The Total Solar Eclipse of 2017
Just in case you have been living under a rock for the last few weeks, there was a total solar eclipse that transited the entire continental United States. The band of totality stretched from Oregon, through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and ended in South Carolina. Here is NASA's interactive Eclipse Map.
I had taken the day of the eclipse off and put it on the work out-of-office calendar at the beginning of the year. A few months ago I started doing research on the eclipse, trying to decide where to travel. Grand Teton National Park was within the band, so going there was the natural choice. Nope. Booked solid, expensive, and it would need several days off of work.
Finding a good composition was difficult, and I ended up not having a foreground in my final image. The eclipse was centered around midday in most of the US, which means the sun is high in the sky. A midday eclipse also means I cannot benefit from atmospheric distortion on the horizon - the effect that makes the sun and moon appear larger when just above the horizon.
Given that there was no good composition, having as much focal length as possible became my goal. My longest lens is a 70-200 at 200, and I was able to borrow a 1.4x teleconverter from a friend. Teleconverters work by multiplying the focal length at the expense of maximum aperture. A 1.4x teleconverter will lose 1 stop of aperture (f/4 to f/5.6), and a 2x teleconverter will lose 2 stops of light (f/4 to f/8).
A solar filter is a must for photographing the sun. Normally, you don't try and stare at the sun because it can damage your eyes, but a solar eclipse provides just that opportunity. Long lenses act as magnifying glasses and concentrate all the energy of the sun onto a small area of your camera. Solar filters should be certified to ISO 12312-2, which is "Eye and face protection -- Sunglasses and related eyewear -- Part 2: Filters for direct observation of the sun." Solar filters act as both a neutral density filter of about 15 stops, and an IR and UV blocking filter. Check out the video below to see what happens when you do not use a solar filter. I purchased a cheap one from B&H Photo that also came with five pairs of glasses.
Ultimately, I decided to stay in Plano and view it from my apartment. I originally set up outside on 15th St, thinking I might be able to get the building into my composition. Some of my friends stopped by to say hi, and everyone walking by wanted to stop and use my eclipse glasses to view the excitement. One of the passers-by was surprised the eclipse started so early; he thought it was starting at 1:10PM, which is when it peaked.
I ended up needing to use the in-camera wifi for remote viewing on my phone to get the lens pointed at the correct spot. If you look at the above photograph, you can see that using the viewfinder or live view was difficult at that angle.
I set my remote to shoot a photo every 30 seconds, and ended up with about 350 photos to look at. The movement of the sun and moon made me need to reposition my camera every 40-50 shots. It is fascinating seeing the progression of the eclipse through the series of images.
The above image is a shot from near the end of the eclipse when some light clouds moved over. I found the texture the clouds added to be a nice touch.
For my final eclipse image, I decided to stack the progression in Photoshop. I just opened each image as a layer, positioned the sun/moon, and blended it onto the final image. It's certainly nothing spectacular compared to some of the other images posted during totality, but it is mine.
One of my favorite images was posted by a photographer working for National Geographic. The image is of a tightrope walkers walking between two cliffs. The walker is painted by some powerful strobes, and the rest of the scene is exposed for the eclipse totality in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Check it out.