On August 21, 2017 a large portion of the United States will have the opportunity to witness a total eclipse (of the heart)--where the sun will disappear completely behind the moon for a few minutes.
A total eclipse has not been viewable from the United States in almost 40 years. Every US state will see some portion of the the sun disappear while 14 states will be in the path of the total eclipse. The NASA video below illustrates what will happen during this unique celestial event.
If you are a photographer and want to try to take photos of this unique event, you must have a solar filter to protect your eyes and your camera sensor--in that order. You may discover that solar filters are sold out or notice that prices are incredibly high right now. The DIY project below details how to make you own solar filter with just a few household items along with one 12"x12" solar filter sheet, which is usually much cheaper and easier to find than completed filters.
As you will see I am not a crafty person and I still managed to make this filter in about 15 minutes. I wanted to make it happen with what I could find laying around the house and I wanted to test it immediately--yeah, I am that guy. With that said, I am sure you can improve GREATLY on the process and materials in this project, but hopefully this will inspire you to try your own.
Before we start, here are a couple of warnings:
Follow the instructions on the solar filter exactly.
Never look directly into the sun or look at the sun through the viewfinder on your camera.
Never point your camera directly at the sun without some type of solar of protective filter.
Now on to the fun stuff!
12" x 12" Solar Filter Sheet for Telescopes, Binoculars, and Cameras
Tape (I used black gaffers tape because style is really important for me)
Cardboard tube with a diameter that is slightly larger than your lens diameter
Scissors (reindeer safety scissors I use are optional)
Find a cardboard tube with a diameter that is slightly larger than the lens you will be using. I am using a Canon 70-200mm lens for solar photography which has a diameter of about 3.5 inches. I was determined to use something I could find in my house, and stumbled upon a Morton Salt box that was just about right. A poster tube or mailing tube could also work.
Remove the wrapper and cut our the ends of the tube. This was quite easy with the salt container. Then cut the cardboard tube so it fits 3-4 inches down over your lens. You just need it to stay on snuggly and not interfere with your focus ring. I advise cutting it a bit longer to start since you can always trim it down later if needed.
Test to see if the tube fits snuggly over your lens while not interfering with functionality. I felt like my tube was a little too tight, so I sliced it and used gaffers tape to make the diameter a bit larger. Now we are doing some DIY crafting up in here! Make a final check on your lens before moving to the next step.
Carefully open up the 12"x12" solar filter sheet you received from Amazon or whatever other location you use to hustle up solar filters. While mine came from Amazon, Thousand Oaks Optical was the supplier. Make sure to follow the handling directions on the packaging exactly--including warnings, surface care, and protecting unused material. Note that the silver side of the filter faces the sun.
Place your cardboard tube on the on the back (non silver) side of the solar filter. Trace your tube with a marker. Make sure to leave enough space around your circle to trace another larger circle in the next step (about 3/4 inch).
There are lots of ways to go about attaching the solar filter to your tube--the goal is to get it as smooth as possible and avoid damaging the solar filter material. Don't stress too much since small creases and wrinkles in the filter will not impact your image.
I think attaching a circle filter cutout that is the exact same size as the circle tube would be difficult and could create gaps when taping it down. So I chose to make my circle a bit larger and then cut small lines to allow the filter to flex down over the tube.
- I used my gaffers tape roll to trace a larger circle around my first circle. However you do it, just make sure you trace a larger circle providing about 3/4 inch space between the two circles.
- I then cut out the larger circle and stored the remaining filter material in the original packaging.
- Finally, I used reindeer safety scissors to cut from the outside edge towards the inner circle--careful not to cut into the inner circle itself. This created a series of small tabs all the way around the circle.
Place the filter (silver side up and towards the sun) on your tube. Bend one of the small cut flaps down and tape it. Then go to the opposite side of your tube and tape down another small flap. The inner circle should be lined up with the cardboard tube opening, and you can use the small flaps to tape down the sides of the filter to the tube, working your way around to make it as flat as possible.
Tape of the rest of the tube to increase durability and test it! Does this thing even work? Crank the Bonnie Tyler in your headphones and head outside.
SUCCESS! As you can see from these images shot right after project completion that the filter works perfectly. It is a good idea to make or purchase your filter soon so you can practice solar photography for a few weeks prior to the total eclipse (of the heart). Here are a few final tips on that subject (not Bonnie Tyler).
-Do not use your viewfinder, use Live View or your LCD screen to compose your image.
-Most LCDs or Live View modes allow for zooming to fine tune focus so you can get a nice sharp edge on the sun, but some people prefer to use a loupe on their screen as well.
-Shoot RAW to allow some flexibility to edit exposure after the event, some people prefer bracketing their shots as well.
-A tripod is a must and remote triggering is preferable.
-Don't look into the sun! Not only is it dangerous, but it will make composing your shots that much harder when you try to look at anything else.
-Make sure to shoot your surroundings, especially if you are with a large group of people. A second camera can be a fun idea for crowd shots.
If you want to forget the camera altogether and just enjoy the view, there are sweet looking shades you can purchase to safely watch the eclipse.
Have fun and good luck!