Spring's arrival on Friday, March 20 is marked this year by that rarest of celestial events, a Total Solar Eclipse, when the Moon completely blocks out the Sun for two minutes.
That will only happen in the Faroe Islands and Svalbard, where eclipse-chasers will be plunged into complete darkness and briefly see the Sun's majestic Corona. However, in the UK there will be a “deep” Partial Eclipse, which presents a rare chance to get a memorable image. If it clouds over, we only have to wait until 2026 …
Step 1: When and where to watch it
If you're in the UK, the Moon will appear to start taking a chunk out of the Sun at 8.25am until reaching maximum coverage at 9.31am, covering between 85-95% of the Sun.
It will then drift away, leaving the Sun completely uncovered by 10.41am (for exact times where you are see the Eclipse Calculator.
Get outside and away from tall buildings. The spectacle begins at about 18.5° (two outstretched fists) above the south-eastern horizon and finishes at 30°, which is plenty high enough to see from open land or park, and from cities, too, though bear in mind that the Sun and Moon will appear to move through the sky. Now just hope for clear skies!
Step 2: Camera equipment
To get the best photographs you really need a DSLR camera and a telephoto lens on a tripod.
“If you have a 600mm lens and a teleconverter, then use them,” says Mark Bauer at Tatra Photography “Otherwise, use the longest lens you have – a 2X teleconverter is an affordable way of extending its reach.” Bauer also recommends a solar filter or a strong neutral density filter such as the Lee Big Stopper or a black-and-white 10-stop ND which will help prevent overexposure. Remember, you're photographing the Sun!
Step 3: Staying safe
Never look directly at the Sun, through the viewfinder of a DSLR camera or naked eye – buy special solar eclipse viewing glasses
There are two exceptions; if it's visible through clouds (though glance, don't stare) or if you're under the Moon's full shadow on the Line of Totality, which runs across the Faroe Islands and Svalbard, when at 9.41am all of the Sun's light will be blocked for just over two minutes. During that time only it will be safe to look briefly at the Sun's mighty Corona, which appears as a pulsing, whispy white halo around the Moon.
No special eclipse glasses? Use a kitchen colander or slotted spoon to project dozens of tiny Crescent Suns on to the floor – it's the safest and easiest way to enjoy the eclipse! A piece of cardboard with round hole-punch holes in will work just as well.
Step 4: Camera settings
With a solar or neutral density filter in place, set your ISO to its lowest setting, and shoot in manual mode with an aperture of f/8 and the fastest shutter speed possible (about 1/8,000).
“Review the shot and if the Sun is overexposed, either use a faster shutter speed or smaller aperture and if it’s underexposed, set a slower shutter speed or wider aperture,” says Bauer, who says that the biggest problem is the 'infinity focus'. “It’s not as simple as lining up the infinity symbol with the focus mark on the lens, as this is not always as precise as it should be,” he says.
“It’s easiest to sort out your focusing before the eclipse – pre-focus on a distant object such as a mountain top using autofocus or manual focus, but then make sure you switch to manual focus, so that the camera doesn’t then refocus.”
Step 5: Creative compositions
Think about what the final shot will look like, and question what you're sacrificing to get it.
“Don’t place the Sun smack in the middle of the frame as this can lead to a rather static composition,” advises Bauer. “Instead, off-centre it, and try composing according to the rule of thirds.”
For a flavour of the occasion rather than a close-up of the event itself, try a wider-angle shot using a DSLR or even just a smartphone; pictures of people wearing eclipse glasses or projecting the event through pinhole cameras and colanders can be just as interesting – an eclipse is as much about people as is it about celestial mechanics.
Step 6: Using a compact camera or smartphone
Photographing a partial eclipse is difficult and dangerous (pointing your camera or phone at the Sun may damage the sensor), but given the right conditions you may be able to get a souvenir snap.
Disable your flash, and pray for light cloud; if you can see the eclipsed Sun through thin cloud, then go for it.
To make the Sun and Moon big enough in the shot, you will have to zoom in, so mounting on a tripod or resting the camera on a wall will help. For compact cameras, try using the “sunset mode”.
Better, safer and more creative is to take a photo of a reflection of the partially eclipsed Sun in a bucket of water or puddle. Also, look out for images of tiny eclipsed Suns on the ground beneath tree canopies – a truly stunning sight.
Will you be photographing the eclipse? Let us know in the Comments below.