If you had a penny for every photo of the upcoming solar eclipse taken with a smartphone, you will probably be a very rich man. Millions of photos will be taken with iPhones and Android devices that will not be very good. The camera on smartphones just aren't good enough to get a great shot of the eclipse.
For great shots, you need a DSLR camera and a telescope. And a tripod. And a remote control. And a few other things.
It will be a challenge for even professional photographers. The exposure will change several times and a stray cloud can throw off focus. There are all sorts of things that present problems for anyone who takes photos as a hobby. I went in search of someone who's getting prepared to take the shot of a lifetime and see what an expert would suggest a non-professional photographer do in advance of the eclipse.
Rick Murray is a pro photographer who specializes in sports or action shots, nature and portrait photography. He told me he started getting excited about the opportunity 7-8 months ago. "I realized I didn't have a lot of the equipment I needed and I also realized I wanted to do it in a very special way," Murray said.
He purchased two large telescopes and connected his DSLR cameras to the lenses. He bought a GPS system and software that connects to the telescopes and controls where the scope is pointed. Once he has located the sun (it's harder than it sounds).
"You can't just point and shoot. It's there, yeah we know where the sun's at, but getting the telescopes oriented on it is a different story," he explains.
The GPS tracks and moves the scope to follow the movement of the sun. Murray is the able to take photos through the telescope using software on his laptops.
He also purchased white-light solar filters for the scopes which not only protect the lenses but adjusts to get the actual color of the sun. Once the moon completely covers the sun, known as totality, he'll remove the filters.
For hobbyists Rick says the solar filter is the first thing you absolutely need. He also suggests putting the camera on a tripod and one more thing:
"Practice. Don't wait 'til the day of and try to figure out how your equipment works. You get out in the middle of the day, you set up, you swelter and you photograph," he said.
Murray has spent weeks practicing with his new equipment and has taken some spectacular shots of the sun and the moon. Come August 21st you won't find him at an eclipse viewing party. He plans to be alone with his new photography equipment. Working.
"I'll probably look at it afterwards. During the eclipse itslef I'm not going to be paying a lot of attention to the marvel of it," he told me. "I want to capture it for everybody that I can."
Rick hopes he is fortunate enough to be in the right place to get spectacular photos of the eclipse and possibly sell them. If he doesn't make any money from them, he said it's okay. He just wants to get the shot to satisfy a dream.