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What to do (and what not to do) when you photograph the eclipse over Rochester

A black camera with solar eclipse glasses taped over the lens.
Experts advise against using eclipse viewing glasses as camera filters.

As the April 8 total solar eclipse passes over Rochester, shutterbugs of all stripes will try to capture the spectacle. But experts urge people to do so with care and forethought.

When it comes to photographing the eclipse, the rules mirror those for viewing the event, said Christye Sisson, director of Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences.

"You would not want to point your camera of any kind, smartphone or otherwise, at the sun without using a specially designed filter for that purpose,” Sisson said. “And so, in the simplest terms, if you can't look at it, your camera shouldn't look at it directly, either.”

A woman with light blond hair, wearing tortoise shell glasses, a gray blazer, and black shirt sits behind the desk in her office.
Jeremy Moule
Christye Sisson, director of Rochester Institute of Technology's School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, urges people to use the proper filters on their cameras if they try to photograph the eclipse.

Don’t brick your phone ... get a filter

Just as looking at the sun without proper eyewear can cause permanent damage to your vision, pointing a digital camera at the sun without the appropriate filter can quickly cause some — or all — of its sensor to burn out.

Sisson said that anyone who wants to photograph the sun on eclipse day should get the proper filters for their cameras or phones from a reputable retailer.

No, eclipse glasses don’t count

She also advised against substituting eclipse glasses for a filter on your smartphone, which probably has more than one lens, or on other types of cameras.

“If the filters are not sort of absolutely flush, and absolutely covering all those lenses, then you risk damage to your phone,” Sisson said.

Absolutely don’t do this

It’s also a very bad idea to look at the sun through a camera lens. Sisson recommended using cameras’ digital viewfinders and avoiding the optical ones.

She added that she’s been encouraging her students to train their lenses on their surroundings during the eclipse, capturing people’s reactions or experimenting with the unique light.

3:38 of magic time

There is one phase of the eclipse where people are able to look at the sun without special glasses, and cameras can photograph it without filters. That’s during the 3 minutes and 38 seconds of totality, when the moon completely blocks the sun.

But if even a sliver of the sun is showing, viewing or photographing it without the appropriate protective gear can result in damage.

Still have questions?

NASA has an FAQ with all sorts of information on the eclipse, including how to safely view it. And the American Astronomical Society has developed a webpage explaining how to safely photograph eclipses.

Jeremy Moule is a deputy editor with WXXI News. He also covers Monroe County.