Sunday, 26 February 2017

Eclipse 2017 - To Photograph or Not (Part 2)

In my previous blog entry I gave reasons NOT to photograph the total solar eclipse coming in August 2017. Now I want to clarify a few things starting with my answer to the question of whether or not to photograph the eclipse - just go ahead and do it.

My first total solar eclipse took place when I was a teenager. I was (and still am) an amateur astronomer. So as not to miss anything I came prepared. Telescope, binoculars, camera with zoom lens, extra film, tripod, cable release, thermometer, and hours of lunar photography practice under my belt.
About to loose my eclipse virginity in 1972.
I thought I could handle it, you know, teenage optimism. My plan was to watch 2nd contact, do a few pictures, scope out the view with binoculars, some more pictures, temperature reading, telescope views, pictures of 3rd contact. I had practiced in my back yard and it was easy to fit all that inside of two minutes. I figured the only difference was that it was to be on board a ship.

Of course, that is not how it went. The moving ship presented its own challenge. The view moved in and out of the telescope eyepiece. It did not stay centered in the camera. Add in the excitement of the total solar eclipse and the whole thing was overwhelming.

Eclipse 1972 - 210mm Pentax, 200 ASA Color film (Kodak)
I did follow some very good advice and not try to photograph second contact. Instead I watched it directly and looked through my telescope as the chromosphere slipped behind the lunar disk. It was spell binding! The coronal details, the prominences, and it was happening all too fast. 

After gazing at the eclipse in the telescope I snapped a few pictures with my 210mm camera lens set up on a tripod. A few, hah, I finished the roll in seconds! Modifying the exposure every time I took picture after picture and was dismayed not to have any film left as third contact took place.

Many of the pictures did not come out good. The trick was to time the picture at the top or bottom of the "wave" as the ship rolled and pitched in the sea. That was anticipated but did I think about that? No.

I watched a bit of third contact through the telescope catching the chromosphere emerging from behind the lunar limb. It is an amazing view!

All in all, I did not have time for my binoculars. The temperature reading was forgotten. Looking through the telescope was awesome enough, that is a view I will never forget. Two minutes of totality is just not enough. You don't have enough time to get to all the toys.

So, after hearing how splendid a total solar eclipse, why did I even try to photograph it? Well, you know, it was a total solar eclipse! I could not help myself. I had photographed the Moon, planets, star clusters, constellations, nebula, galaxies, and there was no way I was not going to try and photograph a total solar eclipse.

Do not use your flash! Silhouettes against the eclipse sky are great!

Are you going to photograph the eclipse? If so, I totally get it. Have fun! And do practice on the Moon in the coming months. Catch the Moon at all phases. That way you will be ready for the New Moon Phase on August 21st 2017!

For some more tips, visit my web page Top Ten Rules of eclipse photography.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Eclipse 2017 - To Photograph or Not?

Do you want to photograph the eclipse this summer?

In my opinion, if you are asking this question, then don't. Put the camera aside, look through binoculars, maybe even a small telescope, check out the panorama, look and listen - you'll love it!

But if you really want to photograph the eclipse, check out my basic instructions at - they cover the essential information you will want.

Thanks to the Internet you will find plenty of great images to show others. Once you see the eclipse, you will appreciate some of the pictures even more.

You just can't take an image and capture it all. 

Solar Eclipse Totality is surreal. When a total solar eclipse is taking place and you are in the shadow, you have stepped into a new universe where the Sun is shining but not shining. Replaced by a very dark disk, an eerie shine of electric hair surrounds the disk, it looks like an eyeball staring right back at you. Everything is plunged into a strange darkness. A faint amount of light, like the full moon shines from the now dark Sun. The horizons are brighter than overhead with sunset (or sunrise) colors on some.

And you really think you can capture all that metaphoric nonsense with your camera? Professionals try and only catch a bit of it. A single metaphor, at best, at a time. So sit back and enjoy the show.

The very act of taking the image changes the situation.

Taking a picture of something as grand as a total solar eclipse adds a whole new dimension to the problem. You become involved in something that is detracting you from watching the eclipse take place. You will miss out on details, cool stuff, and so on. And of course, you might want to photograph yourself doing all that (a wide angle video showing the eclipse and yourself can be fun, just watch what you say).

Get pictures of people before and after totality.

The most memorable pictures will be those of people right before and after the eclipse takes place. Don't take any pictures during totality unless you MAKE CERTAIN YOUR FLASH IS OFF.

People pictures are highly favored since most eclipse photographers don't have any pictures of themselves. They will be anxious for a trade with you.

Do not miss the eclipse!

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Eclipse 2017 Hotels, Motels, Campsites, and so on

Have you found a place to view the solar eclipse in August this year? You want to be along the narrow path of totality, nothing else compares if you have a clear view of the event.

The eclipse is under six months away, the hotels are filled up (well, most of them are) and now it is going to be tricky to find a place. Here are a couple tips.

Look to the biggest cities
There are several very large cities along the path with sections inside the path. See the maps for details - Kansas City, St Louis, Nashville, Columbia, Charleston. Many of these cities will have vacancies open up as the eclipse gets closer and reservations are cancelled. You see, it is not uncommon for eclipse chasers to reserve several hotels for the same night along the path and then cancel out due to favorable weather or offers from other locations.

Ask about long lost relatives
Do you know people along the eclipse path. Take a closer look at that map and see if maybe a distant cousin or uncle may live in or near the zone of totality. Maybe they know of a place to stay or will allow you to couch surf their place (spend the night). The nearer to the path of totality the better since you don't want to get caught up in traffic jams on eclipse morning.

Think again about random camping
Camping sites are going amongst the most difficult to find. Even reserved sites could encounter problems so have a back up plan of a place to stay. Those with camping vehicles may have more options since large parking lot areas can be used with the permission of the owner. That said, I know there are several already taking reservations and charging for the option.

Good luck! Hope to see you under the shadow!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Eclipse Non-Experts Rant

Recently, NASA put out a web page series about the upcoming August 2017 eclipse of the Sun. (see For the most part, it is a well done target for social media and news agencies however it has been noted by several eclipse experts that they made some errors. These errors are not critical to enjoying the eclipse, they just look bad and make the entire work questionable. Many thanks to Xavier Jubier for pointing these out and helping to get the right information out to everyone.

I would argue that NASA's mission is not to educate the public on solar eclipses and all things astronomical. Those tasks fall to other organizations such as the International Astronomical Union (IAU) or the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and US Naval Observatory (USNO) in the case of the 2017 eclipse. NASA would do a greater service pointing readers to the web sites of these other organizations for real information instead of trying to copy-clip-paste together something flashy from multiple sources just for the sake of the news media.

* * * * *

So here are some places to visit for REAL expert information about Solar Eclipses and the specifically, the upcoming eclipse in August. These web pages are maintained by real experts and eclipse enthusiasts who want to get you the right information. The following list is by no means complete, it is just a good start.

AAS Eclipse 2017 site.

IAU Eclipse site.

EclipseWise - run by eclipse chasing expert Fred Espenak. Fred built the original eclipse web site for NASA and was not as concerned about making it flashy as in making it correct. Fred is now retired from NASA and is an extreme amateur astronomer living the dream with a nice observatory in the back yard situated out in the extremely dark sky of Arizona.

Eclipse-Maps - run by eclipse chasing expert Michael Zeiler. Michael is a cartographer who works with ESRI, a high end map making software company. Several years ago Michael decided to try his hand at eclipse tracks and ended up creating some wonderfully detailed maps. He has since started another web site dedicated to the 2017 eclipse - Great American Eclipse. - run by EXTREME eclipse chasing expert Xavier Jubier. Not enough can be said about Xavier and his passion for eclipses. He has climbed mountains, smooth talked his way onto mega yachts, computed and chartered jets to chase the umbra. His maps are based on Google and have loads of details. He also has a very useful eclipse photography tool for Macintosh users.

Another expert in eclipses is Glenn Schneider at the University of Arizonia. He has been instrumental in eclipse prediction calculations and automation of cameras (so one can enjoy the eclipse and not fiddle with the camera). My own website, eclipse-chasers, contains maps, images, and lots of useful photography information. I have been chasing eclipses since 1972 and enjoy sharing the experiences.

Just as a note, the web sites I've listed above, are almost all by members of the IAU Working Group on Solar Eclipses. These pages are works of passion, we really enjoy solar eclipses and want you to have the right information. Beware of the hyper-news-copy-clip-paste style of web sites out there who live on your clicks. Just because a major news agency uses a particular resource does not mean it is a good one, dig a little deeper for the right stuff.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Price Gouging for the August 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

There will be a total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. The thin path of the lunar shadow will cross the entire USA from Oregon to South Carolina. Lasting just over 2 minutes [maximum of 2m 41s], people are expressing interest in seeing this amazing celestial show. The American Astronomical Society, local Astronomy Clubs, and NASA have all gotten into the act of providing information and in some cases logistical support. City and small governments are preparing to host the influx of people by planning festivals and events surrounding the eclipse. There will be carnivals, concerts, fairs, and block parties at a variety of venues. Really, there are so many choices it is difficult to try and list them all. [of course, some are trying to do it -

Eclipse Opportunists
Now then, there have been claims of price gouging by some on the web. I did some research and was unable to spot anything significant except in places where demand is high and supply is very low. Most eclipses do not fall across such a well populated and modern area. In fact, most of the time we end up camping in some farm field (at a very high rate) or staying in a hotel that was built just for the purpose of eclipse chasers (again, quite pricey). So eclipse opportunism isn't new.

Why is the demand higher in some areas? 
Three reasons, weather prospects, duration, and population density. The weather prospects are best out west in Oregon through Wyoming. August weather tends to be clear and dry there, perfect for those with cameras and long focal length lenses. As the path progresses east the weather prospects get worse. Climate study shows clouds and some rain potentials for that section of the path. The duration is best around Kentucky so that is attracting a lot of interest. And then population density comes into play. There are many large cities within an easy drive to the central path. How may of these people will want to be staying somewhere in the path (recommended practice)?

So listen to this....
Claims have been made that entire hotel chains are coordinating to raise prices around the date. I did find places where the inventory of guest rooms is exhausted. Those places have very few rooms left and they are going at premium rates or with extra day requirements. Locals with an extra room are cashing in on the opportunity as well. They are trying to get as much as possible out of the deal. Perhaps these are the sources of the price gouging? If one was not very quick in securing a location it is unlikely a good deal can be found in the premium locations.

Several eclipse opportunists have contacted me asking if anyone is interested in their offerings. These are ranch owners who have an extra room or two along with some making pasture land available for camping. Rates vary quite a bit and are excessive. But again, that is in the premium locations.

I checked major cities that fall under the path (Nashville, St Louis, Greenville) using search tools like Trivago. Typing in the dates of the eclipse I did not see any higher pricing nor restrictions as I had heard from other sources. In fact, there are some pretty good deals on that web site, I may use it again in the future.

At this time, rooms are still available along the central path. That situation will change as the eclipse fever spreads. I strongly recommend looking and booking now. Pick a place, search the options, and if possible do not pick a room just outside the path of totality. There may be travel difficulties the morning of the eclipse, especially from high population centers and if the weather is looking poor.

What have you found?
I would appreciate knowing about any cases of price gouging. Add a note below if you find it to be the case. Alternatives still exist in most locations, you might have to compromise standards or spend more than you want, but they are still available.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Close to the edge?

There has been some discussion lately amongst eclipse chasers about going to view a total solar eclipse near the edge. In the past, predictive methods have made that a bit of a gamble as the actual edge might fall just a bit off from the predicted values. You don't get a redo if that happens in the wrong way!

Getting an edge view can be of scientific value. Obtaining exact timing information with an exact location is one way to verify the calculations as well as help in determining the size of the solar layers such as the photosphere, chromosphere, and inner most corona. Having a good video, a timing source that is reliable, and a very good GPS is essential for these measurements. This may be of great interest to a few eclipse chasers. For those wanting some details see the following:

For an idea of how much of a difference being inside the path of the umbra shadow, on the edge, or just outside, take a look at the images in Glenn Schneider's web page. Specifically look at the images showing the views towards the eclipse and away from the eclipse. Note the orange color areas, it does appear to be perfectly clear edge to the shadow.

Eventually there will be a movie as well over a 1000 hi-res images were captured looking out the windows of an air craft flying through the shadow.

Views from the edge of the path are dramatic as well as potentially useful. A prolonged diamond ring. However they are quickly finished as the photosphere of the Sun brightens the sky quickly.

In my own opinion, eclipses are short enough. Go for the central part of the path where it will be longer. This helps if there are some clouds -gives them a chance to move along. And if you end up just outside of the path of totality it is not nearly as impressive as being inside. It would be a pity to just miss.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Eclipse Map Animation

Revolutionary? Maybe. It is certainly a new way to visualize the eclipse path. Check out the video by the Eclipse Cartographic Master - Michael Zeiler - at - shows the shadow racing across the land scape for the Total Solar Eclipse (TSE) this August.

Fly over the Great American Eclipse from Michael Zeiler on Vimeo.
This video is absolutely amazing and represents a LOT OF COMPUTER work. It would have been impossible just a few years ago. Makes me (a retired computer engineer) wonder what will be available for the next great American Eclipse in 2024.