(Editor’s note: Marie Tartar continues her series of guest posts regarding her and her husband’s preparations for the upcoming total solar eclipse. The photograph above is of from the area they will be during the eclipse. This installment covers the critical steps for viewers of the event to protect their vision.)
In our last post, Part 1 of Eclipse 2017 preparation, we addressed the ‘where’ of our plans for the Great American Eclipse of 2017: We will be in the path of totality, along the centerline, in Grand Teton National Park.
During the week preceding the eclipse, we will be scouting, along with our guide, professional photographer and local Daryl Hunter, for a specific location at which to be on August 21. In this post, we tackle a very complex and important follow-up subject, namely eye protection. What do you do when you are embarking on something you have limited experience with? Where the potential for injury is real? The answer, of course, is: consult an expert. Or in the case of a topic as complex and vital as this one, more than one. In getting up to speed on this topic, I have leaned heavily on several sources. For NANPA (North American Nature Photographers Association) members, there is an excellent and very comprehensive webinar available online for members, by Steve Sands. He references, and I have made use of as well, a detailed website called MrEclipse.com, by retired NASA astrophysicist, photographer and eclipse expert, Fred Espenak. B&H also has a podcast, Photographing and Viewing the 2017 Solar Eclipse, as well as a page devoted to eclipse related topics.
Protecting your vision
It cannot be overstated, permanent eye damage due to ultraviolet radiation to the retina is an all too real danger of eclipse viewing without proper eye protection. There are no shortcuts here. Proper eye protection is just that. I have essentially two words to say on the subject: Eclipse glasses. Or perhaps two more: buy them! The Solar Eclipse Viewing Glasses (5-Pack) at $4.99 is a dollar a pair.
DO NOT make the mistake of thinking you can get away with sunglasses, neutral density filters, x-rays, combinations of these or anything else. Just forget about it! Using any of these can and probably will leave permanent damage to your eyes. Eclipse glasses are for viewing the partial eclipse phases of this event. The sun is so bright and powerful, if even the tiniest fraction is not covered by the moon, that is still a partial eclipse and requires eye protection for viewing and a solar filter for photography. The difference between a partial and a total solar eclipse is as vast as the gulf between night and day.
The sun can ONLY be directly viewed with the unprotected eye during the brief, precious minutes of totality. My location for the event, in Grand Teton National Park, near Jackson, Wyoming, will have about 2 minutes and 20 seconds of totality. I remember well our one experience with a total solar eclipse, in the southern Caribbean in 1998. “How will we know when we can look at the sun?”, we mused anxiously. Those who have previously experienced a total solar eclipse will understand when I say: “You will know.” A total eclipse is a truly awe-inspiring and mystical experience. I completely understand why, before the astronomy of eclipses was understood, this cosmic event inspired dread in earlier civilizations. I recently attended a Russian opera in St. Petersburg called Prince Igor, in which an eclipse occurring while the prince and his army prepare for battle portends an ominous outcome to the conflict.
Protect your camera too
Your camera and its sensor need protection as well. Available options run the gamut of expense, from very cost-effective options ($10-30) on up to dedicated glass solar filters ($90.00-160.00.)
At the less expensive end, there are options requiring some assembly and I found an alternative that looks to be an inexpensive and viable option requiring less DIY skills. Available from Amazon is Baader Planetarium AstroSolar safety film. With this film, you can construct your own filter for your camera. Be aware that if you go this route, you need to be very certain that you don’t have any light leaks. B&H offers an inexpensive option that looks good if shooting this eclipse is a likely a one-time event for you. Daystar filters offers White-light Universal Lens Solar Filters in a variety of sizes, priced at less than $20. Essentially, it is solar film, packaged with a locking paper surround, which you secure around your lens. On the day of the big event, it may be a good idea to reinforce this with a rubber band, to be sure it is securely in place.
At the other end of the spectrum are dedicated 16-18 stop equivalent solar eclipse filters.
These must be ordered in the correct size to fit your lens. If more eclipse chasing is in your future, this is a more permanent solution to consider. To be crystal clear, these specific solar filter protective products should be placed on the front of your lens. None of these solar filters are intended to be interposed between the camera and the lens.
Now that we have your eyes and your camera sensor protected, the next topic to be addressed will be photographic considerations and parameters.