The Eclipse is Now History!

Hopefully everyone was able to get the experience they were hoping for with the eclipse of 2017! I know that some parts of the country experienced some cloud cover issues, and I suppose that was unavoidable. With a little planning and an element of luck I was able to avoid the clouds that plagued my friends who stayed behind in Lincoln, NE.

Up to the day before, I was still undecided on where I would go and didn't even know if I would go West and North or South and East of my home to get in the path. Last thing before going to bed, I had to make the call. I would go toward the middle of Nebraska. This seemed like my best chance at a clear sky. I set my alarm for 2:30 am and went to sleep.

2:30 am (aka the middle of the night) came VERY quickly, but it was OK, I was excited! I had my gear packed up and I was out the door. My target destination was the small town of Oconto, Nebraska. Oconto is South of Broken Bow in about the exact middle of the state and is located very near where the center line of the eclipse shadow was. This last bit was crucial for me as I wanted as much time as possible to experience and photograph the event.

I started communicating with a friend who I knew was also in that part of the state for the eclipse and we arranged to meetup. As I drove into Oconto, the fog was thick though I was confident it would burn off so there was no worry there.

 

Two and a Half Minutes in the Shadow : Make it Last Forever

Sometimes things just line up perfectly. On August 21, 2017, the Moon will line up perfectly with the Sun. This will cause a shadow to move across the surface of the Earth. My friends over at NASA have put together an entire website dedicated to explaining how, when and why this happens and I encourage you to check it out by visiting eclipse2017.nasa.gov. My mission for this event, is to try to document it and help others to document it from many angles and make it last forever.

With the greatest duration of the eclipse being 2 minutes 40.2 seconds long (in the southern tip of Indiana), it will happen very quickly and I want people to be able to capture it AND enjoy it! I have heard of globetrotting photographers who chase solar eclipses all over the planet and they always get so caught up in photographing the event that they have never ACTUALLY SEEN the eclipse with their own eyes. I can relate to this through my own experiences photographing the Milky Way (and time isn't even much of a factor!). It's so easy to get excited by the images you are capturing or trying to figure out how to adjust settings to make them even better that you witness everything through the LCD on the back of your camera and you completely forget to look up! A major part of successful imaging in these situations is practicing your routine over and over. Build into that routine, time to look up and appreciate what is happening right in front of you.

Before I even start on the how... a note on safety. Looking at the sun (even if it is 99% covered by the moon) can cause serious damage to the eyes. Looking through a telescope or a camera (especially with a long lens) will make the damage even worse. The following is taken right from one of NASA's papers on the topic (which can be found here as well).

Eye Safety During Solar Eclipses

Fred Espenak
Adapted from NASA RP 1383 Total Solar Eclipse of 1998 February 26, April 1996, p. 17.

The Sun can be viewed safely with the naked eye only during the few brief seconds or minutes of a total solar eclipse. Partial eclipses, annular eclipses, and the partial phases of total eclipses are never safe to watch without taking special precautions. Even when 99% of the Sun's surface is obscured during the partial phases of a total eclipse, the remaining photospheric crescent is intensely bright and cannot be viewed safely without eye protection [Chou, 1981; Marsh, 1982]. Do not attempt to observe the partial or annular phases of any eclipse with the naked eye. Failure to use appropriate filtration may result in permanent eye damage or blindness!

Generally, the same equipment, techniques and precautions used to observe the Sun outside of eclipse are required for annular eclipses and the partial phases of total eclipses [Reynolds & Sweetsir, 1995; Pasachoff & Covington, 1993; Pasachoff & Menzel, 1992; Sherrod, 1981]. The safest and most inexpensive of these methods is by projection, in which a pinhole or small opening is used to cast the image of the Sun on a screen placed a half-meter or more beyond the opening. Projected images of the Sun may even be seen on the ground in the small openings created by interlacing fingers, or in the dappled sunlight beneath a leafy tree. Binoculars can also be used to project a magnified image of the Sun on a white card, but you must avoid the temptation of using these instruments for direct viewing.

The Sun can be viewed directly only when using filters specifically designed for this purpose. Such filters usually have a thin layer of aluminum, chromium or silver deposited on their surfaces that attenuates ultraviolet, visible, and infrared energy. One of the most widely available filters for safe solar viewing is a number 14 welder's glass, available through welding supply outlets. More recently, aluminized mylar has become a popular, inexpensive alternative. Mylar can easily be cut with scissors and adapted to any kind of box or viewing device. A number of sources for solar filters are listed below. No filter is safe to use with any optical device (i.e. - telescope, binoculars, etc.) unless it has been specifically designed for that purpose. Experienced amateur and professional astronomers may also use one or two layers of completely exposed and fully developed black-and-white film, provided the film contains a silver emulsion. Since all developed color films lack silver, they are always unsafe for use in solar viewing.

Unsafe filters include color film, some non-silver black and white film, medical x-ray films with images on them, smoked glass, photographic neutral density filters and polarizing filters. Solar filters designed to thread into eyepieces which are often sold with inexpensive telescopes are also dangerous. They should not be used for viewing the Sun at any time since they often crack from overheating. Do not experiment with other filters unless you are certain that they are safe. Damage to the eyes comes predominantly from invisible infrared wavelengths. The fact that the Sun appears dark in a filter or that you feel no discomfort does not guarantee that your eyes are safe. Avoid all unnecessary risks. Your local planetarium or amateur astronomy club is a good source for additional information.

In spite of these precautions, the total phase (and only the total phase) of an eclipse can and should be viewed without filters. It is crucial that you know when to take off and put back on your glasses.

 

I really don't want to hear any horror stories about someone going blind watching this eclipse! Make sure you follow all warnings and know what you are doing to ensure safety. This is especially true if there are children viewing with you. They may not be aware of or take the danger seriously and they rely on you to protect them and their vision.

 

Also be sure to protect your gear. Using live view to "look" through your unprotected lens might spare your vision but will most likely fry your camera sensor.

Capturing the Event

On August 6th at the Homestead National Monument near Beatrice, Nebraska, I will be giving a talk on photographing the eclipse. My personal experience in photographing eclipses is primarily with the Lunar variety.

Phases of the Lunar EclipseSeptember 27, 2015 Lunar Eclipse.
September 27, 2015 Lunar Eclipse as viewed from Gretna, Nebraska. Composite of 13 images showing various phases of the event.

Some will say (and they are mostly correct) that Lunar and Solar eclipses are two totally different things. A lot of the principles in capturing the event are similar though. the focal lengths used are very similar. Depending on the look you are going for, longer focal lengths are preferable and this creates its own challenges as the celestial bodies move (rather quickly) across the sky. Each event will have "phases" similar to what is seen in the above photograph.

There are a lot of differences though. Exposure is obviously going to be very different. Lunar eclipses are generally a night photography exercise where Solar eclipses are daytime events. The Sun is EXTREMELY bright and special care must be taken to ensure that damage is not done to the eyes or to the camera system. Solar eclipse totality happens much more quickly than Lunar totality and may only be viewed from specific locations (whereas Lunar eclipses can be viewed/photographed from anywhere in the correct hemisphere of Earth with a clear sky).

I do have some experience with Solar eclipses. Specifically the one that happened October 23, 2014. From my vantage point, I could only see a partial eclipse and without eclipse glasses and special filters on the camera, one would not even be aware of the eclipse.

October 23, 2014 Partial Solar Eclipse as viewed from Chalco Hills Recreation Area near Omaha, Nebraska. Composite of two images.

Hopefully many people who read this will be at the photography workshop at Homestead on the 6th. If you can't make it, I hope you find this article helpful. If you are going to be there, I wanted to give a heads up on what I would cover and specifically, the gear that I will use/what is needed so you can try to secure it for yourself ahead of the event.

Gear

I will use a variety of cameras/gear to capture the eclipse. Depending on the look you are going for, you could use a wide variety of methods. Do you want a closeup of the event? Wide angle shot showing surroundings, etc.? In my case, I will try to capture both ends of this spectrum and something in the middle as well. I will try to automate as much of the process as I can to help things run smoothly. If you are using your own gear, get to know it VERY well. If you are renting gear, rent it early so that you can become very familiar with it. You want to be able to adjust quickly to capture the desired image and not spend all of totality messing with your settings, etc.

Cameras

I will have a few different cameras on hand to try to capture this in a number of ways.

     Canon EOS 6D

My 6D will be my full frame companion for the shoot. It is important to note the difference between a full frame sensor and the more typical crop frame sensors common in digital cameras. The full frame sensor matches the size of 35mm film and has a wider angle of view when compared to the crop cameras making the Sun/Moon appear smaller. I will attempt to use this to my advantage. The atmosphere of the Sun (also known as the Corona) is much larger than the disk of the Sun or Moon and will be the focal point of photographs taken during totality. I want the larger field of view to capture this.

     Canon EOS 70D

My 70D body is a crop sensor body and will help me to get a higher resolution in tight on the disk of the Sun and Moon as the eclipse progresses from first to last contact. Mounted via a T Mount adapter to my Celestron telescope, the Sun/Moon will completely fill the frame!

     Canon EOS Elan 7E (film)

I am still working out how/if I will actually use this camera. Right now, I am thinking I will use it for a wide angle shot during totality. I think that capturing the event on film as well as digitally will be very rewarding.

     GoPro Hero 4 Black

I will use the GoPro camera to capture video of the event. My intent at this point is to have the camera run with me in the foreground photographing the eclipse and the eclipse in the background. However, I am still working out this composition in my head.

Lenses/Telescope

     Celestron NexStar 5se

This telescope has a 5" aperture (127mm) and a focal length of 1250mm giving an f/10 value. Paired with my Canon 70D body the eclipse will fill the frame. To mount my camera to the back of the telescope, I use a special "T" adapter which screws onto the body of the scope where the eye-piece holder would normally be and my camera attaches to it like it would any normal Canon mount lens. The scope came with a special computerized Go-To mount, which tracks the sky keeping the Sun/Moon in the frame for me. With such a long focal length it only takes a couple of minutes for the sun to creep out of the frame and I don't want to have to keep re-positioning a normal tripod mount. I will use this combination to capture the phases of the eclipse from first contact through totality to last contact.


Uncropped image of the Sun taken using my Celestron NexStar 5SE and my 70D. 1/400" f/10 ISO1250

Celestron NexStar 5se with Thousand Oaks Optical filter attached (camera not attached)
Celestron NexStar 5se telescope with Thousand Oaks Optical Filter attached

     Tamron SP 150-600 G2 (Canon)

I had originally figured on renting this lens or the Sigma equivalent. Then a friend decided to sell his so I just went ahead and bought it. Paired with my 6D and the wider field of view that goes with it, I will use this lens primarily to capture the Corona during totality. The Coronal disk is several times the diameter of the Sun/Moon and I want to be able to fit it all in the frame. This lens at 600mm with this camera should provide the right field of view.


Uncropped test shot of the Sun with the 6D and the Tamron lens at 600mm showing the field of view. 1/320" f/8 ISO200 Thousand Oaks Optical Solar Filter

     Canon EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM

This all around focal length lens will be handy for any number of uses during the shoot. It may find a home in front of my Elan film camera during totality. We'll just see.

     Rokinon 14mm f/2.8

I will also have this lens available for some wide angle shots. The Sun will be pretty high in the sky (60 degrees high to be exact) and to get the landscape and the Sun in one shot might require such a lens (or even a vertical panorama)

Filters

I'll say it again...DO NOT try to view the partial eclipse with the naked eye or through the viewfinder of a camera without the proper filter attached appropriately. Doing so can cause permanent, irreversible damage to the eye and may even cause blindness. Using Live View on the camera will prevent the blindness thing but without the filter attached (especially through long lenses) will fry your camera sensor. With the filters I am going to discuss, it is important that they are mounted to the FRONT of the lens of the camera. Mounting them any other way (i.e. over the eye-piece) will not work. The solar energy will simply fry the filter, then your eye or camera. No good. Use as directed! for viewing with the naked eye, have some Solar eclipse glasses ready. These are basically the same material that the filters for cameras are made out of but put into cheesy cardboard frames for you to wear on your face. Goofy looking? Yes, but way better than going blind.

     Thousand Oaks Optical 5" Solar Filter (Amazon)

In front of my Celestron NexStar will be a special 5" filter made by Thousand Oaks Optical. The filter is basically a metal ring designed to hold the plastic filter material over the front of the telescope. The light transmission from this particular filter is 1/1000 of 1%. Converted to camera terms, it is like having something between a 16 and 17 stop neutral density (ND) filter. (Note: ND filters are not considered safe as they do not block certain wavelengths of light which can be harmful.)


Couple images showing the filter attached to the Celestron. The images on amazon can be misleading as the filter material is actually quite flimsy. The wrinkling should not degrade the image though.

     Thousand Oaks Solar Filter Film Material (Amazon)

This is the same material mounted in the special filter noted above but comes in larger sheets for making one's own custom filters. I will use the material to make a filter for my Tamron Lens.

 

     Eclipse Glasses (Amazon)

As noted above, to view the partial eclipse, one must wear eye protection. The cheapest and easiest thing to do is buy some special eclipse glasses made from the same solar filter film mentioned above. If you chose to make your own (and I don't recommend this since they are very inexpensive) make sure you use the film that is made for viewing and not just for photography.

Other notes on filtration of light during the eclipse...

Protective eye wear and/or camera filters are only required during partial phases of the eclipse. While (and only during this time) you are in the umbral shadow (totality), you may view the eclipse with the naked eye and photograph it with a naked lens. In fact, this is what you will want to do. The Corona is what we are after and the glasses/filters will keep us from seeing/photographing it well.

I recommend using dedicated solar filters for observation and photography as they will give natural colors and lead to a better overall experience. However, one can, in a pinch, use certain welding equipment to accomplish the task. Welding glass (#14 or stronger) can be used for viewing and in the image above I used such a piece of glass as a camera filter to get the image of the Sun partially eclipsed by the Moon. Note that these glasses usually cast some sort of color over the image (in my experience, green) hence my gravitating toward dedicated solar filters.

NASA's page on safely viewing (filtering) the eclipse can be found here.

Tripods/Mounts

If your goal is to get up close and personal with the eclipse via a long lens, I recommend using some sort of motorized tracking mount. As the Earth rotates, the Sun (and all celestial objects) appear to move across the sky. If you're zoomed way in, the Sun will creep across and out of your frame rather quickly and having to reposition can take time. You don't want to have to keep doing this or even worse, discover you have to do it and miss something critical.

     Celestron NexStar Go-To mount

This computerized tracking mount came with my telescope and does a great job at keeping the Sun/Moon in the frame, even at 1250mm. I used this mount to photograph the Lunar eclipse shown above and only had to make a couple minor adjustments to re-center over the space of a few hours! It does require an external power source, which I will outline below.

     Sky Watcher Star Adventurer Tracking Mount (Amazon- Note: You also need the tripod and counterweight kit to match my setup here)


Tamron 150-600 mounted to the Star Adventurer.

This mount attaches to a standard tripod and I have the optional equatorial wedge between my mount and my tripod. The wedge will help me to do a loose polar alignment using the Latitude markers on the device. Set my latitude, point it north and I should be good to go! I will mount my Tamron lens to this using the optional Declination bracket with the counterweight to keep everything balanced. Precise polar alignment is not going to be required since I am not going to use exceedingly long exposures. With the Star Adventurer or any other tracking mount that attaches to a tripod, I recommend a sturdy, heavy tripod as the rig gets quite heavy quickly.

     Standard everyday tripod with Ball Head (2)

I will have two standard tripods which can be used for a number of different things. One will be holding the GoPro camera for video and the other will hold my Elan or be used for any other purpose as I need it.

Other Items

I will have a variety of other items on hand to help me be successful in my mission for the day. I will outline these below. I may add items as they cross my mind between now an August 21.

  • Cable releases - one for each of my cameras. I don't want to have to swap them around and they are fairly inexpensive. I prefer the wired ones over the wireless ones which can be rather finicky.
  • External power supply - I will utilize a car or marine battery with a 120V AC Power Inverter supplying me with two AC outlets. One will have my Go-To mount plugged into it and the other will be available for whatever I need it for. There are a variety of solutions for this available. This is simply the route I've chosen.
  • Extra camera batteries - I refuse to miss a critical shot because my battery went dead. I will have many of these suckers with me. If you are a mirrorless shooter, carry even more of them...
  • Extra memory cards/film - Kinda like the battery thing. Even though I don't plan on filling two 64gb cards, I want to be prepared in case one fails.
  • A Chair - Depending on how much of the eclipse you want to view and where you are viewing from the event could take up to 3 hours! I will be there before first contact until after last contact. I might need a place to sit.
  • Cooler (stocked with ice and beverages) - This one speaks for itself I think.
  • Music - I'm thinking of creating a custom eclipse Pandora station... Or not... We'll see

Again, I may add to this list.

Renting

Do not feel like you have to buy a bunch of special camera gear for the eclipse (though you can if you want to). You can rent it! I have had a lot of experience with lensrentals.com . They have great customer service and a large selection of gear that would be appropriate. I also do not hesitate to recommend renting from Brent Bergherm at brentrentslenses.com. It is my understanding that if you rent a lens that is 400mm or longer from Brent for a week or more and include August 21st in the date range, He will send you the appropriate solar filter for that lens! Very cool! But rent quick as I'm sure these will be reserved swiftly! I know a lot of people have also had great luck with Borrowlenses.com. Any of the aforementioned should work very well and allow you access to the gear you need for a lot less $$!

Photographing the Event

Depending on what exactly you want to capture, your methods may vary from mine. I'm going for a variety, but I am focused on the phases and a detailed shot of the Corona. This leads me to my setup with my 70D attached to my Celestron telescope and my 6D attached to my Tamron lens.

The sheet below (which came from the NASA site and can be downloaded) shows field of view for various focal lengths and also recommended exposures. I will follow this as a starting point, but as with all photography, be ready to think and adjust on the fly. Getting the partial eclipse exposure correct based on my specific filter system will rely on some more testing to see what works well. For the photos in totality, this sheet will be committed to memory and serve as my starting point (can't go out and practice taking pictures of the Corona).

Practice will be key. An idea to practice the capture situation involves setting a stopwatch with a timer set based on the calculated time of totality and trying to work my equipment to get used to how fast everything will happen.

An additional tool I will use is the auto exposure bracketing feature in my cameras. This allows me to take up to 7 shots and the camera will adjust exposure after each one automatically. The less I have to think about the better. I want to be able to actually see and experience the event with my senses.

Once more, The filters will be on any cameras until totality actually starts and then they'll come off for totality. They must be replaced as totality ends! Don't fry your eyes or your camera gear!

Where do I have to be?

All of this is meaningless if you are in the wrong place. You do not have to be in the path of totality to photograph the eclipse and get some great results! Just look at my photo above. There actually was no path of totality during that eclipse. BUT, if you have the means, you should move yourself into the path. I saw a post on social media a while back proposing a group meeting at a great location. Only problem was, it was about 20 miles from the outer edge of the path of totality...That is like going to the concert of your dreams, having tickets in hand and deciding to try to listen from the parking lot. Not nearly as awesome. In fact, being on the edge of the path, barely in it is better but still not great (sort of like being in the corridors under the seating at said concert). I work in Lincoln, Nebraska and we will be positioned toward the Northern edge of the path. The intersection of 27th street and I-80 sits VERY near the edge of the path and at that spot, a whole 17.9 seconds of totality will be experienced. Go a little ways south toward the town of Beatrice, stop a few miles north of the town and you will find yourself in the center of the path. Totality here is 2 minutes and 37 seconds long... Nearly 9 times as long! A very big difference! to see the path laid over a google map and have the ability to click on any location and see the length of totality and exact timing head over to the NASA page with the interactive map.

Using this map, scout a few locations so that you know where you're going and to help things go smoothly. There are many places (even some that are normally very remote) that will have A LOT more traffic than normal. Be prepared for this. Also be prepared to change your plans as the weather forecast changes. Clouds or worse could make photographing, or even seeing the eclipse impossible. Try not to tie yourself to one specific location.


NASA's Map of the Path of Totality. The shadows indicate the areas totally eclipsed with 3 minute intervals (this thing really moves!)

Final Notes

I have heard many veteran eclipse chasers (and even some photographers) recommend that you just take in the eclipse event with your senses and forget the camera. I think it all depends on how you want to experience the event. For me, the act of photographing something unique and capturing my own experience of it is what I am after. I am sure there will be AWESOME photos taken by others that we can all enjoy after the eclipse, but I want photos I can call my own. With this being said, make sure you do take the time to experience totality and all of the experience with your senses. It will be easy to get caught up in the camera, settings, etc. so practice and plan your experience!

If you would like access to the presentation document from my talk at Homestead National Monument on August 6th fill out this form.