May 2012 eclipse


Bob Adams and Dan Miller inspired me to try some eclipse images.  I had never shot an eclipse before, so here are the results and what I learned.

After scouting out some areas adjacent to Highway 610, I ended up in a farm field; just off of Winnetka between 101st and 109th.  I had to traverse a rather large farm field and saw a lot of mud to get these shots, but that’s just part of the deal.

Nikon D7000 with a Tamron SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD lens shot at F/20 and 1/500 of a second shutter speed.  ISO 100.  Focal length: 70mm.

Sunset in the Serengeti   

Actually, no, it’s Brooklyn Park, MN.  Click on the larger image and you’ll see power lines in the background.  I missed spotting them because I was so far away.  This was the tree I originally targeted for my foreground object, but I was too close to use the 300mm focal length I needed for the eclipse.  The sunburst pattern is caused by the lens, and normally that’s unwanted, but in this case, it works.   


Nikon D7000 with a Tamron SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD lens shot at F/20 and 1/8000 of a second shutter speed.  ISO 100.  Focal length: 300mm

The eclipse at peak; time was 8:20 p.m.  Please look carefully as you can see two sunspots on it.  I’m pretty sure I stacked both my polarizer and an old Cokin ND (Neutral Density) filter for this image (more on that below) and still I was a bit over-exposed.  Yes, the image data does say 1/8000 of a second.  


Nikon D7000 with a Tamron SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD lens shot at F/25 and 1/500 of a second shutter speed.  ISO 100.  Focal length: 300mm.

Sunset in the Serengeti, Part II 

With my first tree too close, I went to a secondary tree (more mud to walk through).  This one actually worked out better than the first.  The distinct red color is caused by under-exposing the sky a bit, but even at that, the sun is over-exposed.  Nevertheless, the initial reaction to this image has been very positive, and I’m happy with it.


On the way out, I had a choice to make.  I could either walk back through the mud, or cut through a property that was clearly marked NO TRESPASSINGI chose the latter, and hoped my camera gear would buy me a pass.  Apparently no one saw me, and I made it back ok.


So here’s what I learned while taking images of the partial eclipse.  Most of this is related to brightness.

• Eye protection.  No, I wasn’t a total idiot, but in order to capture what I did, I had to catch some glimpses of the sun.  My method was to look into the camera’s viewfinder, away from the sun projecting into it, and try to frame the image using peripheral vision.  It was still too bright, and that has brought me some eye fatigue and disorientation.  That continues as of May 27 (a week later).  I didn’t think it would be an issue, but I was obviously wrong, and will definitely wear sunglasses next time.  In the meantime, I’m hoping my vision issues go away.  So, please be more careful than I was.

• Filters.  The eclipse is so bright that it overwhelms your normal exposure values (it is brighter than the sun by itself).  I mentioned that I held TWO filters in front of my lens (a polarizer and a graduated ND filter) and I still needed a 1/8000 of a second shutter speed!  The experts say to use no filters at all but I think a 4 stop ND filter would help a lot.  I know filters take away some image quality but when you’re forced to shoot at 1/8000 of a second and F/20, you need some help.  Bob Conzemius told me he used both 10-stop and 4-stop ND filters and his eclipse shots look great.  Dan also used a multi-step ND filter to take his eclipse images.

• Foreground objects.  It’s not an issue if you don’t want or cannot have a foreground object, but if you do, good luck with that.  They are useless until the sun is very low in the sky and not as bright.  Otherwise, in order to get a good exposure of the eclipse itself, everything else will be black.  However, I am unsure what would happen in a total eclipse.  Hopefully I’ll find out in 2017!

• Got the shakes.  I noticed the same camera shake issues I had during my moon shot images (see this link HERE).  Even with the high shutter speeds, there was issues with camera shake.  It’s just unavoidable at higher focal lengths.  Dan said he had issues with the ambient winds that were causing camera shake.  My only suggestion there is to lower your tripod as much as possible.


Bob went to Texas and Dan to New Mexico to get their eclipse images.  I am very excited to see what they bring back!


Update – 5/25/12 – here’s a shot that Bob took from his location in Bledsoe, TX:

Nikon D70s with a Nikkor 55-200mm F/4-5.6G ED lens shot at F/8 and 1/750 of a second shutter speed.  ISO 200.  Focal length: 200mm.


What a great shot!  I really like how the clouds add to the image.  Bob took this with my old warhorse Nikon D70s.  Of all the eclipse shots I have seen of this event, this is my favorite.


all images (except Bob Adams eclipse image) © Scott Woelm – May 2012