Some photographers chase the light. Others chase the darkness. While it may be only a seconds-long experience, eclipse chaser and night-sky photographer Babak Tafreshi has traveled to far-flung corners of the world—from Antarctica to Siberia—to capture the shadow of the moon.
For eclipse-chasing photographer Babak Tafreshi, the brief moments when the sun disappears during a total solar eclipse are worth trekking across all seven continents, from the tribal lands of Zambia to the ice shelves of Antarctica. An amateur astronomer and creator of The World at Night, an initiative to “reclaim the night sky” with other international photographers, Tafreshi’s images capture the fleeting glimpses of an eclipse, merging science with art.
Tafreshi saw his first total solar eclipse in 1995 as a teenager near the border of Afghanistan and his home country of Iran, and while it only lasted 14 seconds, he was hooked for life. “I was just like a caveman,” Tafreshi recalls. “I didn’t do anything, other than just be amazed by the eclipse. I think I probably clicked my camera once—that was all I could do.”
Tafreshi warns eclipse ‘virgins’ could find themselves frozen in awe as he was that first time, too. And for those under the age of 40 in the US, this will be their first total solar eclipse—the last one was in 1979. The Great American Eclipse, as it’s being called, on August 21, 2017, will be an unforgettable and maybe even life-altering experience for many.
“Although we know the geometry and physics of this phenomenon—we know it’s the lineup of the moon, the sun, and the earth—there’s something very deep inside us that is touched during an eclipse,” says Tafreshi. “That’s why we all become ‘cavemen’ during totality.”
Tafreshi believes there is a good chance that the Great American Eclipse will not only be the most seen eclipse in human history, but the most seen natural phenomenon. It’s a rare concurrence of factors: the total solar eclipse’s path will cross the entire country, coast to coast and through 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina, including some of the largest cities in the US; it’s happening in summer so there’s a good chance of clear skies; and it will be covered across all media, from traditional TV coverage to photographers sharing the moment on live social media feeds.
Since seeing his first total solar eclipse that changed his life over 20 years ago, Tafreshi has traveled all over the world chasing the phenomenon—and thankfully, seems to react much faster with his camera these days. But what about first-timers and amateur photographers? Will we be able to capture it on our smartphones?
“I think the sensors on some of the new smartphones are good enough to capture totality during a typical solar eclipse,” says Tafreshi. “Some solar eclipses are darker, depending on solar activity. In an average solar eclipse, I’d say you can capture it on a handheld phone, but of course, don’t expect something stunning. But it is possible.”
Any observer with a digital camera can capture it easily, adds Tafreshi. “Let’s say, if you can capture the ambient light during a full moon on a handheld camera, it’s identical during a total solar eclipse.”
But for anyone serious about photographing the total solar eclipse, Tafreshi recommends checking out these resources: NASA’s smartphone photography tips, and eclipse chaser Mr. Eclipse’s photography guide.
So what is Tafreshi’s biggest tip? Leave it to professionals and just enjoy it. “There will be so many good pictures of the eclipse online afterwards that you can have as memories,” he says. “Amateurs are using automatic cameras and cellphones and they get confused about what to focus on. They’re trying to focus on the sun, but the light isn’t enough. So they just zoom back and forth. And many of the images will be out of focus, so always focus manually if your camera has that option.”
“Instead of spending your two minutes of totality trying to focus your camera on the sun, I recommend trying to enjoy the experience,” says Tafreshi. “Professionals do this as their job. If you’re there with your friends and partners and family, just enjoy it and have a pair of binoculars for the totality time.”
So follow Tafreshi’s advice for your first total solar eclipse, ‘go caveman’, and let yourself be transfixed by the celestial phenomenon.
“It used to be that the total solar eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” adds Tafreshi. “Yes, if you don’t travel. But if you’re traveling, you can see one every couple of years.”
But in America, the next total solar eclipse isn’t until 2024. So don’t miss this one, camera or no camera.