Iran flag Solar Eclipse
Photography Tips
Totality in Esfahan
by John Walker

This document amounts to a “memo to file” regarding the photography I did during the eclipse and lessons learned therefrom. It is not remotely intended as an authoritative source for eclipse photography, details of which are given in almost any astrophotography reference.

Pace yourself to damp vibration.
Remember that you're using a long lens to image the Sun at a reasonable size on the image plane and that consequently any vibration of the camera can destroy all but the shortest exposures. Use the sturdiest tripod you can manage, and be sure to allow time after each film advance and change in shutter speed to allow induced vibrations to damp out before releasing the shutter with the cable release. Be sure that when you make the exposure you are connected to the camera only by a limp cable release.
Consider locking up the mirror.
To further reduce vibration, consider locking up the reflex viewfinder mirror before commencing your series of exposures. But if you do so, make sure (and practice enough times so you are sure) doing so doesn't disturb camera aim or focus. If you do lock up the mirror, be sure to cap the lens or avert the camera from the direction of the Sun at the moment totality ends, as the uneclipsed Sun will then be focused on the focal plane shutter of your camera, where it is likely to cause all kinds of damage ranging from fogging your images of totality to setting your camera and the film therein on fire. This is bad; make sure it doesn't happen to you.
Motor drive?
Using a camera with a fast motor drive will undoubtedly permit you to get off more shots during totality, but if you opt for that be sure the drive doesn't induce vibrations which wreck the sharpness of your images. Again, a sturdy tripod will help. If you use a motor drive or camera which requires battery power to function, install fresh batteries before the eclipse and verify they are working properly.
Autofocus? Out of focus!
If you use a camera with autofocus, be absolutely certain it's disabled before you begin your eclipse shots and that the lens is fixed-focused on infinity (which, for optical purposes, is where the eclipse is occurring). You'll probably want to make a quick check of camera aim and fine focusing a moment after totality begins. Don't look into the viewfinder before the start of totality; you will probably blind yourself, which will degrade your eclipse experience. Totality is a fuzzy-wuzzy target which may cause autofocus cameras designed for more common scenes to “hunt” in focus, reducing the number of shots you're able to make, resulting in out of focus exposures, or in the worst case leaving you with no pictures at all if the camera refuses to release the shutter when it doesn't think the lens is in focus.
Don't cook your camcorder.
The video Totality: The Movie was made with a Sony digital video camcorder certified by its manufacturer as safe to point at the Sun as long as only its built-in lens was used. I took advantage of this to aim the camera at the Sun a minute or so before totality and leave it unattended for the duration. Don't assume your camcorder will tolerate the uneclipsed Sun! Earlier camcorders may incinerate their CCD sensors if aimed at the Sun. Unless your eclipse budget includes unlimited funds, it's best to resolve this issue by consulting the manual for your camcorder or its vendor's support desk rather than by experiment. Remember Apollo 12. Also note that while it's safe to aim a camcorder at the Sun while looking at its video monitor screen, it is not safe to aim at the Sun with an optical viewfinder, as found on older camcorders and many present-day digital still cameras.
Watch out for the end of totality.
Don't become so engrossed in totality you fail to notice when it ends and the brilliant photosphere of the Sun begins to reappear. Remember than staring at any portion of the non-eclipsed Sun can damage your eyesight, so when totality ends, turn your gaze to the other wonders around you such as the Moon's shadow departing at twice the speed of sound, the subtle shadow bands on light surfaces (if you're one of the lucky few to glimpse them—I'm not among them…yet), the dramatic brightening of the sky, and the reaction of birds and animals, among them those of your own species. Be extra sure you aren't observing the Sun through unfiltered optics when totality ends—damage to your eyes in that case will be more rapid and severe than to the unaided eye. Note that looking through the viewfinder of a camera with a telephoto lens is equivalent to observing the Sun with a telescope, and can cause comparable injury to the eye outside of totality.
Photographing partial phases.
If you want to record the partial phases of the eclipse, consider doing so after the end of totality. The moment totality ends, you can slap a solar filter over your telephoto lens and burn up (figuratively—literally if you forget the filter) the rest of your totality film roll on very narrow crescents. (I wouldn't do this myself, fearing fogging or other damage to the precious totality images.) Or, rewind and remove the totality roll, load a fresh one, and fire away during emergence. With a certified full-aperture filter mounted securely on your lens, it's safe to aim and focus through the viewfinder. If your camera has such latter day gimmicks as auto-exposure and -focus, they will probably work fine in the partial phase of the eclipse. It's easier to shoot the partial phases after rather than before totality because as totality approaches you're on edge anticipating what you're about to see and worrying that you may have forgotten something. After the show, you'll be on far more of an even keel (after all, what you're seeing is an instant replay, in reverse, of the first half of the eclipse) and find it easier to record emergence. If your location permits it, be sure to shoot some arty shots such as crescent Sun images projected through leaves of trees.
Bring a big lens, draw a big crowd.
Bring a lens, draw a crowd Viewing partiality with a pinhole Unless you're viewing an eclipse in a remote area solely in the company of other amateur astronomers, setting up one or more cameras with large lenses identifies you to more casual observers as an expert on observing and photographing the eclipse. This is wonderful; sharing one's love and knowledge of the sky with others is among the greatest of the many rewards of amateur astronomy. But if you've planned setting up your photographic equipment and observing without distractions and budgeted your time accordingly, the amount of time you can spend answering questions and explaining things may come as a surprise.

If you're planning to observe the eclipse in an area where safe filters for viewing the partial phases aren't widely available, consider packing a hundred or so to give away—they're cheap compared to other expenses of an eclipse expedition and they may help one or more children see a once in a lifetime wonder and perhaps keep somebody from damaging their eyesight. (Eclipse viewing filters were readily available along the eclipse track in Iran, but a rumour had apparently been reported on television that some of those on sale were not safe, so the filters I brought from Europe were much in demand and shared among those at the site I chose. All of the Iranian filters I personally checked were perfectly safe, but it's possible some were not.) Schoolchildren were advised to view partiality with a pinhole camera as these folks at left are doing (at the moment, the image of the crescent Sun is missing the paper target, but he corrected that a few seconds later). The local newspaper printed instructions and a template for making one's own pinhole camera, from which this one was made.

Help, and enlist help.
The flip side of drawing a crowd is that many people will be willing to help with your photography during the eclipse. This can be as simple as removing a welder's filter from in front of a pre-positioned video camera at the moment totality begins, permitting you to image the final moments before second contact and all of totality. I'd made my plans not counting on a crowd and didn't bring the stuff they could have helped me with, but if I'd had it there would have been no shortage of volunteers to help. Of course, if you bring welder's filters and the like, be willing to share them with others who have shown up with video cameras without suitable filters; everybody deserves a memory of the eclipse they can share with others.
Shoot the Moon.
Recall that two weeks before any solar eclipse it will always be full Moon regardless of where you are on Earth. This can provide a perfect rehearsal of your plans for totality as the Moon is almost the same size, more or less, as the Sun and has essentially the same apparent motion for the duration of totality. Set up your equipment and count down to a simulated start of totality, setting a timer to go off at the end of the duration predicted for the eclipse. Run through your complete photographic program as many times as you like, and have the resulting film processed to see how well you did. The experience will increase your confidence when totality approaches, and you may discover and remedy a problem in your experiments with the Moon which might otherwise spoil your eclipse shots. Since the full Moon doesn't go away like a total solar eclipse, you can practice numerous eclipse runs until you're sure you have your eclipse day routine down pat.

by John Walker
August, 1999