Memphis Barbree, Fine Art Photographic Works, Writings, Teachings, Explorations, Stories of Light

Photographing Totality

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I found out just one week prior to the eclipse that I had a camp spot in the Totality Zone in Madras, Oregon on Lake Simtustus with the Oregon Airstream Club. It was late notice so I began preparing rapidly. Fortunately, I was in the San Francisco Bay Area and had Samy's Cameras and the internet at my fingertips. I wrote a post about this in my Field Notebooks.

When I arrived in Madras, Oregon, I had four days before the eclipse and began scouting the location and watching the sun move through the landscape each morning's eclipse time frame. I hoped for an epic eclipse-in-landscape image, but my location just wasn't offering me anything I felt strongly about. I came up with perhaps a dozen different plans and on the morning of the eclipse I scrapped them all - not unusual for  me - and chose to create what you see here as the Totality folio.

I'm not one that's big on lists of equipment and camera settings because there are often so many variables involved in making a photograph, that settings and equipment lists just aren't any help in how to make an image, in my view. In the case of a solar eclipse, it is a somewhat technical undertaking however. So here's my equipment list for the photographs of Totality and some tips with a link to a wonderful source of eclipse technical information.

Camera Equipment List:
Nikon D750 with 300 mm lens
Lee Filter Foundation Kit
Lee 82 mm adapter ring
Kenko 67-82 stepping ring
Lee Solar Eclipse Filter 100x100
Fully charged camera battery
2 - 32 GB SD cards in camera
Sturdy tripod and head
Remote camera release

In the week prior to the trip, I also did copious amounts of research. One of the most helpful piles of information on photographing a solar (or lunar) eclipse has been created by a man known as Mr. Eclipse - Fred Espenak - http://www.mreclipse.com. If you study Mr. Eclipse's site, you'll know more about eclipses and photographing eclipses than you could ever be afraid to ask.

I started with his charts for exposure settings and adjusted based on my situation. He says himself that you'll have to use his guide as a reference and make your own adjustments because every situation will be different. For instance, I had a thick blanket of wildfire smoke descend on my viewing spot the day before and morning of the eclipse. So I had to work fast to adjust my camera settings to meet those lighting conditions as soon as the totality phase began. I wasn't far off though, because I had studied Fred's charts and estimated what the light levels were going to be based on settings from photographing full moons and landscapes at dusk.

A couple key tips I can offer from my experience.

  • Don't try to do too much, especially your first eclipse. Pick one aspect of the eclipse, focus on it and work to photograph it well.
  • If you want to photograph only the totality phase, you don't need a solar filter or any other specialized filter. It is safe for you and your camera DURING TOTALITY PHASE ONLY to photograph and view the sun without special filters.
  • Bracket shutter speed widely to expose for the various subtleties of the corona.
  • Remember the sun is moving - well, actually the earth is moving in reference to the sun - so don't expose more than 1 second or you will quite probably get motion blur.
  • Use ISO settings not greater than 100-400 to avoid digital noise.
  • F/16 because I wanted my aperture to be somewhat small so I might get a hint of starburst in the light coming through the lens. An even smaller aperture would have made it even more dramatic, but I didn't want too much so I was conservative.
  • Use a tripod and remote release to avoid camera shake. Remember to turn off lens stabilization since you're on a tripod.
  • The totality phase goes by much more quickly than you think it will. Be ready. I set alarms on my iPhone to help me keep track and stay on schedule.
  • Think about the eclipse and what story you want to tell about it so that you can plan your images accordingly. It all comes down to the story. Technique is nothing without the story.
  • Practice and scout ahead of time.
  • Enjoy.
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Totality Folio is available for purchase on my website: http://www.memphisbarbree.com/foliostore/totality

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