The 2017 Great American Eclipse captured from a commercial airliner over the Oregon and Idaho border. © Jon Carmichael

On April 8, millions of people will have their eyes on the sky for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience a rare total solar eclipse that will be visible throughout North America as it passes across Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. The April eclipse will be the last total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous U.S. until 2044.

Its path of totality in North America will begin in Mexico and pass through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine before ending in the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador. A partial solar eclipse will be visible throughout the entire continental U.S.

Experts estimate that the solar eclipse will cover a lot of ground and has the potential to be viewed by millions of people. For several months, optical safety experts have been sounding the alarm about the upcoming eclipse, warning eyecare providers and their patients to take steps to avoid significant eye damage.

“The greatest vision risk when trying to watch an eclipse is looking directly at the sun without proper protection. The sun's intense rays, even during an eclipse, can cause serious damage to your eyes,” said Dr. Scott Allison, OD, and vice president, Professional Services at MyEyeDr. “This damage occurs when people underestimate the sun, thinking that an eclipse blocks enough of its light for it to be safe to view. Solar radiation remains dangerous during an eclipse.”

Jeff Todd, CEO and president of Prevent Blindness, said, “Exposing your eyes to the sun without proper eye protection during a solar eclipse can cause ‘eclipse blindness’ or retinal burns, also known as solar retinopathy. This exposure to the light can cause damage or even destroy cells in the retina. This damage can be temporary or permanent and occurs with no pain. It can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days after viewing the solar eclipse to realize the damage that has occurred.”

Jeff Todd.
Todd recommends viewing the eclipse with special equipment. He said the best way to prevent damaging your eye when viewing a solar eclipse is to never look directly at the sun with the naked eye.

“The moon doesn’t generate its own light, but instead reflects the light of the sun, making it shine. This means that it is safe to look directly at the moon with the naked eye, including during a lunar eclipse when the earth is casting its shadow over the moon,” he said.

“The sun emits harmful ultraviolet and infrared rays. During a solar eclipse, it is dangerous to look at the sun without eye protection, as the sun’s rays can damage your eye’s retina. Except for the brief time when a solar eclipse is in totality and completely covered by the moon’s shadow, it’s important to always use eye protection, such as eclipse glasses, to prevent damage from the sun’s rays,” Todd concluded.

Prevent Blindness has created several pieces of literature to help eyecare providers and patients protect their eyes and understand the risks of looking at the sun during a solar eclipse. The organization has issued several safety recommendations for watching the solar eclipse:

  • Wear solar eclipse glasses. Make sure they meet safety requirements and are manufactured with the ISO 12312-2 standard. Look for ISO standard labelling when looking for solar eclipse glasses and purchase them from a trusted source.

  • Use a pinhole projection, which can be made from inexpensive materials at home.

  • Remember, do not view an eclipse through your smartphone, through binoculars or through regular sunglasses.
Eyecare providers can visit the Prevent Blindness website to access additional resources.

The American Optometric Association (AOA) is sharing eye safety information with the public and offering eyecare providers resources they can pass on to their patients.

If you experience pain when looking at the solar eclipse, the AOA recommends immediately speaking with an optometrist by using the doctor locator on the AOA website.

Visit the AOA website to access eye safety guidance to share with patients. Additional patient education materials are available here.

  Capturing the Beauty of a Solar Eclipse on Film

 Jon Carmichael.
Jon Carmichael has been photographing solar and lunar eclipses for more than a decade. Carmichael shot to fame in 2017, when he captured an astounding photo of a total solar eclipse from an airplane at 39,000 feet flying above the Snake River in America.

He has been invited to speak about his work, known as astrophotography, at NASA, TEDx and Twitter, and has gained international acclaim for his photos, counting Elton John as one of his biggest collectors.

“Since childhood, I’ve always been amazed by the natural beauty of the earth and the night sky. It creates so much curiosity and wonder. When I became a photographer, I naturally gravitated toward that genre of photography,” Carmichael told VM. “The camera became more of a tool to be able to explore the universe and see things that we aren’t able to see with the naked eye.”

He said one of the greatest things that draws him to photography is the ability to capture a moment in time that may never happen again and share that beautiful moment with others.

This photo was shot from Chile at the Cerro Tololo Observatory in July 2019. © Jon Carmichael
Despite years of photographic solar eclipses, he said there is still great risk associated with this line of work.

“The riskiest moments are the partial phases before and after totality, when the moon hasn’t quite fully covered the sun. During totality, when it gets completely dark, you are able to look at the sun with your naked eye,” he said. Carmichael encourages people to travel to a place where they will be able to experience the eclipse, but warns them to take the right precautions.

“You have to protect your equipment— even if it’s just a phone camera— and of course, your eyes. Camera lenses are powerful and can magnify the intensity of the sun, and the sensors that record the image in the camera are extremely sensitive. If you don’t use proper filters, you can damage the sensor very quickly.”

Carmichael recommends amateur photographers, or those who only have a phone available, should consider getting a tripod to ensure a steady and clear image. He said once in totality, the sky will be very dark, so the camera needs to keep still to take a longer exposure.

Recently, Carmichael partnered with Prevent Blindness to create a video that helps explain safety tips and tricks for taking photographs of a solar eclipse.

A lunar eclipse, photographed from Saharita, Ariz. in 2022. © Jon Carmichael
Unlike lunar eclipses, which only happen at night, a solar eclipse always happens during the day, because the earth is passing through the moon’s shadow. When this happens, if you’re inside the small 100-mile-wide moon’s shadow, the bright day sky suddenly turns pitch-dark, as if it’s midnight, Carmichael said.

“There is a beautiful 360-degree sunset around you, the temperature can drop 20 degrees, and it’s the only time you can actually look at the sun’s atmosphere with your naked eye. You can see prominence and solar flares shooting off the sun’s surface. It’s absolutely remarkable,” he said.

Due to the rarity of solar eclipses, Carmichael suggests taking the time to experience and capture the moment.

“The eclipse in 2017 was the first total solar eclipse to sweep across the U.S. in 99 years. The next eclipse after April 8 will be Aug. 23, 2044. It’s an unbelievably beautiful phenomena that only lasts a few minutes if you’re lucky. So, to capture such a fleeting and beautiful moment is incredibly unique,” he said.