Preparing to Photograph the 21 August 2017 Solar Eclipse? Practice, Practice, Practice

If you’re going to try to photograph the solar eclipse on 21 August, practice what you want to try out. Totality will last less than three minutes at best. You just have one shot.

I’ve been practicing and preparing for Monday’s solar eclipse by going over my equipment, trying photographic methods, and thinking what it is I’m really trying to do in seeing this event.

First and foremost, I want to experience the eclipse, not spend those few precious minutes fiddling with gear only to realize later that I missed the whole show. That means planning what I will and will not do, in detail.

I’m planning on setting up one camera on a tripod to take a series of wide angle shots that can be stacked afterward to make a composite image. This must be set up with a solar filter that can be popped off at the beginning of totality and then on again at the end. The good thing is that with that camera running on its own intervalometer it’s pretty much a hands off process.

A practice run of solar images captured with a dSLR running on internal intervalometer with a brown plastic solar filter. The sun covers its own diameter in the sky in about 2 minutes. This image is cropped from a larger composite lasting a fee hours. It represents about 50 minutes of the sun’s movement through the sky.

My most complex set-up will be a 125 mm Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope equipped with a mylar solar filter, set up on my old black EQ4 mount for viewing, twinned with a dSLR with 500 mm telephoto lens for detailed coronal photos at totality. I’ve been working out the basic details of exposure times this week.

A telescope equipped with a mylar solar filter twinned with a dSLR camera and a 150-500 mm telephoto lens, also behind a mylar filter. This setup will not follow the sun with accuracy: it will have to be corrected manually throughout the eclipse.

I’ll also have a video camera set on wide angle to record the overall setting. My fourth camera will be a “general purpose” dSLR to take photos of the event and my colleagues as it unfolds.

The main thing is to be able to set things up efficiently and then paying attention to the timing of the event. One key manipulation is to pop solar filters off of cameras during totality. I’m creating a checklist to keep my intended processes working minute by minute, with time built in to take the whole thing in.

Practice, practice, practice!

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The Eclipse of 2017: One Week To Go!

Will the total solar eclipse of 21 August 2017, which will transit across the continental USA, live up to the hype? The eclipse will also be visible as a partial eclipse from pretty much all of Canada and Mexico.

I've already seen that some writers are expecting the eclipse to be the most-photographed event in history (at least far). I'm planning on seeing the eclipse first hand, as are many other astronomy fans and photographers. My contacts near our planned main observing site are worrying about the traffic. Stores specializing in astronomy gear are selling out of excise viewers.

Whether or not the event – compounded by human interest – lives up to it all depends on the weather too. Right now I'm hopeful it will cooperate. Long-range forecasts (always to be taken with a grain of salt) show a sunny day expected on the 21st at my planned observing site. Just in case, though, I do have a backup site thanks to the suggestions of friends in the area.

In the mean time, many people planning on attending the eclipse in its totality are practicing their photographic methods. I've been preparing by running a series of tests of interval exposures with wide-angle lenses. Shot through solar filters, these photos are then stacked together to create a single image showing the track of the sun through the sky.

Above, a Nikon D800 dSLR on a sturdy tripod with a wide angle lens and a solar filter, set up to take photos every 30 seconds. The sun moves through the sky at a rate of about 15 degrees per hour. At a diameter of about 30 arc-minutes this means that the sun shifts by its own diameter every two minutes.

I've also been running through other equipment options, such as whether I should try to set up a telescope and motorized mount to follow the sun. Given the travel distance and the practicalities of carting around heavy gear, I'm now planning to minimize the kit and maximize the experience, but also be equipped to take some interesting snaps.

On to more mundane things today though, like having a plumber over this morning to replace some old plastic water lines that are now prone to leak.

First Light Through an Old Bargain

When a telescope is first put to use it’s traditional to call the first observations made through it, or the first images taken with it, as “first light.” It’s perhaps a bit of a cheat to consider photos of the photosphere of the sun that I took on 1 January 2013 as “first light” through one of my telescopes, but as I’ve been making repairs on it since I picked it up in December I felt a certain sense of occasion on New Years Day when I was able to set it up “for real” for the first time.

Set-up for balcony solar photographs.

Set-up for balcony solar photographs. My balcony faces WSW – good for some afternoon sungazing.

I have an affection for old optical equipment. As evidence I can readily point to my Hasselblad and large format film cameras, still used on occasion. For some months I had noticed an older refracting telescope – complete with a mount and wooden tripod in a big wooden box – on the floor of a local telescope shop. In early December it was on sale for $100, and suddenly found a new home at Pine River Observatory. Well, in my living room. Same thing, really.

So, I started fiddling about with the old telescope a few weeks ago, and quickly discovered why it was such a bargain. In addition to several bends where bends shouldn’t be in the fine adjustment gears on the mount, and a couple of other minor issues, the biggest problem with the telescope was that the collar that holds the eyepiece or other fittings in the focuser was in fact pretty badly damaged. It had been knocked around (I suspect it had been actually pulled or knocked out of the telescope by force at one point) and was being held into the telescope with aluminum duct tape! With a bit of perseverance, cleaning out, and re-bending, the collar is now looking much better, is equipped with new thumb screws, and is firmly epoxied into place – permanently.

The specifics are that it’s an 80 mm achromatic refractor, f/15 (or, put another way, it has a focal length of 1200 mm), and it’s labelled with the brand name “Polaroscope.” So far I haven’t been able to find out too much about this brand. It was likely made in Japan, possibly by a company called Eikow or Towa, and similar ‘scopes may have been sold under various trademarks. It may be as old as 1960.

Even though the repairs have been made, it’s still January in Ontario, and this winter so far has been very cloudy. However, on New Years Day there was a great deal of very welcome sun, and I was able to set up the old telescope in a fairly heavy-duty mount for a little solar imaging (Shortly after getting the telescope I did play around a little with taking photos of the moon with it, but this was with the camera held to the tube with duct tape). Equipped with a mylar solar filter over the objective and a Nikon D5100 dSLR at prime focus, I was pretty pleased with the $100 bargain ‘scope.

The results were worth waiting for, as several large sunspots came into view this afternoon. I have several more subjects planned for this telescope, including Jupiter and the Galilean moons, when the weather will be accommodating at the right time.

The sun's photosphere photographed 1t 1400 EDT, 1 January 2013 from Hamilton, Ontario.

The sun’s photosphere photographed at 1400 EDT, 1 January 2013 from Hamilton, Ontario.

Note:

As I’m now back to work five days a week, following a very nice holiday for Christmas and the New Year celebrations, I don’t think it will be very realistic for me to be posting daily blog entries. In January I am hoping to average one or two postings a week. Just so everyone knows.