10,000 lens. 

Roland is correct and please take his advice.  Placing any kind of filter **BEHIND** the lens invites disaster as the heat from the lens is concentrated and can likely damage the filter.  If that occurs, the best that can happen is the shutter curtain of your camera is damaged; the worst is your eye is permanently damaged.  Even a brief moment of exposure through an unfiltered zoom lens can cause permanent eye damage.  You need a full aperture solar filter placed in front of the lens.  There are many suppliers but one who has been in the business for many years and provides solar filters to NASA and other institutions is Thousand Oaks Optical.  Measure the outside diameter of the lens hood of you telephoto and match that up against Thousand Oaks Optical's many solar filter offerings.  Their solar filters are supplied in a sturdy metal frame that fits tightly over your lenshood.

Thank y'all for the advice. From what I've read earlier, a front lens filter is the only way to go. I hope that Thousand Oaks has a solar filter to fit the Canon supertelephotos. I don't know which one I'm going to rent, the 400, 500, 600, or 800.

Hey Roland,

Awesome tips! I hope that, by the time of the eclipse, you can add B&H Explora to the list of authoritative sources for information!

Be safe!


Please see comments below regarding using full aperture solar filters to cover your lens.  That eliminates any risk of damaging your lens, or your eyes.

There is no advantage to using IR film for a solar eclipse.  Before totality, you will need to use a solar filter which will block almost all of the IR light, so your IR film will not record anything.  During totality, the only time it is safe to view the eclipse without a filter, using IR film will limit the imaging of the sun's corona.  Far better to either use daylight film or a digital camera to record the full spectrum of totality in color, and then convert the color image to B&W.  That way you capture all of the available light from the total eclipse phase.

I'm going to echo Roland and Ronald here: You need to use a solar filter to cover your lens, not a ND filter. You can buy screw-on filters for your lens from Thousand Oaks Optical--they carry both filters made of solar film and glass. I got a 95mm glass one for my 200-500 Nikon lens for a reasonable price. Or, if you want to DIY for less, you can buy a sheet of solar film (available from Thousand Oaks and others), cut a circle out of a piece of cardboard that just larger than your lens diameter, tape the film onto the cardboard, and then tape the cardboard over your lens, so the solar film covers your lens. (This method has the advantage of being quick to take off, and since you can't use it once totality hits, and you only have 2+ minutes in which to shoot the corona, quick removal and reattachment is helpful!) Also remember to get solar filter glasses to wear (aka eclipse glasses)! 

Thanks Margy,

I'll be buying solar eclispse glasses. I don't intend to the entire time of the eclipse looking at it through a camera viewfinder, although I will have three cameras to manage. I took the same approach with the final Space Shuttle launch; I took five photos of the launch and ascent of Atlantis before it disappearred into the clouds; the rest of the time, I stepped back from the camera.

Thanks Roland.

I have two film cameras so one is loaded with B&W and the other with color. I was speculating on whether to use IR B&W film.

Why Infrared Film? There are no solar features or phenomena that would favor

its use. Much IR is absorbed by water vapor in the atmosphere.

If you want psycodelic effects, just use PhotoShop for post processing FX.

For scientific research, green and ultraviolet filters would be of interest but they must be narrow band interference filters.

Very expensive ! At one time in the 1970's, EG&G made a film coded XR for extended range for photographing nuclear explosions.

It is no longer needed and discontinued because a modern CCD or CMOS camera can contain more information in a wide range of exposure times. 

Starman Paul 

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