Photographing the Solar Eclipse

What was it like to photograph the solar eclipse? In one word,  exhilarating. I studied relentlessly for 3 weeks leading up to the eclipse. There are plenty of resources out there from people who have been chasing and photographing eclipses for far longer than I have been taking photography seriously. These people are a wealth of knowledge.

I armed myself with a Canon 400mm f:5.6 and a proper solar filter. The solar filter was a bit tricky. I decided I was going to go for this way late in the game so I was stuck with a 16 stop ND filter from Format Hitech. It had a severe ghosting issue. By the time I contacted them and got it sorted out all they had was 13 stop, but they overnighted me one for free. This worked, it was ok but not ideal. I also have a 10 stop B+W filter that I had planned on using if the 13 stop produced ghosting… it did.

We drove to Casper, Wyoming for the eclipse, this was the best chance for no clouds, and ironically we ended up with some cirrus clouds for most of the event but it did not spoil it at all. In Casper there was a camera shop with an abundance of proper solar filters, I bought one. This was the best decision I could have made. It allowed me to look at the sun through the viewfinder without having to use live view and also alleviated all concerns of frying my retinas and my camera.

Shooting the partial phases was easy, super straight forward with no stress. Just point the camera at the sun, adjust every so often and take the photos. This was a cake walk. Totality was another beast entirely. Totality was fast, really fast. I naturally had a shot list and had rehearsed and practiced the shutter speeds, taking the filter off, all of the critical stuff dozens of times before hand. The kicker being there was only one shot at this, I was nervous. I wanted to get the diamond ring, and baileys beads and the entire bracketed set of shots from totality itself. This was a tall order but I am happy, and proud to say, I nailed it.

You can see the shots here.

So how did I nail it? Practice.

Lot’s and lot’s of practice. I had an exposure chart. That I found here. I ran through it over and over again before the big day. I practiced with a remote and without. I ran through all of the bracketed images while my wife timed me. I had it down to 55 seconds. Ultimately I must’ve been able to do it much faster than that because I have 3 full bracketed sets of images and still had time to enjoy the eclipse while not staring through the camera view finder.

It wasn’t a complete success, I had my sights set on the bracketed shot, that was my goal, that’s why I drove 2400 miles in 3 days to ensure my best chance at no clouds, I wanted that shot bad so that was my focus. I also set up a 40D with a 16-35 in hopes of getting a sweet time lapse. That was a failure. I did absolutely no research on how to properly do that, and it failed. Obviously I should’ve just set it to AV and let it properly expose on it’s own, that’s not what I did. I set it in manual and just miserably failed. That’s ok, that wasn’t my goal and in theory I have another chance at this in 7 years.

I plan on shooting it again in 2024. Obviously there is a lot that can happen in 7 years but I’d like to talk about my plan now. My plan is to have 3-5 cameras rolling for that one. I want one shooting a wide angle video, preferably a full frame with something super wide like the 11-24. Just to capture the entire environment. I also want to get the time lapse right this time. I know how to do it, I know how to get it in camera, this should not be an issue at all. Then I want a longer lens focussed in on the sun, 400mm was perfect for getting all of the rays coming off of the sun but I’d like a tighter shot, maybe 800, or 800+ a 1.4 extender giving me 1120mm, along with the 400mm. I have 7 years, which should be ample time to put together a solid plan, acquire the necessary gear and lots of time to practice. I also plan on getting a tracking motor for the telephotos. Tracking the sun across the sky is easy enough but it would be far less stress during totality if the camera just auto tracked the sun.

Anyways, it was a ridiculous experience, there is no words to describe it, it was beautiful and wonderful and exciting all at the same time. Photographing it was amazing. I heard several photographers around me talk about not getting the shots though, if you aren’t confident and if you don’t do your practice and research I suggest ignoring taking photos and just enjoying it because it is truly a surreal experience.

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