Photography / Tips and Solutions

8 Lessons Learned When I Photographed a Total Solar Eclipse

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The closest you will ever get to an out-of-this-world experience while standing on terra firma is during a total solar eclipse.

I have experienced two partial eclipses in my life before August 21, 2017, and both were memorable, but they were nothing like what happened on the 21st. Here is what I experienced, as well as some photographic lessons learned.

The Setup

My girlfriend, Jaime, and I end up in Nashville, TN, standing off to the side of the EN Peeler Park’s model airplane runway. We arrive an hour before the start of the eclipse to set up my gear. Twenty minutes before the eclipse, I verify that my iOptron SkyGuider Pro Equatorial tracking mount is tracking the sun well.

Photographs © Todd Vorenkamp

My two rigs: the 300mm f/4 on the Fujifilm X-T2 with the iOptron SkyGuider, and the 21mm on the Fuji X-T1.

An alarm on my phone sounds as my solar eclipse timer app beeps. With a minute to go, I start both my cameras on interval timers. The Fujifilm X-T2 with the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4D IF-ED lens will shoot every minute on the iOptron mount. The fixed Fujifilm X-T1 camera will shoot a wide swath of sky with the Voigtländer Color-Skopar 21mm f/4 P lens every two minutes.

I am also armed with multiple pairs of viewing glasses, solar binoculars, and solar-filtered Nikon LX L 8x42 binoculars.

First Contact

It begins. I see the first indication of the moon passing in front of the sun. The sight is simple—a black disc starts crossing in front of an orange disc. But, once I step back from the basic visuals and start to think about what I am witnessing—our beautiful moon, all but invisible in its “new moon” phase, transiting directly across the sun overhead—I experience the wonder of the moment. I had seen partial eclipses before, but I had never witnessed first contact at the start of the eclipse.

On the day of the eclipse, the moon was 232,553 miles away and the sun was 94,026,286 miles away from planet Earth. The moon is about 400x smaller than the star it is eclipsing and, as if a cosmic master planner arranged the solar system for just this spectacle, the larger, distant object is just more than 400x farther away than the smaller, closer one. This is the reason we get perfect total solar eclipses. But, since the moon is moving ever so slowly away from the earth, you’d better see one now, because in about 650 million years, it will be too far away to totally eclipse the sun.

The Path to Totality

The cameras are clicking happily away.

Oh no. Clouds are moving in. The morning was cloud-free, but puffy cumulus clouds are moving toward us, west to east—just like the eclipse shadow. It will be partly cloudy for the rest of the day. The first puff balls roll overhead and block the sun. The “shade” provides a brief respite from the direct sunlight and heat, but the image through the camera’s filtered lens goes dark.

Like randomly spaced waves, the clouds wash over the spectacle above and then pass. As soon as I feel the hot sun on my sandaled feet again, I look skyward to resume watching the show, as the moon takes an ever larger and larger chunk out of the brilliant sun. I keep one eye on the camera to make sure the mount is tracking—it is—and I also keep a literal weather-eye on the western horizon.

Totality Approaches

It is time for the main event. Totality is coming and there looks to be a well-timed gap in the cloud cover, but I don’t want to celebrate just yet.

The sky gets darker, subtle at first, but noticeable. More apparent is the drop in temperature. I am still standing in the sun, the shade of the trees is behind me, but it is now almost comfortable. Suddenly, it has become a pleasant summer day—at the time of day when the heat should be building to its most oppressive.

I keep my filtered eyes skyward. The sun has become just a sliver now—you can barely see it. Then I notice, through my binoculars, that the sliver is textured and not completely smooth—Baily’s Beads are revealed—the last vestiges of sunlight streams through the mountains and valleys of the moon’s cratered surface. I pull the filters off both cameras, and then remove them from my binoculars. I glance skyward for a fraction of a second, but the sun is still too bright to look at directly.

Totality

I cannot, chronologically, recall my actions or the visions I encountered during the next 135 seconds. I remember moments. All I have are jumbled memories of amazing.

I look at the X-T2’s LCD and adjust my shutter speed to capture the diamond ring. I have the camera’s remote in my hand and I roll my drive mode dial to BKT for bracketed exposures and start shooting three-image bursts.

I look around. People are cheering and yelping and gasping. One howls like a wolf. I think I am silent. I really cannot remember if I said anything, or, if I did, what I said. I want to grab photos, but I know that I need to look at the event with my own eyes.

All around me, the sky has taken on a completely unique appearance and feel. Some said totality is like a 360-degree sunset. I completely disagree. It is dark enough to make it difficult to read the dials on my camera, as my eyes haven’t adjusted to the sudden lighting shift, but it is not pitch black. The horizon is still illuminated, but not brightly. It is not dawn. It is not dusk. It is not day. It is not night. It is not golden hour. It is not blue hour. The air and the quality of light have taken on characteristics that make it 1000% unique to the event—it is the “total solar eclipse moment.”

The overall feel of the immediate environment matches the scene playing out overhead. I alternate looking with my own eyes, my now-unfiltered 8x binoculars, and my camera LCD. I tweak the exposure and shoot more bursts. I look back up. I bring the binoculars to my eyes. I see corona. I see prominences. I see the moon. The sun is all but masked. To the west, clouds are about to pounce on the scene. A squadron of birds flies overhead—racing toward their nesting place? Are they confused now that their internal clocks have been suddenly betrayed? Crickets chirp. It is night, but not night, at 1328 hours.

Jaime, claims that a bug bit her arm. I think I look to see if she is OK, but honestly, I can’t recall if I really looked. Everyone is smiling. Everyone. Even Jaime with a bug bite.

And then, someone throws the lights back on. Totality is over. I have experienced the fastest, most frantic, and most ethereal 2 minutes and 15 seconds of my life.

The Afterparty

Almost as soon as the last diamond ring fades, I get my main camera back on interval shooting and exhale. Clouds.

51% of the show is over, but so is the climax. Everyone is giddy and not seeming to mind the return of the heat—made a bit more bearable by the politely timed arrival of the clouds. Saying, “That was so cool!” repeatedly while wearing a perma-grin seems so quaint, but it is difficult to put the experience into words otherwise.

For most of my neighbors at Peeler park, coming to see the eclipse was like going to watch that big championship football-league game that is always played a few weeks after the New Year, when you’re only really caring about the half-time show. The first half of the game is bearable, because it is the prelude to what comes. But, if you aren't a football fan, the second half, after a climatic half-time show, is a bit boring.

The sun is barely visible still, but almost everyone starts to pack up their solar glasses, cameras obscura, and snack rubbish. Kathryn, a nurse and amateur photographer who traveled from Albuquerque, and I keep shooting. My two Fujifilm cameras are programmed not to experience post-totality hangovers.

I stay motivated. I keep swapping between the glasses and binoculars as the moon slides farther and farther from the face of the sun. The clouds are more prevalent now. I silently thank them for their discretion during totality, and I really don’t mind the cooling effects they offer, now that totality is past us. It turns out, just a few miles away, in downtown Nashville, most of totality was obscured by a passing cloud. A huge bummer for many, and a reason to feel lucky to be at Peeler Park on this day.

Just less than ninety minutes to go, but Kathryn and I seem to be the only ones who really care at this point. Jaime has retreated to the rental car’s air conditioning. At last contact, Kathryn and I are the only two fools at Peeler still standing in the sunlight, sweating, and taking photographs.

Eclipse Viewing and Photographic Lessons Learned

Given another chance, I might do things slightly differently.

1. I over-packed memory cards and batteries. It is better to be safe than sorry, but I took fewer than 400 photos over the entire weekend.

2. Binoculars were great to have. As good as the view was through the Vixen solar glasses, being able to get a “front row” seat and see sunspots and other details was well worth the extra weight in my bag.

3. I wish I had varied my exposures a bit more to get inner, middle, and outer corona. I aimed more for the middle, but inner corona shots show the prominences better.

4. Totality is a bit dynamic, but once established, it becomes static for the short time it lasts. Three different bracketed exposures might have been sufficient, and would have allowed me to spend more time looking up.

5. Dual cameras. Managing two cameras wasn't difficult, and I should have had Jaime handle the second camera during totality, but I didn’t want her to miss any of it. Having someone dedicated to simply managing the filter on the second camera would have been helpful.

6. Focal length. Kathryn was shooting an APS-C camera at 500mm. I had a 300mm lens. I was a bit envious of her shots, but I think my 450mm 35mm equivalent focal length was pretty good.

7. Tracking. If you are just shooting eclipses, you might not be able to justify the expense of an equatorial tracking mount, but, because I often photograph the moon and night sky, I regret not having purchased one of these years ago! Watching Kathryn constantly re-aim her camera solidified my decision, as I was—literally—hands-free the entire time.

8. Safety First, Enjoyment Second, Photographs Third. I followed this mantra and enjoyed the show safely! The next time, I will emphasize photographs even less, so I can watch more!

Bucket List Checkmark Gained

When I first heard about the coming eclipse, I knew I wanted to photograph it. I hadn’t planned on seeing a total eclipse, and I hadn't gone out of my way to find one somewhere in the world, but this North American flyover seemed too convenient to ignore.

Now, having witnessed a total eclipse of the sun, I am ready to see more. I want hours of totality, although I realize that if we had more eclipses and more totality, the world would be a less special place. Jaime is now a self-proclaimed “eclipse chaser” and ready to be in Patagonia in less than 2 years. When I think about the “feel” of totality, I can’t help but smile and remember how unique the air felt and the sky looked, and how I wish there was some way to capture it in a bottle…or a photograph. What a simply amazing thing to experience.

I will say one additional thing. Photographs do not do the total eclipse justice. Looking with my own eyes and through binoculars, the total eclipse has a jewel-like persona, a depth, and an almost-tangible ethereal sense that is lost to the camera’s sensor-- much like a photograph of a diamond never captures its true sparkle. I encourage everyone to try to experience this at least once in their lifetime.

Did you photograph the eclipse? What are your lessons learned? Share with us in the Comments section so that we can all be better prepared for the next one!

Discussion 49

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Super article! And excellent photos! Thanks for sharing. 

I figured that the simplest way to see totality would be to drive straight down I-95 from where I live in NJ to where the centerline of totality intersected I-95. That turned out to be the town of Santee, SC. So I experienced the eclipse in downtown Santee, which is the intersection of two roads about a mile from I-95. Two gas stations, a country store (where the biggest business appeared to be selling fishing licenses), a strip shopping center, a CVS, and a hotel. 

I was in a parking lot with about 20-30 other people during totality. My camera set-up was simple - my handheld Nikon D5300, Nikkor 55-300mm lens zoomed out all the way, and a $10 solar filter. I'd read that I shouldn't look through the optical viewfinder to focus because the light might be too intense, so at first I tried to focus with the LCD, but I quickly found I could not focus sharply enough with that. So I just thought, "Screw it, I'll take my chances with the optical viewfinder." That worked out fine. I got lots of good shots of the pre-totality phases. When totality happened, I didn't know whether I should remove the solar filter or not. Quickly realized - yes, take it off! Then I had the problem of quickly figuring out what the new exposure should be. I missed the first Baily's Beads because of that, but got things straightened out in time to get some nice shots of totality. It all worked out ok.

I loved your description of the whole experience. You captured the awesomeness very well. I also could relate to your concern about the clouds! We had the same situation. In fact, clouds passed over the sun for about 10 minutes shortly after first contact. But after that, everything was clear, fortunately. It's hard for me to put into words how cool the entire experience was.

Totality was totally worth the long drive from NJ to SC!

Hey Mike,

Thank you for the kind words!

Great story! You probably had a metal-type filter, so you were good-to-go. The heavy ND filters are much more expensive. But, it is good that you didn't go to the nearest SC optometrist!

Sounds like you found a quiet spot for totality...right off of I-95. Who knew?

Thanks for stopping by!

I'm glad to hear that you went to Santee. We have friends who live in Charleston, and they were familiar with the National Wildlife Reserve and State Park in Santee, so that's where we met, having driven from Maryland for the eclipse. The long line of cars wound through the forest along the lakeshore, and deposited us in a gigantic meadow, along with probably a thousand other cars, and their occupants. The area was so large that no one interfered with anyone else, lots of room to set up equipment. It started with about 30-40% clouds, which as expected dissapated almost completely as the atmosphere cooled when the sun was nearing totality. I had seen the total eclipse in 1970 in North Carolina, but even knowing what to expect, it still is an incredible experience. The 2024 line of totality will run from Texas to Maine; closer to Maryland. I'll be 90 that year, and I can barely wait.

I photographed the eclipse. Four months of prep and practice, and it paid off. Got many many great photos. I agree that fewer shots of totality were needed, but decided to be safe rather than sorry, and was left with only about half of the two minute totality phase to lift my head and drop my jaw, while only managing to repeat "Holy [cow]!" as this celestial show played out. I used a Sigma 500 mm 6.3 on a Sony A65, with no tracking device. I honestly wasn't sure when to remove the filter to capture the diamond rings, and removed it as the crescent was dwindling towards nothing with spectacular results - four good shots of the ring before totality set in. I reset both my shutter speed and aperture to accommodate the sudden burst of light before removing the filter. 

I bracketed three shots for the duration.  In all, a tremendous learning experience as a photographer, and a soul shattering experience as a human.

Hey Chip,

I had the same "when is the actual diamond ring?" moment as you did. It is incredible how bright the sun still is with only the smallest sliver showing. The next time, I might shoot a bit more during Baily's Beads and the Diamond Ring, but then fire 3 bracketed bursts during totality and call it done.

Thanks for sharing your experience and thanks for practicing! Based on the comments we got, there were a lot of folks trying to figure this stuff out on the day of!

Hi Todd,

As we talked about in comments to your prior article, I pulled out my old Nikon FE and shot Provia 100 transparencies with a 300 mm lens. I was very pleased with the results. I was in Douglas, WY, and viewed it all by myself along the banks of the North Platt River. Well, not just by myself, but in the company of 2 horses who showed up in a field and hung out for a while until it got dark and they left, probably thinking it was dinner time. The solitude during the event was very special. 

I was able to concentrate on looking at the eclipse and not through the viewfinder, which was great as I took it in rather than fiddling too much with the camera. Using a cable release, I  got off 36 shots at F4 and bracketed between 1/1000 and 1/250, per the recommendations in the old Fred Espinak article you forwarded. I got the outer corona very well at 1/250, but next time I'll go a few steps slower to get more. The inner corona and diamond ring shots show colors I did not appreciate during the event itself. All in all, I'm happy I followed through with shooting film. Thanks for your encouragement.

Allen

Awesome, Allen!

Sounds like you had a fantastic experience. So cool that you had the company of equine friends and no annoying humans (although had good human company in Tennessee)!

Maybe I will bring some film next time. Thanks for checking back in! See you for the next one!

I was on the Georgia/SC line in the Zone of Totality and my experience was similar to yours, though you articulated it much better than I have been able to. I didn't have a tracker and frankly decided to enjoy the spectacle rather than work my tail off trying to track the event by hand. I did get some great shots of the total eclipse, including the "Diamond Ring".

I doubt I'll go to Patagonia as I think there is another eclipse over the US in 2024, but you never know. Absolutely agree it is an experience not to be missed.

Hi Bob,

Thanks for the compliments! I am glad you enjoyed the show and got some great photos. Bravo to you for not over-thinking the images and simply taking in the experience. See you in South America...or in 2024!

Thanks for stopping by!

My eclipse experience (after one week’s decompression).

Todd, your explanation of your day during the eclipse was really great.  You captured the whole experience.  This is my 3rd eclipse.  The first was at Aruba in 1998 and I used the classic Questar 3 ½ inch guided telescope with a 35mm Olympus OM2 SLR.   The second was in Austria in 1999.  There I used a tripod mounted camera and telephoto lens without a guider and I found that I spent all my time pointing the camera.  The Great American eclipse was my first using a digital camera, in this case an Olympus OM-D E-M5.  The one advantage of the old film cameras is the shutter is closed except when taking a picture.  With the newer mirrorless digital cameras like the M5, the sensor is exposed except when the shot is taken, then it closes and opens again to get the actual photo at the correct exposure.  So some caution is warranted when using a mirrorless camera to protect the sensor from burn-out.   Maybe they will provide a feature with a closed shutter mode that works like the old film cameras and protects the sensor from a bright light.  I would like to see that.

While on that subject, I concluded that the digital sensor is not as delicate as one would think.  I remember seeing many shots of professional golf tournaments on TV where a video camera operator with a super expensive telephoto lens shoots a scene that intentionally has the sun in the background for extended periods of time.  And also, many people take shots with ordinary digital cameras with the sun in the field of the view either accidentally or as part of the composition and I haven’t heard of any cases of damage to the sensor.  It would seem that if this were really a problem, it would be a “hot” topic on camera blogs.

So I decided to use the black card trick, where I hold a card in front of the lens just about the time of the diamond ring and then quickly remove the card and hit my shutter cable release button.  This worked and the camera sensor was not damaged even though it was pretty much exposed to the direct rays of the sun from the diamond ring.  Of course during the initial and final partial totality phases, I used one of those inexpensive slip-on mylar film lens covers from B&H to protect the sensor.  Even though less exciting than totality, the mylar film lens covers do a nice job of filtering the sun but maintaining detail for a lot less bucks.  I was able to capture some nice sun spots during the partial phases.

Because the total eclipse phase is so short lived, you have to work out your set-up in advance and practice doing it.  Make a checklist and follow it because you will likely be all hyped up and make a mistake.  Also, you don’t want to spend your time fiddling with the camera, so get a guided camera mount and sturdy tripod and let it do the tracking for you.  And of course you will want to control your shutter button with a cable release to prevent vibration and ease of use.  If your camera has bracketing, use that feature and also use its shutter delay or anti vibration features to eliminate camera shake, if you are shooting with a telephoto lens.  All of this equipment will allow you to personally view and enjoy the total eclipse and not be preoccupied with the camera.  Look up and enjoy, all you have to do is remember to push the cable release button from time to time.  Also, be ready with that black card, once the Diamond Ring reappears.

As part of your practice a few weeks before an event, use a solar lens filter and shoot the sun with bracketing.  This will help and you will capture some sunspots if you are fortunate.  Do the same routine with the moon (without filters).  Look at your moon photos to judge different exposure settings noticing differences in detail and shading.  This will help a lot to figure out proper exposures.  A good full moon exposure from your experiments will be in the middle of the exposure settings you need for totality.  High shutter speeds reveal solar flare activity and diamond ring.  Lower shutter speed reveal the corona that extends out from the sun.

Two other important items to consider are f number and focus.  Make sure you shoot with the lowest f number provided by your lens, use all the glass you paid for.  Since you will need to shoot in manual mode (don’t expect autofocus/autoexposure on your camera to work well with such a “contrasty” object), make sure the focus is set to infinity.  I had it easy in that department as my lens will automatically go to infinity when the camera is turned on.  If your lens has that feature then verify with your moon shots that it is in prime focus (infinity).  This will make all the difference in the world, because a blurry view of the eclipsed sun is definitely not what you want.  Further information on exposure settings for different ISO speeds and f numbers can be found in tables produced by Fred Espenak.  This is also an excellent site for tips on how to photograph a solar eclipse.

I used an equatorial (polar axis) auto tracker camera mount.  There is also an alt-azimuth type auto tracker with built in GPS that has the advantage that it will automatically track the sun with very little user setup needed.  The disadvantage is that it will reposition along two axes and these slight “twisty” motions might occur as you are taking a picture causing a potential blur.  Also, the camera orientation with respect to the ecliptic plane of the sun will vary making the sun to appear to rotate slightly over time.  This is not a big deal during the eclipse that lasts only a couple of minutes, but will be evident for the longer lasting partial phases.

The equatorial auto tracker does not have these disadvantages, but it has one big drawback: you have to manually align it to the earth’s polar axis.  This is not a problem at night when you can visually align it to the North Star but of course this is not possible during the day.  If you are camping overnight prior to the eclipse, you may do your alignment pre-dawn and be okay.  However, a daytime setup will require reference to true north and knowledge of your latitude position.  Start out by leveling the tripod and pan head.  You can use a good magnetic compass to determine magnetic north and from this you need to add or subtract the magnetic declination to get true north.  Look this up in Google for your location.  Thinking in terms of pan and tilt,  you first pan the leveled head to match your magnetic north direction in which the tilt axis of your pan head will be perpendicular to the True North polar axis.  Next, you tilt the head equal to your latitude in degrees.  I used an inexpensive electronic tilt meter to get this angle.  I think they also have a “protractor” app that will let you use your iPad, iPhone or android device to show the tilt axis.  I then attached the my equatorial tracker to the pan head of the tripod using a pre-aligned quick clip metal plate that orients the tracker axis to align with True North (assuming that the previous alignment steps were done reasonably well.)  Remember to tighten up the pan and tilt locking nuts!

When you make these daytime adjustments, your equatorial mount axis will be aligned close enough to the earth’s true polar (North Star) axis, but don’t expect it to be perfect.  You should experiment with your alignment procedure during a few days or weeks before the eclipse with the camera attached and tracking the sun, and get comfortable with it taking some pictures.  You will probably notice that the sun moves a little bit out of perfect alignment over 10 or 15 minutes of continuous viewing.  You should have a way to easily readjust to correct for this without throwing the whole camera mount out of whack.  The iOptron mount that I used has a manual worm gear adjustment that can be applied to set the sun declination angle and to fine tune to the tilt of the system.

All of this prep paid off.   The site I picked in Idaho was based on clear skies and also it’s a relatively remote and sparsely populated location.  We had perfect conditions and no traffic or crowds to worry about.  The photos that I took considerably exceeded my expectations.  I captured some fine detail of the solar flares on the north east side of the sun as well as the wispy threads of the corona, and of course the Diamond Ring.  All in all a very worthwhile adventure.  Because everything was on “autopilot,” I was able to enjoy the experience.  It was a great event.  I plan to use this setup for 2024.

I apologize for the long winded description, but it might be of interest to those seeking information on camera mounting and setup for an eclipse.  Here is short list detailing where I viewed the eclipse and my equipment.

     Date:                 August 21st, 2017.

     Location:          Chilly Idaho (yes that’s correct) near US 93: Lat: 44.1403 N, Long: 113.9035 W.

     Totality Phase:  2min 12.2 sec, beginning at 11:29:56 MDT.

     Camera:            Olympus OM-D E-M5, set to Manual Mode.

     Lens:                 M.Zuiko ED 75-300mm zoomed to 300mm at f6.7.

     Totality Phase:  7 brackets at 1/125th, 1/500th, 1/320th, 1/200th, 1/80th, 1/50th, 1/30th of a second (no filter).

     Partial Phase:   3 brackets at 1/320th, 1/500th, 1/200th of a second (with solar filter).

     Tripod:              Bogen-Manfrotto 3046, with 3063 pan/tilt head aligned to True North.

     Auto Guider:     iOptron Skytracker Pro equatorial axis guider fixed base attached to Bogen pan/tilt head via quick connect plate.

     Sun Angle:       iOptron worm gear alt-azimuth for Sun declination and fine adjustments, bottom end attached to Skytracker polar axis base.

     Camera Plate:  3/8” thick Baltic birch plywood base made to attach the camera to the top end of alt-azimuth head via a Vixen dovetail.

     Note:  Base of camera body aligned parallel to the sun’s ecliptic plane so that north appears up in all photos to be taken.

Thanks to B&H.  Good equipment, good prices, good service, fast shipping.

Jack Morris

Hey Jack,

Great stuff! Thank you for taking the time to share your experience and awesome photos over email. Super detail. Thank you!

Remember, you can damage your sensor with a big lens and prolonged exposure to the sun's rays!

See you in 2024 and thanks for shopping at B&H!

Great stuff and a wonderful review of your experience.  I was looking at the video and it appears to be displaying the eclipse in reverse.  I shot the Partial Eclipse in the Maryland suburbs and my brother shot the Total Eclipse in Nashville and the beginning and end movement of the moon was from right to left.  My brother forgot to remove the protective filters from his cameras and missed the ring completely.  He was afraid he'd damage the chip on his Canon 5D Mark III.  A long drive to Nashville for something I got staying at home except for near total darkness.  Next Total Eclipse in 7 years over a thousand mile swath of the USA.

Hey Ronald,

I'll look into the order! For some reason, my memory says the video is correct, but I will try to rattle the cobwebs and do a simulation on astronomy software to see if Lightroom and/or the camera flipped the images as the camera was nearly vertical.

Your brother wasn't the only one who forgot to remove the solar filter (see below in this thread). But, at least he got to see totality!

Thanks for the kind words and thanks for reading!

Well, me and my two granddaughter fotogs arrived at our chosen location on a friends farm in Missouri approx. 1hr. 20min. before C1.. Drove out to the middle of their field where my app showed we were dead on the centerline. 2min. 38.7 seconds of totality! Started to setup our camera and it began to sprinkle then turned to full on rain. So we waited awhile inside the car and finally made the decision to get out of the field before we would get stuck there. It was about 3/4 mi. back to the farm house. There we waited trying to view the radar on our cell phones but so was everyone else in a nearby town where thousands had gathered for the eclipse effectively bring the cell carriers service to a screeching halt! As it turned out the rain stopped and we could see blue sky coming from the west just in time for C1. So we setup at the farmhouse. The plan was to take a shot of the partial phase every 20 min. and then one 7 min. before C2. It was suppose to be a pretty relaxed partial phase taking our shots with plenty of time to play around with the shadows and stuff. But the clouds started building again to the point where by the time we got the sun enough to focus it was time for our first partial shot. I was happy we just got that on time but from that point on the sun was in and out of clouds so rapidly and with varying brightness it was a real fight to hold an exposure setting before having to readjust. Sometimes I would even pull the filter off to try and get a shot through the clouds layers. So we fougth on that way trying to get anything we could of partial but it ultimately clouded over completly about 27 min. before totality. And stayed that way until about 25 min. after totality. Still, totality was very cool. I abandoned my setup to stand with everyone in the front yard and used my cell phone to video the sceen. The shadow coming over the cloud cover was an ominous site to say the least  and all the rest of the things like the cricket sounds and birds roosting was an awesome experience. I listened to my phone app telling me commands to remove my filter then when to shoot my exposure sequences. I had it all timed out for the diamond ring and baily's beads, then 50 secs. to enjoy looking at with my eyes before running my sensors entire exposure value range in shutter speeds @ f8 and iso 100, then enjoy again for about 60 secs. or so before exposures for baily's beads and diamond ring again. After totality when the sun appeared again I kept shooting as before, it was the same thing with the sun coming and going in the clouds. If conditions had been good and no mistakes were made shooting, I would have made 36 exposures of the whole event. As it turned out I shot 96 of just what I was able to get in the partial phases. I bracketed every shot -1 +1 so in essence I pushed the shutter 32 times. So, while missing the opportunity to shoot totality was a huge disappointment, you know, I came away with a couple of really good shots in the partial phases that I'm very pleased with and grateful for. And now I feel justified in a mandate that from now on I must pursue more of these eclipses until I am successful!  BTW I was shooting on fixed tripod, EOS m3 with 70-200mm f4L USM  -18 stop white light filter.

Hey Pete,

Sorry the clouds did not behave well for you, but it sounds like you made the best of it. Hopefully the weather will be better in 2024 for you!

It also sounds like you had a solid plan. Nice work and a great dress rehersal for 2024.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

Pete, you mentioned bracketing.  Does your camera have "automatic" bracketing where you pick the bracket sequence you want from your camera's menu and then, using a cable release just hold the shutter button until you hear all of the shutter clicks happen for that bracket?  It make bracketing much easier to use.

Jack

We are new to photography and astronomy, and when we first learned of the total eclipse that occurred on the 21st we were giddy with excitement and anticipation. Having a very fortuitous birthday, July 29, I asked my wife for some gear to photograph and view the event. She didn't disappoint in the slightest.  She went to B & H and ordered a "kit" that they had thrown together (Celestron Cometron binoculars with filters and tripod/mounting bracket), and another kit from Celestron that included a nice set of solar glasses and photography filter.  Everything arrived in a very timely manner, and I was testing everything the following day. Although the price wasn't extremely high, every item we purchased was of exceptional quality and surpassed every expectation that we had. After doing some initial testing, we decided that we wanted a larger sun in the frame. The only way that I knew to do that without losing tons of quality in the exposure was to get a longer focal length lens. Once again, we turned to B & H for our needs. We ordered a rather unconventional lens, the Opteka/Bower/Samyang/Rokinon 500mm f/8 mirror lens. Considered by many to be cheap and of poor quality, we found that it suited our needs perfectly. Granted, initially finding the sun was a challenge, but, once we centered it, keeping it in the frame was easy. We traveled about 8.5 hours to our destination in Clayton, Ga, and setup in the local Burger King parking lot where many others were (plus, I refused to pay someone in excess of $50 to park anywhere). We setup about 90 minutes early, and began tracking everything manually with the tripods that we had.  When first contact began, and we could actually see the moon obstructing the sun, there was no words to describe the feelings and excitement we had.  The event progressed and about 20 minutes before totality, the clouds came. We lost our visual of the sun, but never did think that we wouldn't see the main event. After about 10 minutes the clouds broke, and we noticed a considerable drop in temperature. Then, it happened! Not everything went to blackout conditions, but it was something you had to experience to understand.  We couldn't believe our eyes. We saw the eclipse and all of its glory. Now, for 2024 and a much better gear list to document the event.  Thank you B & H for making this a possibility. We are customers for life, plan to make the next one even better with your help!

Hey Jason and Raye,

Great stuff! Besides saving money on parking, the other benefit of parking at Burger King is catering and bathrooms! Did the franchise have parking lot lights that turned on during totality? Or was it pretty dark for you?

Thanks so much for shopping at B&H! I am glad the gear worked well for you. See you in 2024!

Cheers!

They had the lights turned off for the event, luckily they had a manual override.

Nice! 

I thought about two cameras, but I wanted to enjoy the eclipse as much as I wanted to photograph it. I also knew there would be no do overs. I concentrated on one camera with a 400 mm lens. The bigest take away for me was practice, practice, practice. I went out a few days before and figured out my exposure by shooting the sun when it was about the same place in the sky  it would be on the 21st. Then I thought through what I wanted to do during totality over and over again. When totality came I removed the filter and started at a shutter speed of 1/500 and bracked my shots for each shutter setting all the way down to 1/8. Then I started back up again doing the same thing. I could watch the eclipse and still get plenty of images covering all of totality. I got some images that I am really happy with. Go to Nature Photographers Network to view mine and others images.

Hey Richard,

Practice to practice! 

Good call on enjoying over photographing. Had I really concentrated on both cameras as well as maximum photos during totality, I would have missed it. Several people I know are already bemoaning that they viewed way too much of it through their cameras and not with their own eyes. This, like many things in life, is something that the camera really did not capture nearly as well as the eyeballs did!

Along with you, I am glad I did a lot of looking instead just a lot of photographing!

Cheers!

Thank you for the info prior to and the post comments. I looked at your suggestions and followed links and advice to plan opportunity. I used my Nikon 300mm f/4D and my D800 with the DX to get 450mm. Did not purchase a filter, so only shot in totality....first lesson learned...don't be cheap!... Researched settings, went to full manual mode, chose ISO 100 and wanted to bracket.... we purposely went to a spot near home that according to the NASA info, would have approximately 2 minutes of totality. Expected to get several shots... Reality was that I took one good one that I could work on...thank you raw... I set my tripod to the maximum height without the center column extended, attached my preset camera just prior to totality and aimed at what I thought was the appropriate angle. The idea was to "swing" the camera to the sun at the appropriate time. I powered on the camera, switched to live-view, turned the tripod and had issues with finding my target! Finally found it with seconds ticking away and press the remote shutter release! Then panic struck because the sun was coming out of totality quickly...the other pictures did not appear to take and...needless to say I had one picture of grass and one of something very dark...I think it was the les cap. Major lesson learned was that I really needed to practice the night before...especially finding my "target" and doing it Sitting in a chair or extend the center column! Yet alone validating the exposure settings especially with live view! Hopefully I can remember these for the next one and B&H can expect a filter order around that time also. I am not new to photography, purchased my first SLR in 1973, but felt like a lucky beginner Monday!

Hey Cyril,

You are welcome! Thanks for the thank you!

Practice is the key...as you and others discovered and, get your filters early! :)

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for another wonderful article!

1. The index card sighting method SAVED me. It always landed the sun within the frame and from there it was easy to center - except for the critical framing before totality began. I had such a difficult time seeing where the center of my frame was and in the end, my totality pictures were toward the top of the frame. Had I been thinking, I could have just turned on the focus point lights in my viewfinder to see where the center was and I could have solved that problem.  Duh.  But thank you for passing on that tip.  Also, I really should have foreseen that the index card/filter wrench on the end of my lens was on the solar filter - when I went to remove the filter, I choked and tried to remove the sighting set up first, until I realized I could just unscrew the wrench to get the filter off.  I wish I could have practiced that, but there was not time beforehand.

2. I used Eclipse Orchestrator and a lot of research to plan my totality sequence. It worked like a champ. I had turned the sound down so as to not disturb other people, and mistook the cue to put the solar glasses on with the cue to replace the filter - so I inadvertently replaced the filter before the final shots were taken.  Oops.  Using the program allowed me to pretty much look around and enjoy the eclipse while my camera clicked away, but for removing and replacing the filters. I was very glad that I took the time to figure it out and use it.

3. I used a 300 mm lens on a crop sensor. I was very happy with the size of the solar disk and, had I properly centered the sun before totality, I would have had great corona images. In addition, I thought it worked out to be a good compromise between a decent solar disk size and the need to reframe, absent using a tracking mount. Even with my framing mistake, the entire totality sequence stayed in frame without recentering.

4. We viewed the eclipse from Grand Teton National Park with beautiful blue, clear skies. It was spectacular. :)

5. Thank you again, Todd, for the great articles!  Also, thank you to the many people who commented and asked questions - I learned so much helpful information.

Hey Rosie!

You are very welcome! Thanks for the kind words!

I might try Eclipse Orchestrator next time. I used Solar Eclipse Timer as the developer is an Explora reader!

I'm sure it was stunning to see it from the Grand Tetons! Jealous a bit, but my Nashville hot chicken was probably better in Nashville! :)

Thanks for reading!

Thank you and wonderful article.  This was my very first Total Eclipse.  We went to Madras, Oregon and camped for several days.  I am a recreational photo taker (I take good pictures but have older equipment - Nikon D80 with a 300 mm lens).  I have never done anything like this before.  I saw your article and  I printed out their articles and made purchases of several filters months before the event.  I practiced over and over how to put on the filters and remove them.  I ended up using the telescope filter which I found worked very well (looks like the one you have pictured above), which I could easily remove during totality.  I thought I pretty much had my settings.  I took 123 photos from beginning to end.   Lessons?  1.  Practice does make perfect.  2.  Have a way of timing the shots so that you have uniformity in times.  3.  Have a motor drive to keep up with movement of the sun (I couldn't see the frame due to the darkness so was guessing where the center was as I moved my camera to follow the sun.  4. When I practiced before the eclipse, I thought I had my exposure set well enough but could have actually used less exposure.  Overall I was pleased and wanted "1 good shot".  I got several wonderful shots and was very happy since I've never done this before.  I got so entralled with the experience, I could have gotten more shots but was so wrapped up in the excitement of it all.    I am looking forward to the next one.  I will be even better prepared for that!!!   :)   Thank you for all the sage advice!  Love reading your articles and learning more about photographing new things and getting new experiences!!!

Hey K!

You are welcome! Thanks for the kind words!

Great tips! Regarding #2...I timed my images, but the clouds had other plans. With the time-lapse, you can see the sun "wink" in and out of the clouds, but when I made the composite image, I couldn't get truely accurate phase images as, on one or both sides of totality, I had no sun at certain points.

I am glad you got some great shots and thanks again for the kind words!

Great article! I had read your other article several times over a week or 2 before the event and had also read info from MrEclipse. I feel like I was prepared. Canon XTi in manual, an old Spiratone 400mm telephoto lens, Tamron 2x teleconverter and solar filter (I think it's a "Star Guy" brand or something like that). I also had a radio controlled shutter release and a good, sturdy tripod. The images were saved as RAW files.

I have only had a few brief moments to check my images so far. But they are amazing. Much better than I expected. I was in my back yard, out in the country, southwest of Greenville, SC. Complete totality and perfectly clear skies.

1. The first few are slightly blurry. I had turned the lens focus ring completely until it stopped at what I thought was infinity. In reality, once I turned it back a hair, everything sharpened up nicely.

2. I am happy with my focal length. But it required frequent re-aiming to keep the event in-frame. I would probably have been fine using my canon 75-300 lens with the teleconverter. But that one doesn't have a tripod mount and would have been front-heavy.

3. My lens had a tripod mount. But I forgot to re-adjust it for proper balance with the teleconverter between camera and lens. This made re-aiming a bit more fussy and time-consuming.

4. Binoculars with solar filters were an awesome thing to have.

5. During totality, I started at 1/1000 sec exposure and went down one stop at a time through most of it. That was too much. I could have skipped every opther f-stop and still have a good variety of exposures. I hit the second diamond at the end of totality and wanted to try more but had to get the filter back on.

6. Practice. You told us to practice during the days in advance. Unfortunately, I was way to busy with work and home projects to do that. I started the eclipse with absolutely no solar photography practice under my belt. Because of the reading I had done, I got lucky. But practice would have helped and would have given me the chance to work out the bugs, such as moving the tripod mount for good camera balance.

7. The radio shutter release and haveing the patience to wait for the camera to stop shaking before pushing the button was great. Mirror lock-up or a stabilized lens might have been better. But this worked great for me.

Thanks again.

Eric

Hey Eric,

Thanks!

Infinity focus is not what it used to be...apparently even on your older lens. https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/features/who-killed-infinity-focus%3F

Great tips! Thanks for sharing. I agree with all of them! :)

Thanks Todd for the article about the infinity focus. For the Canon FD lenses, I reckon that I should "Trust, but verify." I'll be on the lookout for used Canon FD lenses in the 300mm and 400mm for 2024; I have a Spiratone T-mount 400mm lens that I can use stopped-down metering with. I can experiment with that lens since the DayStar 90mm Solar Filter fits it.

I miss infinity focus! It turns out, on eclipse day, my Nikon 300mm was in focus precisely at the infinity mark, but, of course, there was no hard stop there. How nice would it have been to just keep checking focus by turning the ring against the stop?

Experiment with the moon, too!

Cheers, Ralph!

Great article and I experienced much the same way as you. I made sure to appreciate and enjoy the event as well as attempt to get some shots as a complete amateur. My one slip up; I remembered to take the solar filter off my A6000 at the start of totality but forgot to put it back on once the sun popped out the other side. Luckily I didn't fry my sensor trying to get a shot of the "diamond ring" but I'll take my experience in seeing it over the chance to shoot it. Seven years to practice before the next one.

Thanks, Allen!

I forgot to put the filter on my wide-angle camera after totality. I got a nice frame of an unfiltered sun and a beautiful sunstar image that is out of place with the time-lapse sequence! 

Based on my experience, the camera is going to give you a blistering fast shutter speed when the sun is unfiltered in the frame and I had no sensor damage issues, but, yeah...the diamond ring seems to last for several moments and its hard to know when to cover up the camera!

Lessons Learned?

1. Knowing my location only allowed me 58 seconds I should have simplified my plan to just one or two bkt exposures. As it was I only got my first bkt shots at 1/1000 before reaching to change shutter to 1/500 and touched the back focus button and it all went down hill from there

2. Have a clue what angle the camera will be at before show time. I had no clue my camera was gonna be pointing almost straight up. I wound up on my knees with tripod pulled back trying find the sun and refocus.

3. Had I known I wasn't gonna get extended corona  I would have had my 150-600 at probably 500mm intead of 400mm.

4. I did get a couple of the first shots in focus and they turned out pretty good so considering how it all went down I'm happy :)

Hey Brian,

Good tips!

Regarding the camera angle, that is where scouting the day before comes in handy. There are apps that show sun and moon position as well, but as I drove around Nashville on Sunday, I made a mental note as to how high the sun was at the eclipse times.

I am glad you got some good stuff! It is a challenging 58 seconds!

I first got wind of this eclipse, probably June 2016. I had checked off my only thirty year old bucket list item on July 8, 2011; so I've had to add other bucket list items.

1. Get an app or an alarm that announces "TAKE THE FILTER OFF!" During totality, I had my solar glasses off, but I wondered why there were multi-second exposures. Oops! I thought about buying binoculars with removable solar filters; but I was too late.
2. I rented a 128 GB CF card since I don't think I need that size. With the 675 photos taken, just 20% of the card was used (shooting RAW + Large JPEG).
3. I figured out how to use the Vello ShutterBoss II as an interval timer and work with my Canon 5D III auto exposure bracketing. I may have gotten more than the 5 photos, but I got what I needed.
4. My auto exposure bracketing of of 5 photos from -3 to +1 worked fairly well. I would probably drop the +1; I got more usable photos as the percentage towards totality increased. My custom setting 2 for totality, 7 stops from -2 to +2, didn't get tested because of a user failure listed above.
5. I tested a few days before the eclipse. I did not try the index card sighting method. The first attempt to find the sun was a total failure with the solar filter on the lens; the surrounding environment was so bright that it was impossible to see through the viewfinder. The next day, I used a windbreaker to drape over the camera and me to block out the surroundings and that worked. Next time, I'm using a dark cloth. B&H has one that I think will be useful: Harrison Silver Classic Classic Dark Cloth (54 x 58"); it's siver reflective for the sunny side up and dark on the other side to block out the environment. I may have looked like a fool if I were in a crowd of other photographers, but whatever works.
6. Gotta be strict on checking the tripod when using the drift method. I got lax sometimes and the sun drifted to getting cut off at the right or bottom. I need to convince my CFO that I need a tracking mount.
7. Mounting the camera "backwards" on the tripod works once again. My tripod could not have tilted that far upward if it was mounted normally.
8. The 10 x 8 ft canopy worked great to provide shelter. The instructions say that it is a two person job. It was difficult for me to set up, but it was much easier to tear down.

I don't know if I'll stick with 300mm or go up since I didn't get the corona. I could rent a longer lens to try without an eclipse. My DayStar filter fits outside diameters of 90 to 109mm.

I'm planning for April 8, 2024. If we don't visit Mission Control before 2024, then we may go to Dallas and make a side trip to Houston. Otherwise, we'll probably be in the Midwest someplace, Ohio, Indiana, or Illinois.

I may try Eclipse Orchestrator for 2024. But auto bracketing and interval timing worked; it would be nice to decrease the interval during totality and from what I've read, Eclipse Orchestrator can do that. But 2024 will be my second total solar eclipse and the program setup may be too complex.

Paula watched the first half and the halftime show and left for the comforts of the air-conditioned house for the second half. I stuck through it until the moon had passed the sun. Our Beagles didn't freak out from the eclipse. They got tired of watching us watch the eclipse and went to shade. They woke up when someone set off fireworks. I suspected that it may happen. We live in the South; any holiday is a reason to shoot off fireworks.  But multiple houses didn't join in like they usually do for Fourth of July, Christmas, New Years.

Hey Ralph,

Good stuff! Thanks for sharing!

I forgot to put the filter back on my wide-angle camera for a couple of minutes!

Were the fireworks during totality? Or after? Let's hope after!

See you in 2024!

Todd,

Fireworks happened at totallity.

Looks like location for April 2024 eclipse is settled. We'll either be somewhere in Texas or Cleveland and make a visit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Paula dictated Texas or Cleveland. I realized that it's the day before her birthday. If we haven't visited Johnson Space Center before 2024, then we'll be somewhere in Texas and make a side trip to Houston; otherwise, it's the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Sounds like a plan!

As part of the memories, I would suggest a 3rd camera (or at least a 2nd) to snap pictures/video of those around you. I was able to record video of the shadow snakes - and everyone screaming over seeing them. A friend setup and shot a video of everyone a few minutes prior, during, and after totality; seeing environment change was cool. And yes, now that I learned a few lessons I am eager to do it all again!

Hey Bev,

While I agree with you, manning and running one more camera would have been too much for me to juggle. And, sometimes the brain is way better than the camera at recording emotional events like during totality. A video or snapshots would have been cool though!

Thanks for reading!

I felt a lot of the same emotions you did...of course I think we all did for that matter!! My biggest regrets are that I didnt practice my setup more and that I didn't practice during the hours of the eclipse as much as I should have leading up to the eclipse. That being said there is always the eclipse in 2024!!

Hey Mario,

Practice was the key! I practiced solar photography for months before the event...and I have been doing lunar and star photography for decades! It is a very different challenge!

Wonderful article about this amazing event! Your pics, time lapse and video all so good. Enjoyed this read so much Todd.

Thanks for reading, Joy! I hope you got to experience the eclipse as well!

Hey Todd, How did you manage to use a Nikon Lens on a Fuji camera? In doing so was the camera able to auto-focus, and did the adapter you used result in any f-stop loss, for example from F4 to say F5.6? I saw the eclipse in South Carolina and like yourself can't remember much a bout what happened around me as I was focused on getting eclipse images-and like your experences we had a partly sunny day. Once the sun hit totality and the moon began moving away both the sun and moon were covered by clouds. Nice article-BR-JH

Hey John,

I used a Novoflex adapter to connect the Nikon lens to the Fujifilm camera. There are several brands of adapters available for the same purpose.

No autofocus, but no loss of light or extra optics. One of the magic things about mirrorless cameras is that you can adapt almost any lens to your camera! It is good fun!

Thanks for reading and thanks for the kind words!

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