Unless you’ve spent the few weeks hiding under your desk for some reason or another, you’re aware of the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States today. Whether or not you’ve traveled to a region that will experience totality, it’s critically important that you take appropriate precautions while enjoying the view.
While astronomy buffs will likely already be aware, some photographers may not realize just how powerful the sun’s rays can be. Watch as the staff of Every Photo Store tests a vintage Canon Rebel XT’s sensor with a six second exposure. Obviously, this is far too long for a solar photograph, but is a reasonable amount of time to expect an average person to stare at the sun during an eclipse. (Trigger warnings: camera abuse, dubstep.)
Lesson learned: do the research in order to find an appropriate filter for the lens you plan to use. And never look through the optical viewfinder!
More importantly, you need to protect your two most precious sensors – the ones inside your skull. Former NASA/JPL employee Rod Ryle lost significant sight in one eye as a result of ignoring safety warnings as a child:
I viewed partial solar eclipses with faulty equipment as a child, and lost nearly half my vision in one eye. Trust me, it’s not worth it. And the worst part? There are no pain receptors in your eyes, so you won’t know you are damaging them until a few days later when it’s too late.
So how do you tell whether your filter or eclipse glasses are reliable? First of all, if they’re scratched, creased, or damaged in any other way, throw them out. Then, check the American Astronomical Society’s list of reputable vendors. Their web server is under extreme strain today, but Google’s cache comes to the rescue. Sadly, thousands of subpar products have made their way to market in the past weeks from unscrupulous vendors, and a great many people across the country are now at risk of permanent eye damage. If your filter isn’t on the list, please… view the eclipse through a pinhole projector instead – a method that’s been in use for thousands of years, and a simple, cheap way to observe the sun safely.