Whether you’ve just now decided to check out the eclipse on a whim, or you’ve been planning for months, there’s likely something on this list you didn’t think to bring. And there isn’t much time to snag it. So get your overnight-shipping money together, and start drafting a list of friends with gadgets and connections. You’re probably gonna need it.
- Helpful Apps
The Eclipse Safari app is free, and offers nearly everything you need to stay on top of your eclipse game:
- The eclipse simulator shows what the eclipse will look like in any chosen location, so you can make sure you’re as close to the total eclipse path as possible.
- A countdown timer lets you know the state of the moon’s shadow, and how long until it reaches your location.
- Updated eclipse news and articles from Space.com let you learn something while you wait.
- And there’s a live stream of the eclipse on the big day in case you’re faced with cloud cover or some other obstacle.
If you want to film or photograph the eclipse, you should run through the motions in advance. It’s a complex process with little forgiveness for fumbling or distraction. The Sun Surveyor app ($9.99) can help.
It uses augmented reality to show you the exact path of the sun and moon in your location, so you can have your cameras set up in advance to capture the whole event without hurried adjustments throwing off your shot. It even lets you use Google Maps Street View to see where the sun will be on any day of the year, so you can scout multiple locations from home beforehand. It’s an outdoor photographer’s dream come true.
- Eclipse Viewers
If you’re recording the eclipse, you probably have a camera with you. But you don’t want to witness this extremely rare event through a camera’s low-definition screen or mess up your shots by looking through the viewfinder. You need something simpler.
If you don’t already have eclipse glasses or viewers of some kind, it’s slim pickings. And if you do already have some, you may want to double check the source. Counterfeit and unapproved eclipse glasses have been reported, leaving a lot of eclipse watchers in a tight spot.
But don’t fret just yet, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) has offered advice on testing your equipment to see if it’s up the task. And if you can’t find an official eclipse viewer, the AAS also recommends using welding filters of at least shade 13 or 14. Anything less can be uncomfortably bright, or even permanently damage your eyes.
Worst-case scenario (and only if you’re in the path of the total eclipse), you can still view the event with unprotected eyes during the brief period where the moon is completely blocking out the sun. But when you can see even a small portion of the sun starting to return, the show’s over or you risk serious eye damage.
- Solar Filters for Your Binoculars or Telescope
Viewers are great, but if you want a better close-up experience, binoculars and telescopes are the way to go. But be warned:
If you’re looking directly at the sun with most any kind of lens (a few exceptions we’ll cover later), you absolutely MUST have an approved solar filter to protect your eyes, and your equipment. A lens can magnify the sun’s energy to do even greater damage to your eyes than staring directly at the sun (think burning paper with a magnifying glass).
The AAS has a thorough list of approved filters for most any equipment. If you can find one at the store you’re good to go. But like the eclipse viewers, many optics filters are selling out. That said, you can buy a sheet of filter paper and make your own, or maybe even improvise with the same welding filters mentioned above.
- Solar Filter for Your Camera
If you’re looking at the sun through a mirrored camera’s viewfinder without a solar filter, you will damage your eyes. And just like your eyes, camera sensors are not designed to handle the sun’s magnified light coming through a zoom lens. Make sure to find or make a filter out of the AAS approved materials. Different types of filters show the sun in specific colors including orange, white, green, and even blue. Do a little research first so you know what to expect.
- Smartphone or GoPro
A lot of eclipse photographers focus on the sun, but your eclipse experience is made up of so much more. No matter how good your photos of the eclipse, you’ll probably find better versions posted by professional photographers. What they can’t capture is your unique experience. A video recording of you and your surroundings during the eclipse can offer a more personal memento than another set of sun photos.
A simple video camera like those on a smartphone or a GoPro® camera can film you, your companions and your surroundings (including the sun moving through the sky) throughout the event. And you don’t even need a solar filter. Because there’s no zoom lens and the sun is only a small portion of the recording, these cameras can handle the direct sunlight. Catch the look on your face as the sun disappears into shadow, and watch the landscape shift as light washes back over everyone minutes later. That’s as unique as it gets.
- Tripod and Mount
Finally, you’ll want a sturdy tripod or tripods for your cameras. You don’t want to be distracted from the main event just to hold a camera. If you’re using something non-standard like a smartphone, make sure to get an appropriate mount (duct tape has limited capabilities). You can set up the tripod in advance, and use the Sun Surveyor app to be sure the sun won’t drift out of frame (remember, the earth’s rotation means it will move a good distance throughout the experience).
It’s Go Time.
There’s work to be done. Best get a move on scavenging gear while you can. You have a once in a lifetime experience to capture, and the clock’s ticking. Here’s to savvy shopping and friendly favors.