Well unless you live in a cave, you’ve probably heard that there is a total solar eclipse coming on August 21, 2017 and it’s going to be the greatest most amazing event in all of human history… well, or something like that. To tell the truth, I’m a bit “over it” with all the promotion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still quite excited about it, I have plans to go see totality, and you should too if you can. I also love Christmas, but I can only take so many Christmas songs on the radio by the time December 25th rolls around.
I am of course an astrophotographer, so I’m planning to take some images. I’ll likely do a post mortem of the experience over on my Software Bisque blog because naturally I’m using a Paramount MYT, our software, and a modified version of the DSLR plug-in I wrote. Everyone asks what software I’m using… well, I wrote my own. There you go.
The most common advice from experienced eclipse photographers is not to photograph the eclipse, but rather enjoy it. “Here… see, this is my photo of an eclipse and it looks even better in person so don’t waste your time. Lots of other people will photograph the eclipse for you; like me… because see, here’s my gorgeous picture you wish you could take, but you’ll just be fiddling with your camera and you’ll miss the whole thing for nothing.”
Give. Me. A. Break.
On your honeymoon you should just cuddle too so you can get more comfortable sleeping next to each other! No serious photographer of any kind is gong to pass this event up. My advice is simple, use a little self regulation. Don’t try and setup 3 different cameras, and run them all at once. Prior to totality, there is plenty of time to work out focus, get aligned, and take some exposures from time to time. You should have a well rehearsed routine ready for totality, and automate as much of it as possible. As soon as totality begins, I’m popping off the solar filter and pressing a button. I have one more button for the core of totality, and one button to press as totality comes to an end. And do NOT forget to replace your solar filter before totality is over!! I don’t plan to miss anything visually, and should the weather be good by golly I’m going to have my eclipse photo(s). Of course in all likelihood… it will rain where I am.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, the patronizing astrophotographer is right of course, you’re going to miss it, and you may well be sorry. If you know what you’re doing, you’re practicing already. I will have less than two minutes at my location, you’d better believe I’m practicing. Other wise yes, snap some shots with your smart phone, and just live the moment you have.
Years ago, I purchased a whole role of Baader solar filter film. Great stuff and I’ve been making solar filters and glasses for years for events like transits, and to do white light observing and photography of the sun. After some careful consideration I decided wisely to limit myself to just one “rig” for the eclipse, and that is a DSLR on my 400mm (focal length) Esprit 80 refractor. Good frame up for the corona I think. Without a filter sized for this scope though I needed to make one. My son Stephen with his very expensive industrial design degree “helped”… okay, mostly I watched, but I did finance the project so that counts, right?
If you’re a serious astrophotographer you should buy yourself a roll of this stuff, which right NOW might be hard to come by. Making your own filters for different optics is a pretty easy craft night project. My son’s creation sure looks better than some of the ones I’ve made with construction paper and masking tape!
We started with a trip to a craft store. My wife buys these round fiberboard boxes for storage for her craft supplies and materials, and I picked up on the idea myself (I have to do something when I’m along for the ride). We picked one up just slightly larger than the outer diameter of my telescope, and with one cut made a round-ish band out of the lid, and with one cut made another band out of the container. This material is thick, and you must be patient. Words of wisdom from my son… it’s easier to cut yourself with a dull knife than a sharp one. I knew those years at that fancy college were a good investment!
Next, we cut the bands to size them for the outer diameter of the telescope. One band will fit like a sleeve inside the other, so one is slightly larger. These concentric bands are what will hold the foil in place.
We actually cannibalized one of my older filters, and placed the material on the inner ring. You need to be very careful not to scratch, stretch, or make any holes in the solar material, otherwise you’ve ruined it. The outer ring then slides down over the top, and this draws in the excess material and pulls the filter material taught (it does not have to be perfectly smooth actually).
After trimming away the excess, I actually thought it looked really great and I wanted to just tape the rings together with masking tape. Stephen would have none of that. Instead, he put the two seams opposite each other and instead of a “bump” where the tape would go over them, he put one piece of black masking tape (that boy loves his masking tape projects!) around the whole thing, trimmed it and sealed it up.
The end product cost less than $5 (other than the solar filter material I already had on hand), and looks like it cost $50. Not a bad craft night at the house.
Yes, I’ve already tried it, and will rehearse again because I’ve made changes to the software and swapped cameras. If I get a clear day I may run through it again as well. Then we will have what we call a “feature freeze”. Test test, don’t touch until after the eclipse!
Clear skies everyone, good luck, and I’ll see you under the shadow of the moon!