October 27, 2014 by Rob Hurlbut
A Bird Flies Past A Solar Eclipse
Last week I photographed a partial solar eclipse in Denver, Colorado. That was something I had never done before so guess what happened. Never mind, don’t guess; I’ll just tell you: I didn’t do a very good job. I did the best I could with the equipment I had but believe it or not, pointing a camera at the sun, the brightest thing any human being has ever seen requires more than skill, it demands specialized equipment; a neutral density filter. Just attach the filter to the end of your lens and it functions just like sunglasses or a welder’s mask. They restrict the amount of light that passes through the lens so you can use low light techniques in broad daylight. Or, in the case a solar eclipse, prevent you from going blind whilst composing a shot that includes the sun.
Partial Solar Eclipse Through Colorado Blue Spruce
Since I don’t have one of these filters, I had to push my camera to its limits by using the fastest shutter, smallest aperture and lowest ISO available; 1/4000th of a second paired with f/32 and a film speed of 100. In addition to that, I did what I could in order to get some trees, leaves and branches between my camera and the eclipse to help act as a natural diffuser. So, technically I got some photos that show the moon partially blocking the sun but as you can see, just barely. There are cameras out there that can slap their shutters at 1/8000th of a second and that would’ve helped me out a lot but using a neutral density filter for an event like this is the better option because it would have given me more flexibility, including the option to directly view the sun through the viewfinder. This would have made it so much easier to compose the shots.
Partial Solar Eclipse And Spooky Trees
The eclipse itself was a very unique event for North American photographers because it happened right before or during sunset for the middle and eastern side of the continent. Just like when the harvest moon happens, it’s always nice to be able to place familiar objects in the foreground to enhance to apparent size of the celestial event by giving it some scale. There was a very light cloud cover the entire time so the sun looked like a very haunted moon and the foreground subjects looked like something from an evil garden.
Solar Eclipse Projected By Pinhole Camera
If you don’t have gear capable of being pointed directly at the sun, there is an old world way to see an eclipse and that is to construct a pinhole camera. You need a piece of white cardboard to poke a pinhole in and another white surface for the eclipse to be projected on. The smaller the pinhole, the closer together the two ends of the camera need to be. I poked a hole with a large paper clip so I was able project an image of the eclipse onto a white brick wall from more than three feet away. The image itself, visible on the left side of the photo above was about a half inch a cross and even showed the branches of the trees. I hadn’t messed around with old school optics like this for over 20 years so it was fun and even a little bit nostalgic. The good news in all this is that there will be a total solar eclipse visible across a large swath of the United States in August of 2017 as well as a total lunar eclipse in September of 2015. I know it seems like these are a long way off but having two events like this so close together is very special and doesn’t happen very often in the United States so, buy a neutral density filter and start practicing now. Cheers!