“The rim of the sun was a vast circle of leaping flames.” This poetic sentence is how The Iowa Gazette described America’s last solar eclipse in 1918. At this time in photography history, Kodak was the leader in all things photographic and encouraged people to safely view—and photograph—the moon over the sun through developed film. These early photographs of the eclipse are fascinating studies, but they are not the first. On May 26, 1854, Philadelphia-based brothers William and Frederick Langenheim photographed the first solar eclipse since photography’s invention in 1839. Only seven of the original eight daguerreotypes survive and are owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Due to their delicate condition, the daguerreotypes are kept in storage when not part of an exhibition. Since daguerreotypes are a slow process, Jeff Rosenheim, the curator in charge of the Met’s department of photographs believes that the brothers used a series of eight cameras to capture the different moments that the moon passed over the sun.
While the Langenheim brothers’ eclipse images are beautiful, it is unlikely that they used a solar filter in their creation. For those of you planning to photograph today’s eclipse, be sure to take proper precautions. Your camera lens alone is not sufficient protection from the UV rays that can very quickly cause permanent damage to your eyes. The only safe way to look at the sun is through special solar filters like eclipse glasses. If you are planning to photograph the eclipse make sure that you are using a certified solar filter for your camera, telescope, binoculars, or other optical device.