Sunday, February 19, 2017

The August 21, 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

     I am sure that most of you know by now that a total solar eclipse will occur on August 21, 2017.  I have been looking forward to this event for more than four decades and cannot believe that the eclipse is almost upon us.  I remember as a teenager thinking, “I’ll be sixty-two years old when this eclipse occurs.  I’m going to be a really old man.  I hope I live long enough to see it.”  Well, my perception on old age as changed considerably since I was a teenager, and hopefully I will be around at least another seven months and then I will have lived long enough to see the GREAT AMERICAN ECLIPSE.

     Now, if the weather cooperates all will be just great.  I’ve been doing a lot of research over the last year on where to be.  My decision is, or was to be near Hopkinsville, Kentucky near the point of Greatest Eclipse.  However, sites are now coming online with information on cloud cover from previous years and predictions of this August 21st cloud cover percentage.
     Though Hopkinsville is my first choice, I plan to be flexible and prepared to drive as far west as necessary, or east for that matter.   Current predictions, and satellite images from previous years indicate that the further west, the better the chances of a cloudless sky.  I am certainly keeping my options open.  Hopefully the entire continent will not be socked in with thick clouds, what a bummer that would be.
     I have only seen one total solar eclipse in my life, and that was the February 26, 1979 eclipse.  The “79” eclipse enter the US on the Washington coast, then crossed in to Canada at the North Dakota border, then onto Greenland.  I was a young man then, and my wife and I drove from Michigan, to 120 miles west of Winnipeg, Manitoba to be near the center line of totality. 

     It was a breathtaking experience!  Once the Sun’s photosphere was covered the brilliant solar corona shown bright against a starry velvet backdrop, not day nor night, but somewhere in between.  Totality only lasted a short two and half minutes or so, but it was one of the best two and half minutes I have ever experienced.  It was an event that is still vivid in my mind and one I have longed to have again. 

     Of course my goal is to photograph the August 21st eclipse, and do it better than I did in “79.”  Back then I used a Nikon F2 camera and a Nikkor 500mm mirror lens with a homemade 2x teleconverter.  My wife and I had only been married for eight months, and we were really living on a tight budget.  I could not afford a teleconverter so I took an old, non working 35mm lens and took some of the lens elements out and placed them between a couple of extension tubes.  Much to my surprise I got something close to a 2x converter.   The photos above were taken with that setup.
     Back in those days I was shooing film and my favorite film was Kodachrome 64.  At that ISO I was shooting some pretty slow shutter speeds.  What I did was bracket exposures, starting with /12000 of a second and then shoot a photograph with every shutter speed down to 1 second.  It worked, and I got some semi-decent photos with my homemade rig.  This time I’m going after the eclipse with better equipment and higher ISO’s.

     The eclipse can be photographed with just about any camera and lens.  My preference is a 800mm to 1000mm on a full frame camera.  These focal lengths provides about a 6mm image size of the Sun and show detail in the solar corona. I do not have an 800mm so I will be using a 500mm with a 1.4 teleconverter.  The effective focal length of the 500mm with the 1.4 converter is 750mm.  To capture various aspects of the eclipse a wide range of exposures will be necessary.  Check out the exposure guide chart on this site:
     I do hope that you plan on seeing this eclipse.  It is an astronomical spectacle that will live with you for the rest of your life.  It is a must see event.  If you are like me and are planning on photographing the eclipse, don’t forget to take a few seconds to stop and see this spectacle with you own eyes, and not through a camera lens.
     Below is a list of website that will help you if you plan on visiting a site on the path of totality and photographing the eclipse.  Though I have listed some of these sites under charts and illustrations in this post, the live links are at the bottom of this post.

My favorite site when it comes to exposure recommendations.  This is a must see site:

This is an excellent website for exposure guide through the various stages of the eclipse.  It is a Shutter Speed Calculator for Solar Eclipses. 

Another good site with an exposure chart and good photography information:

If you are using a point and shoot camera visit this website:

For details on the path of totality:

For map of average cloud cover go to:

Excellent site to see cloud cover on the eclipse path over the last several decades and the current cloud cover predictions.

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