Featured Image of the Week | 8/22/2017

For this weeks Featured Image of the week I’m sharing a picture of the 2017 total Solar Eclipse (as seen from Charleston, SC). Getting the shot was a combination of having the right gear, being in the right place and a whole lot of luck. If seeing how I got the shot (including the equipment and settings I used) is something you’re interested in then be sure to read the entire article.

2017 North American Eclipse

August 21, 2017 was a historic date for the US because it’s been a long time since an eclipse would be visible pretty much everywhere in the country. Partial eclipses happen occasionally and can be seen from specific places in the US, but for this eclipse there would be visibility of “totality” along a path that stretched from Oregon on one coast all the way to Charleston on the other. The last time an event like this occurred was in 1979 and the next one won’t happen until 2024. Here’s a map of the eclipse path (image supplied by NASA):

Most of the country would get to see a partial eclipse (where the moon obscured a large amount of the sun) but the path of totality would bring a complete blockage of the sun. Since this was such a rare event (and I can’t remember anything like this in my lifetime) my girlfriend, Deb, and I decided to make the drive to South Carolina to be in the path of totality.

Picking a Place to See the Eclipse

The day before the eclipse we scouted a number of possible viewing locations in Charleston and Mt Pleasant but we ultimately settled on a National Historic Site (run by the National Park Service).

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site offered free parking, shelter from the sun (or rain), bathrooms and NPS rangers to offer some insight about the eclipse as well as the National Historic Site. Most important – the grounds had an extremely spacious field that offered an incredible view of the sky. Another great benefit of being at the historic site was the great group of people – including the rangers – who were also there.

On the day of the eclipse we were the first vehicle to arrive and it turned out to be a great (and very fun) place for experiencing the Eclipse.

Getting a shot

Viewing of any eclipse requires special glasses (difficult to find as the date of the eclipse came closer) and photographing an eclipse means using special filters designed to let you point your camera at the sun without destroying your gear. I used a special 80mm solar filter from Amazon.

note: once the sun was completely hidden by the moon the filter was removed.

The rest of the equipment I used was my standard photography gear. I used my Sony A6000, a Sony LAE-3 adapter, my Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 (no longer available for Sony – but a Sigma version can be used on the Sony a6000 with the Sigma MC-11 adaptor), my Manfrotto 055XproB tripod (old model was replaced by the 055Xpro3), two Manfrotto 057 ball heads, my Atomos Ninja 2, a Sony remote shutter release and an Impact 25lb sandbag to keep things steady. Here’s a look at my complete rig set up and pointing at the sun:

Because my 70-200mm f2.8 lens isn’t a native E-mount lens (and the auto focus on the A6000 with LAE-3 isn’t so good) I manually focused the lens. The Atomos Ninja-2 monitor/recorder was super helpful for making sure I had the sun as in focus as possible. Also – it was super nice to have a monitor that didn’t require me to stoop down to view the LCD when my camera was pointed almost directly up.

For settings I made adjustments “on the fly” until I was happy with the results I saw on my Atomos monitor. What worked best for me was a shutter speed of .8 seconds at f8 using ISO 100.

Unfortunately the one thing that was completely out of my control was the weather. Clouds were in the sky pretty much the entire day and rain (complete with lightning and thunder) started to threaten right before totality began. Here’s a shot of the sun before totality that shows just how heavy the clouds were:

With the heavy clouds there wasn’t much time to get a shot of totality before the sun became impossible to see. I took a number of pictures of the partial eclipse – but I estimate I had less than a minute of totality before photography became impossible. In that time I managed to capture a handful of shots – including the one I’m featuring in this article.

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