A guide to safely photographing a solar eclipse
CORNING, N.Y. (WENY) -- Astrophotography has produced numerous images that have left many in awe, but the practice requires delicate precision and attention to safety guidelines. It's more complex than simply picking up a camera.
At the Corning Community College resides the Eileen Collins Observatory, named after the Elmira-based astronaut the participated in four space shuttle missions. The observatory is home to the Elmira Corning Astronomical Society, a club dedicated to educating and documenting the cosmos for over 55 years.
"We formed back in 1967, there were three of us, Polly Johnson, Walt Lawrence, and myself." said Dennis O'Connell, ECAS's Secretary-Treasurer, "And we advertised about starting a new club and we got a whole bunch of people involved, and very soon we had enough people. We raised money and approached the college, Corning Community College about building an observatory up here."
Eclipse events can produce spectacular imagery, and can serve as learning tools for educators, but getting those photos in the first place is not simply pointing and shooting at the sun. Special equipment and filters must be fitted onto telescope lens and viewfinders in order to create a safe medium to view the sun during an eclipse.
"There's just too much danger even with the proper equipment, you make one mistake and you're going to be blind. It's a zero tolerance for error hobby. Like I said it takes very special equipment. We have the equipment up here, a white-light filter, that you can see the sun in basically its natural colors," added O'Connell, stressing that extra care and proper equipment is necessary to ensure maximum safety. "We also have what's called a hydrogen-alpha filter, and a hydrogen-alpha filter isolates just the hydrogen gas in the sun's atmosphere."
As astronomy clubs, planetariums, and observatories prepare for the total eclipse of April 2024, messages of safety will serve as important reminders as excitement builds across the country. In communities like Rochester, where 100 percent totality is expected, messaging is already being put out to ensure that the public is fully aware of the skies.
"If you really want to prepare for April, you are going to need a filter to go on top of your camera lens. And whatever you do, do not look directly through the viewfinder, at the sun, you need to be careful," commented Dan Schneiderman, who serves as the Rochester Museum and Space Center's Eclipse Partnerships Coordinator.
The easiest way to view a solar eclipse safely is with certified eclipse glasses, which can be found online, at local observatories, and at local libraries that offer them.