Eclipse Photography For The Procrastinator

eclipse photography
Photo courtesy of NASA

In case you missed it, the solar eclipse is on Monday, August 21, 2017, and I don’t even have glasses yet. So I’ll probably wear a pinhole camera box on my head, but I have a nice camera kit from Canon, the EOS 5D Mark IV, and maybe should at least try to get a shot.

eclipse photography

I’m based in Seattle, and we’re on 92% of the totality path; 100% is where observers will see the moon completely cover the sun for about two-and-a-half minutes, and to that end, I contacted Canon, who put me in touch with one of their Explorers of Light, Ken Sklute.

eclipse photography

Ken told me that since I haven’t acquired the gear yet, it’s too late, and I can’t use anything but the proper filter because the eclipse will either burn a hole in the 5D camera sensor, or worse, my retinas. I trust Ken. He’s set up now in Casper, Wyoming, with the right gear and has been answering emails about this topic all week.

That’s a bummer and, apparently, for the big eclipse moment, preparation is everything. You don’t want to be like the observer in 1860 whose camera obscura wasn’t working, or Tom Seaton’s, in 1979, who missed the shot because his tripod got knocked over:

“I barely saw the one in 1979 because I was fiddling with the camera and on the ground…crying about the broken camera.”

eclipse photography
From the West Coast Survey of 1860

As a backup to my total lack of preparation, I’ve decided it’s best to let the pros shoot it, like Ken, and I learned that Canon has a blog about the topic where they’ll share their results after Monday. Also, to state the obvious, don’t point your smartphone at the sun. If you do, it will burn the sensor out, or if you move it slightly, expose your eyes and put your eyesight at risk.

There’s so much concern about safety during the event that NASA also has published a safety site with a flyer. If you’re not in a location where there’s totality, don’t look at the eclipse at all, because the partial eclipse concentrates the solar rays. Those lucky enough to experience totality, a 100% eclipse, can look for a few seconds when it’s dark, then take proper precautions as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear again.

I also learned that the Exploratorium, a leading science learning laboratory, and museum in San Francisco is producing five live feeds of the eclipse. The feeds will be available by downloading their Total Solar Eclipse App or visiting the Exploratorium’s Eclipse Web Page and consist of:

  • A telescope feed from Casper, Wyoming;
  • A telescope feed from Madras, Oregon;
  • A one-hour English language educational eclipse program with scientific explanations by Exploratorium and NASA scientists;
  • A one-hour Spanish language educational eclipse program with scientific explanations by Exploratorium scientists
  • Live performance by Kronos Quartet and eclipse sonification from San Francisco.

The Exploratorium seems to have it covered, and with mood music. To create the soundscape, the Kronos Quartet will process digital information collected from an array of telescopes and translate that information into an auditory experience synced to the telescope feeds. When the telescope feeds switch, the digital information coming in causes the tonal range of the sound to change as well for a responsive and dynamic sound.

Whether you’re trying to capture the moment, or just enjoy it, I hope you get a good view of the eclipse. It’s one of nature’s grandest spectacles, and I remember the one in 1979. We watched it in the schoolyard.

Given what Ken told me, I’ve decided to just take it all in while listening to the audio and found these pinhole camera instructions from JPL.

But, wait there’s more….NASA has a website dedicated to the eclipse with many resources, including 2D/3D pinhole project templates. If that’s too much work, you can use yourself as a pinhole camera by crossing the outstretched, slightly open fingers of one hand over the outstretched, slightly open fingers of the other. Then, with your back to the sun, look at your hands’ shadow on the ground. You’ll see the sun as a crescent during the partial phases of the eclipse.

By now, you’ve probably figured out that you can take a photo of the pinhole camera projection, right?

Yes, you can, and I’ll be doing so on Monday with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. I hope those pinhole pics are fabulous and my observations about the event are pithy, too, like another observer in 1860:

“The progress of the moon’s passage across the sun’s disc was beautiful in the extreme, and at the period of totality there was the most gorgeous sight I ever witnessed.”

The only challenge now is cloud cover, and in Seattle, it’s looking pretty good. If not, NASA has a live stream, too.

You can follow DL Byron on Twitter @bikehugger

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