Solar Eclipse Road Trip, Here We Come!

Solar eclipse photography

Solar eclipse October 2014

I can’t wait to get on the road to shoot the Great American Eclipse!

The path of the moon’s shadow, where the total eclipse will be visible, goes right across the United States.  If you’re not directly in that path a partial eclipse will be visible if you have proper viewing glasses that block the most harmful wavelengths of light.  But people who have experienced totality say there’s nothing quite like it, and you should get to the path if you can.

So where should you go?  Bear in mind that totality lasts 2-3 minutes, so if you have multiple routes to take, weather can be a consideration.  The site GreatAmericanEclipse has suggested ten of the better spots across the country.  They also have state by state maps showing the path of the eclipse across the country, with lines to show the approximate duration of totality depending upon where in that path you are.

Sky and Telescope Magazine suggests a similar Top 10 Places to View the Solar Eclipse.  Another map by Xavier Jubier has superimposed the path of the earth’s shadow on an interactive Google map in case you want to find a place a little less promoted.

Crowds are expected to be record-breaking along the path of the solar eclipse coming up August 21.  Many areas are trying to implement temporary traffic control plans in the narrow path of the moon’s shadow.  I hear that even porta-potty rentals are in short supply as communities try to cope with the crowds.  Fortunately I’ll be bringing my own facilities with me!

You may thank that Jackson, Wyoming sounds like an attractive place to catch the eclipse, but the sun will be south, not west towards the Tetons when the eclipse peaks.  The Jackson Hole Astronomy Club did extensive research with local meteorologists on data from the 2005 – 2015 and determined that just about anywhere else within a 3 mile driving radius had better odds of clear weather.  I’ll be staying near there, but eclipse day is expected to be the busiest day ever for the area, so traffic jams and parking issues could seriously affect viewing plans, and I have plans to exit the area if the crowds look too daunting or the weather forecast turns bad.

If that all sounds like too much risk or hassle to be worth the trip, no problem, there’s a tool that can help you determine how much of an eclipse will be visible wherever you are on that day.

Thank you +Capital Ford for getting the +Ford Motor Company-remanufactured engine into my Ford F-350 truck ASAP so we can stake our claim to a great shooting location!  As of August 4 it’s not going to be back in time to leave this weekend, but they assure me that it’ll be done by Monday or Tuesday.  Fingers crossed!
I’ll make a separate post on viewing and photography, including some of the products I’ve bought for the trip.

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See the “Super moon” Total Eclipse September 27 – 28, 2015!

Lunar Eclipse April 4, 2015

September 27, 2015, 6 pm –  See the “supermoon” total eclipse tonight!  For watchers in the Rocky Mountain states, partial eclipse begins at 7:11 pm local time, so look outside now!

For those of us on the West Coast of North America, the moon is below the horizon; moon rise occurs closer to sunset.  Here in the Eastern Sierra, local moon rise is around 6:44 pm and sunset is around 6:47 pm, depending upon how far north or south you are. The moon will clear the horizon to the east right around sunset, well into its partial eclipse phase, and be fully eclipsed from 7:11 – 8:23 pm. Then as the moon exits total eclipse, it will be in a partial eclipse for over an hour more.

For more specific eclipse phase timing in your region, see the article at www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/lunar/2015-september-28

Good luck with your lunar eclipse viewing and photography, let me know how you did!


Photography notes from the April 5, 2015 lunar eclipse:

Lunar eclipses are a fun challenge, in part because they push the limits of your equipment.  The image above was captured at 4:51 am during the April 4 lunar eclipse this year, about 6-7 minutes before totality, so there was a sliver of bright sunlight on the moon.

The Canon EF 70-200 f/4 IS lens that I used was well focused, but shooting any lens at it’s maximum aperture tends to result in slightly less sharp images.  Adding more glass elements such as the 2X teleconverter further challenges sharpness.  Adding a teleconverter also reduces the f-stop, in this case 2X to f/8.  I wanted to stay at or below below 1 second exposure time to reduce motion blur, and at ISO 1600 I could use 0.6 second.  The high ISO also creates a little bit of noise, which can also challenge fine detail.

I had changed my shooting location when the weather forecast made the original ones I had identified look less attractive with below freezing temperatures, high winds, and possible clouds to obscure the eclipse.  I decided to just catch what i could from home.  I was shooting a time-lapse sequence, and shooting at 400mm I had room to lengthen the exposure time as the moon darkened, but  and the moon set just before totality.

I had my Canon 70D with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 lens on a star-tracking mount to capture a time-lapse of the eclipse progress without the moon moving out of the field of view.  at 300mm the effective focal length was 480mm, but shooting wide open at f/5.6 that lens was a little softer than the EF 70-200mm and 2X teleconverter combo, even with the moon’s relative motion taken out of the equation.

I was basically using the 5D Mark III to measure and track exposure as the eclipse progressed and the moon illumination constantly changed.

The 70D / 70-300mm combo is a lot lighter than the 5Dmkiii / 70-200mm / 2X combo.  Heavier camera bodies and longer, heavier lenses can sometimes cause various problems with sky tracking mounts, but it may be worthwhile to test the 5Dmkiii /70-200mm / 2X setup on the sky tracker and backing off of the maximum aperture and a stop or two on the ISO to get more sharpness and less noise, lengthening the exposure time.

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Total Lunar Eclipse over Saguaro National Park

A massive storm was hammering the entire West Coast this lunar eclipse approached, so I decided to drive as far as I had to to get out from under the clouds. One 2000 mile round trip later, here’s a timelapse video spanning several hours. During the total eclipse the moon turns very dim and red, coloring the clouds and the landscape below.

Update: The copy I uploaded here to Blogger was converted poorly to a low resolution copy, so I deleted it. For best results at the moment, watch a preview of my lunar eclipse timelapse video over on YouTube: http://youtu.be/26aXK2vg6EI. 

I’ve also uploaded a timelapse video covering several hours of the Geminid meteor shower from 2010, condensed into a few seconds. I successfully uploaded an HD copy to Vimeo, so this is the best resolution and quality timelapse video of any event that I’ve been able to present to the public so far: http://vimeo.com/18185456

Here’s one of my still images from the lunar eclipse:

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Total Lunar Eclipse Monday, December 20, 2010 (Last Chance ‘Til 2014)!

I’ve been poring over maps, examining moon rise and set angles on Google Earth maps, calculating what lenses might cover various phases of the total lunar eclipse Monday night, and anxiously checking weather forecasts.

This will be the only total lunar eclipse until 2014, so to me it’s worth an investment of time and effort to witness and to shoot. It might even be worth renting a lens for. Unfortunately, the entire West Coast looks out of the question due to weather, so I’m heading to Southern Arizona. I still have to cross the Sierra Nevada twice in the blizzard today, then I’ll have a 15 hour drive to Arizona (maybe 20 hours total, if I’m lucky). On the plus side, capturing the lunar eclipse over a tall saguaro cactus could offer some stunning possibilities, not to mention sunrise and sunset.

If you’re as crazy as I am and dying to get shots of the eclipse, I’d like to invite you to join me. I can save you days of research and I can help you line you some nice sunrise and sunset shots in addition to improving your chances of capturing nice eclipse photos and/or timelapse sequences. During an eclipse the exposure of the light coming off the moon changes dramatically, and it’s helpful to have others nearby to compare exposure information with.

All I ask is that you have some night photography experience, a tripod and remote trigger (wireless or corded, even better if you have an intervalometer timer-trigger), and that you can work around your camera at night without letting any light leak forward into the shot. That last point is very, very important. It gets extremely dark during a total lunar eclipse, and a timelapse sequence of the entire event can be ruined by one stray flashlight or headlamp.

Oh, and one more thing I ask… a moderate workshop fee… $99. We’ll set a time and place, meet around sunset, and shoot through dawn. Anyone heading back towards California after that is welcome to join me in searching for favorable light and weather over the following day or two (no guarantees that the weather will cooperate, but unsettled weather is the most dramatic visually, so I’m very excited about the forecast). Possibilities include Imperial Sand Dunes, Anza-Borrego State Park, the Salton Sea, Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley (a huge range, but the National Weather Service will help narrow down the choices). The Grand Canyon isn’t out of the question geography-wise, but it’s currently directly in the path of the storm, so a low probability (and it’s snowy and very cold).

The weather there is forecast to be a low of 46 degrees, 70s during the day.

Whatever you decide, best of luck to you on your weather and your eclipse shots!

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Penumbral Lunar Eclipse While the Full Moon Sets


With the middle of the eclipse forecast for 6:38am, the exact full moon time at 6:50 and sunrise time of 7:03, this was promising to be one of the easiest and most colorful eclipses to cover in a long time. The only challenge was the weather. Rain the night before caused me to give up trying to catch the moonrise or moonset in the Bay Area, and when I looked outside at 6:30am it looked like gray clouds were still dominating the skies in Auburn as well.

I decided to head to a nearby viewpoint anyway in case by some miracle there was a hole in the clouds that I could catch the moon through, and there it was, fully visible! More often than not when I take a chance on weather, it pays off handsomely.

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Lessons Learned: Photographing the Lunar Eclipse

For the August 28 lunar eclipse I decided to go shoot by Mono Lake, where there would be no light pollution and at an elevation of about 7000 feet there would be minimal atmospheric interference. I spent the previous night in Yosemite Valley and travelled to the South Tufa access point at Mono Lake to spend the night of the eclipse. To plan for the eclipse, here are some links that I used.

Lunar Eclipse Photo Examples and Shooting Advice:
http://www.mreclipse.com/LEphoto/LEphoto.html

Aug 28 Lunar Eclipse Phases & Times:
http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/LEmono/TLE2007Aug28/TLE2007Aug28.html

I really liked the example of a wide angle lunar eclipse sequence in a particular setting, so I set up one camera to leave with one wide perspective, and I used another to capture zoomed shots of the moon at various phases of the eclipse.

I did a fair amount of exposure bracketing, but I had some focusing problems during the darker phases of the eclipse. In my case I had added a doubler to my lense which forced manual focus, so I assumed that I simply wasn’t focusing accurately enough. Examining the shots on my computer the next day, the stars revealed that the real culprit turned out to be the rotation of the earth. My lense doubled to 400mm is equivalent to 640mm on a 35mm camera, so in the process of magnifiying the detail of the moon I was magnifying the motion of the moon as well. With the moon 10,000 times less bright during the eclipse, about a 15 stop shift darker, and the doubler also cutting my lens’s widest aperture down 2 stops to f/8.0, I could focus on the moon sharply at any given instant, but the exposure times were simply too long as both the moon moved and my position moved (the surface of the earth rotates at over 1000 miles/hour). As I examine the shots in more detail it’ll be interesting to see at what exposure time the motion becomes too great at that level of zoom.

A different issue I’ve found related to moon shots and image stabilization is that when I bracketed I wanted to use Photomatix HDR software to combine multiple exposures to really bring out the moon’s detail. Unfortunately the IS system seemed to re-acquire a new lock on the moon in between shots, which moves each shot slightly and destroys the alignment of the shots relative to each other. Normally HDR software can attempt to restore alignment across multiple shots, but the information in each shot is so different that there doesn’t seem to be enough information for the software to use to perform alignment automatically. I guess I’ll have to use Photoshop skills to superimpose, align, and blend multiple shots.

My biggest challenge however turned out to be one that I had anticipated: battery power. What I hadn’t anticipated was shooting in yosmite all day then catching a nice sunset in the Mammoth Lakes area before heading over to Mono Lake. I started the night with neither of my cameras fully charged, and having to do a little battery shuffling and charging during the night cost me a couple of key shots from the sequence I wanted to complete. Lesson learned.

The still partially eclipsed moon set over the crest of the Sierras near 13,000 foot Mt. Dana, I enjoyed a nice sunrise at Mono Lake, then I spent another day shooting Yosemite under some nice, dramatic clouds. I started getting a little tired after 36 straight hours of photography, but what a great trip!

With clouds over Yosemite and water levels low and calm on the Merced River, I had a particularly productive time there. Here are a few of my favorite shots.

The turnout opposite Bridalveil Falls is a great place to stop right before sunset as the softening golden light of the setting sun brings out the color in the valley’s granite. Bridalveil Falls and the Merced River in Yosemite Valley are at extremely low levels following a winter season of low snowfall.

I wasn’t sure if the reflection was going to be strong enough, but as it turned out I really like how the rocky bottom of the river shows through in the darker areas of the reflection. Some people think that all you have to do in landscape photography si show and trigger the shutter, but in this case a circular polarizer at partial strength, a graduated neutral density filter hand-held in front, auto exposure bracketing 3 shots plus HDR processing and Photoshop color adjustment were all needed to create this result

I go to Yosemite a lot, but this was my first visit with a really wide lense. Being that deep in a valley, the extra coverage sure helps, especially if you’re trying to double it the Valley’s landmarks with a reflection!

I call this photo “PapaBearazzi.” Fortunately this bear had plenty of ripe apples to keep him full, but at night the bears roam the campgrounds, like giant dogs, looking for dropped table scraps. I’ve rarely seen bears wandering around during the day in Yosemite, but on this day I saw 2, and the night before my father stepped out of his tent and almost tripped over one!

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