(Editor’s note: Marie Tartar continues her series of preparations she and her husband, Steve Eilenberg, are making for their trip to the Grand Tetons later this month to photograph the total solar eclipse. Here she shares their preparations regarding photography.)
In part 1 of this series, we discussed the where of preparing for what is being billed as the Great North American Solar Eclipse of 2017. This is an event not to be missed if you can swing it. The next time a total solar eclipse will occur over the Tetons will be in the year 2252, so this is a unique convergence indeed. To experience up to two minutes and 40 seconds of one of the great celestial wonders of our time, it will be necessary to be along the 60-70 mile-wide path of totality, which will sweep the continental US on Monday, August 21, 2017, beginning in Oregon and ending in South Carolina. My husband Steve and I, with two friends, will be in a particularly beautiful spot to experience and photograph the eclipse, Grand Teton National Park.
In Part 2 of this series, we discussed the need for some specialized equipment to safely view and shoot the partial eclipse run up to and denouement of the big event. Fortunately, these 2 essential items need not be expensive to be effective. The two absolute musts are eclipse glasses for your eyes and a solar filter for your camera. Only during the brief phase of totality will these not be necessary.
With these plans and basics in place, we now need a photographic plan. The following comments assume you want to directly view and photograph the eclipse, both during the partial phases and during totality. There are easier options…you could just enjoy the experience, which is fleeting and quite unforgettable. Even photographically, there are less difficult options for memorializing the eclipse than directly shooting the eclipsed sun. One could use a wide-angle lens, having pre-selected a scene with an interesting foreground, perhaps a lake or mountains, and include the totally eclipsed sun in the overall scene. Of course, it will be quite small in the frame. The feature image leading into this post, by my husband Steve, of Jenny Lake, is an example of a potential foreground which might be utilized to frame the eclipsed sun between the Tetons. If you are up for the challenge of directly photographing the eclipse, read on…
apparel & sunscreen
Some general considerations relevant to this eclipse, at least in Wyoming: The partial eclipse will start at 10:16 am. We need to be in position with adequate time to set up, at least an hour before that. The total eclipse will happen near midday at 11:36 am. In a remote area like Jackson, there are few roads. There is likely to be considerable traffic. After the total eclipse, the second period of partial eclipse will take us to 1 pm, meaning hours in the sun. Cloudy or not, that means a lot of time in sunlight. The temperature in summer is usually hot by that hour. For clothing, think about adequate skin coverage, as well as flexibility for variable temperatures, which means layers. For sun protection, sunscreen on exposed skin and a hat are essential.
My camera of choice is the Fujifilm X-T2. It has an APS-C cropped sensor. My husband, Steve, will be shooting with a 1.5 crop factor Nikon D500. For the sun to be a reasonable size in your field of view, a focal length of 400 to 600 mm is desirable. For me, that means my Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR Lens. My husband will be utilizing Nikon’s equivalent, a Nikkor 80–400mm lens. Photographing the eclipsed sun requires a stable camera platform. Use the tallest and strongest tripod you can get your hands on. The sun will be relatively high in the sky during mid afternoon. The camera will be tilted way up at a high angle. A ball head that allows this amount of movement is a good choice. Before committing to your combination of tripod and head, check to be sure it can position the camera and lens at an angle that will cover that section of sky. Want to know where the sun will be? The $9.99 PhotoPills app on my iPhone shows the sun will be at about a 50° angle in the sky. Straight up is 90º. That angle should be easy to do with my Acratech ball head. Here’s a tip: Extend the tripod’s legs so the viewfinder can be used standing up. Squatting is difficult and can lead to bumping your setup. Also, it’s not good for the back. Be certain to place the appropriate solar filter over the lens before framing the sun at about same time as the eclipse in your area. The screen on the back of the camera will be difficult to see. I plan on using my HoodLoupe to see results on my camera’s back.
practice promotes perfect pictures
It is very important to practice. On my first trial run outside, I immediately saw how difficult it is to accurately locate the sun, so I have ordered a new-to-me item called a sun finder. The one I ordered is a 3-D printed $12.50 item, from Shapeways, called a Solar Alignment Finder with hot shoe foot. Although I haven’t used one of these before, the idea sounds analogous to a gunsight, although how you use this is different. One aims the lens toward the sun, with the sun finder in the hot shoe of the camera, until light coming through a small hole at one end shines into the center of a small screen on the other end, thereby ensuring that the camera is aimed at the sun without you having to try to locate it through the solar filtered lens.
If you have ever photographed the moon, you know it can be difficult to achieve solid, motionless support at a steep angle with a long lens. I suggest practicing taking moon shots.
Here’s another consideration. DSLR cameras have a mirror to reflect the scene from the lens to the optical viewfinder. The mirror pops up, out of the way just before the shutter opens. That mirror movement or slap can cause enough vibration to add blur to the photo. Consider locking it up to minimize vibration. Another way to prevent both mirror slap and any vibration that your finger on the shutter button might cause, use a remote release that electronically activates the shutter. Alternatively, use your camera’s self-timer function. My Fujifilm X–T2 is mirrorless, so mirror slap is not an issue. It is with Steve’s Nikon D500.
In Part 4, our final pre-eclipse post, we’ll consider specific photographic parameters and strategies to consider for the big day. In the meantime, don’t delay in ordering eclipse glasses, solar filters, a sun finder, or any other equipment you may want to use on August 21, 2017. Practice at night shooting the moon. As I mentioned earlier it’s a great way to gain experience, it’s safe to do while you await the arrival of your eclipse gear and, most of all, it’s a lot of fun.