Equipment & Technique

Using Dennis di Cicco’s invaluable article entitled “How to Shoot a Solar Eclipse” in the August 2017 Sky & Telescope magazine as a guide, I calculated the optimal camera setting with which to program my Canon 1DMarkIV well in advance of eclipse day and practiced on the Sun several days beforehand to ensure I had the routine down cold for the big event.  I can’t stress enough the value of practicing the routine over and over until it is second nature.  Trust me, on eclipse day, with anticipation running high and adrenaline peaking as totality is nearing, you’ll be glad that routine is hard wired into your brain when you perform like a robot and get that killer shot!  I also constructed a cardboard white light solar filter nearly identical to di Cicco’s design to fit snugly over the front of the telephoto lens for capturing images at all phases of the eclipse except during totality.   Tip:  The sliding filter design provided a quick, easy and safe way to remove the filter from the imaging train during totality and re-insert it as totality ended; a maximum of 1-2 seconds was required to actuate the slider and complete the operation.

The imaging train consisted of a Canon 1DMarkIV DSLR with a 300 mm Canon f/2.8L EF IS telephoto lens and Baader Optical Density 5.0 solar filter, Canon Extender EF 1.4x III, and Gitzo heavy duty carbon fiber tripod with Wimberley WH-200 Head.  The effective focal length of the imaging train was 546 mm and the field of view was 3° x 2°, requiring re-centering of the Sun on average every 60-90 seconds.  A Canon Angle Finder C was attached to the viewfinder, set at 2.5 x power to monitor the position of the solar disc in the field of view and to randomly evaluate focus at a comfortable viewing angle. The left photo shows the configuration of the imaging train before and after totality (solar filter in optical path) while the right photo shows the configuration during totality (solar filter removed from optical path). The f/8 aperture setting was chosen to allow for some critical focus zone “wiggle room” and also to mitigate the effects of temperature-induced focus shift during the full eclipse sequence.

All images before and after totality were taken in Manual Shooting Mode, L Drive Mode, ISO 200, f/8, Mirror Lock Mode, at 1/500 sec shutter speed with Automatic Exposure Bracketing set to 7 shots/1.0 (1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, 1/2000, 1/4000 sec). All images during totality were taken in Manual Shooting Mode, L Drive Mode, ISO 200, f/8, Mirror Lock Mode, at 1/15 sec shutter speed with Automatic Exposure Bracketing set to 7 shots/1.0 (1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/500, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 sec).  This imaging scheme, well designed and rehearsed numerous times beforehand, reduced my “fiddle time” during the start of totality to a minimum, requiring only quick 5-10 second shutter speed change to the camera setting and removal of the Baader solar filter, thus allowing me nearly the full time to visually enjoy and marvel at the spectacle of totality.  In all cases the telephoto lens Image Stabilization Mode was set to OFF and Focus Mode to MF.  Finally, I used a Canon Model RS-80N3 Remote Switch to manually shoot the bracketed sets.  Coupled with Mirror Lockup Mode the remote switch helped mitigate the potential for camera shake, exploiting the good seeing conditions during the event and providing crisp images from start to finish.  All bracketed sequence shots before and after totality were taken by manually pressing the remote switch shutter button in response to the beeping of a timer on my cell phone preset for 5 minutes intervals.  During totality I simply “let ‘er rip”, taking as many bracketed sequence shots as time would allow.

 

 

Setting an accurate focus point is CRITICAL to obtaining good images.  This was accomplished by taking test images of the Sun the day before the eclipse at slightly different focus point settings near infinity on the 300 mm telephoto lens and evaluating each setting’s images on a high resolution monitor (not the preview screen on the back of the camera!).  Fortunately there were some sunspot groupings visible on the photosphere to help evaluate focus.  Once the focus point setting was determined, tape was placed on both the lens focusing ring and the lens body adjacent to the ring with a line scribed across the two to indicate optimal focus.  Do not assume best focus for your lens is at the infinity mark; it probably isn’t!  Iterate the focus settings until you are satisfied with the results or you’ll get disappointing images.  Remember:  Garbage IN – Garbage OUT.

 
Photo Credit: Aaron Jurasevich

With all the hard work now complete, it was time to sit back and enjoy the awe-inspiring display of Nature unfolding in the sky above.
My son, Aaron, set up this shot in the morning before the start of the eclipse and perfectly captured the moment of totality
and a sense of what we were all experiencing during those magical few minutes.