Sunday, 26 March 2017

TSE 2017 from balloons, drones, and rockets

People are proposing some pretty absurd ideas about this upcoming eclipse. Some want to photograph the ground from up in the air with their drones or from balloons or rockets. I want to take a stand against these notions. What follows are my reasons.

1) You should really watch the solar eclipse, not worry about some aerial contraption.
2) It is not nice to block the view of someone else watching the eclipse.
3) There is a possibility of something going wrong.
4) There is even the possibility of something going horribly wrong.
5) The solar eclipse is pretty cool, watch it!

Drones Last View during a Solar Eclipse - Bill Kramer

A kick start type of project was started not long ago for balloon observations of the ground during the eclipse. This has been done before for scientific purposes. See my list of solar eclipse observations from the air. It was also done in 2006 for tourists in Turkey using hot air balloons.

Several people have expressed interest in flying drones during the eclipse. This is a really bad idea. The eclipse is cool, the eclipse happens, you will suffer some sort of issue no matter how practiced you are. Set the drone down and watch the eclipse instead.

Eclipse drone attacks! - Bill Kramer

Another project is to fly a weather balloon near the eclipse path photographing the ground. The idea is to try to detect the "edge" of the shadow. This has some value to cartographers trying to model the same. You see, there is a MAJOR difference between being inside the path of totality and being outside. In addition, eclipse observations at this dividing line are assisting in refinements to the visual solar diameter.

And then there are rocket opportunists wanting to launch during totality and take images. I am very concerned about this sort of activity except by professionals who know what they are doing. Rocket trails into the sky could obscure some observers and that makes me even more concerned. So my advice when asked is not to do anything like that. Would you shoot a rocket up during a sporting match while your favorite team is scoring the winning points? (If you answer yes to that, please leave me a comment letting us know where you will be so we can be far away!)

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Is your hotel reservation okay?

Update March 27 - Hey check this story out! Oregon Hotels canceling reservations and raising prices under investigation.

Want to hear an eclipse chaser horror story? Imagine making a reservation a year before an eclipse, getting a great rate on a room that the hotelier doesn't know sits in a good location only to find out your reservation did not exist when you called to make a minor modification? The horror! Months before the eclipse, almost every place sold out, outrageous rates for the remaining locations and you don't have a reservation that you thought you had just a few minutes before!

This happened just recently according to a story circulating the web. Kind of makes one nervous. Especially if the story matches in any way with what you have done for reservations. To remove that fear, simply check your reservation with the hotel directly.

The story has prompted some to give up reservations too. So you might want to look into finding out if any cancellations have come in at a place you thought might have filled up earlier. Worth a long shot to check every couple of weeks from now on too unless they tell you they have a waiting list already - at which point join it!

The night before the eclipse could be hectic with people seeking rooms. If you plan to arrive late at your room make sure it will be there when you arrive by calling ahead and requesting a late check in. Most hotels will honor that commitment.

I hope everything runs smoothly though. It will be a great day for many to see a wonderful eclipse of the Sun by the Moon!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

March 7 1970 memories

A lot of eclipse chasers were recently sharing memories of the March 7, 1970 total solar eclipse that went up the eastern seaboard of the USA. Like this summer's eclipse, the path could be accessed by many living in near by large cities. And thus many did.

From some well know experts in eclipse chasing from the Solar Eclipse Mailing List on Yahoo:

  • I watched that same eclipse on TV, with Frank Reynolds of ABC doing the "play by play" of it, while I was sitting in the den of the fraternity house I was a member of at USC, in my sophomore year there.....   I had always wanted to see a total in person, but had had no clue as to how to actually go to see one....
  • For various reasons we ended up in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn near Cape Charles. I think it has since been taken over. It was not the existing Holiday Inn further north. If necessary, weather-wise, we would drive south on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, which had just re-opened after having been attacked by a ship! However, the weather was absolutely perfect! There were white sheets from the motel beds in the back of a truck, on which shadow bands were quite evident. I have a set of slides, with fixed exposure. As it gets dark, the slides get dark on the outside scene, but the lights inside the motel room windows start getting brighter! And of course, during totality, cars with headlights on drove happily in both directions on the highway beside the motel!

My own experience with that particular eclipse is less dramatic. I was unable to attend totality because I was involved in a swim meet that weekend. My only view was wearing a Speedo walking out front of the natatorium with a solar filter. I was in Ohio, so it was only a deep partial, yet I was not going to miss it. The result was a view through partly cloudy sky and a thorough tongue lashing from my coach. It was March, in Ohio, there was still some snow on the grown, and to make things worse, I almost missed my event. No one knew where I had gone and I barely made it back to the pool deck in time to swim. I will say this, I remember the water feeling nice and warm.

This summer's eclipse occurs on a Monday and I do hope many are able to get out school or work and see it. Even the partial is fun to see.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Eclipse 2017 - To Photograph or Not (Part 5)

If you have read the previous posts, we reached the point where you decided to photograph it. No more debate on that point. Now the question has come up about using a smart phone.


I am going to state right away that my experience with a smart phone is minimal. The lens size is too small to do any good. It is kind of smart but does not account for a smart user, one that knows what settings will work. And that bloody autofocus simply will not cut it.

So the first thing I've learned is that if you want to use a smart phone and it does not allow for settings where the user is controlling the smarts, forget it. Use it to get people pictures before and after. And do make sure that flash is set of always off.


It is pretty amazing what a small lens and chip can "see" though. Wide field images are great while close ups may be relying a bit too much on software to clean up the image. There are also attachments for the phones to add a macro lens on the front. This increases the magnification of the system. Lunar experiments show it has a strong potential to achieve satisfactory results.

I am interested in seeing the results after this next eclipse. Are you an eclipse chaser yet?

But let me toss out a few cautions and tips.

  • Turn off the flash. Cover it with black electrical tape just to be sure.
  • Be aware of what and who is around you.
  • Set the screen brightness to minimum for totality.
  • Don't hold the camera up in the air, hold it steady in front of you.
  • Being seated lets you use your knees to help keep the camera steady.
  • The flash is a real problem, make sure it is off.
  • Experiment by taking pictures of the Moon to learn approximate settings.
  • A decent image of the gibbous to full moon phase is a good setting for the diamond ring.
  • The settings from a good image of the thin crescent moon phase works for a nice corona.
  • No selfies during totality, you are missing the eclipse!
  • To show lots of corona, use the settings of a good image of the earth shine.
  • Make sure you have plenty of battery power before the eclipse starts.
  • Turn off the flash. Really.

There are also after market mounts to help hold the smart camera phone steady. If you are going to shoot longer exposures or make a movie then you really want to have one.

Making a short movie with the smart phone could be fun. Showing people as shadows against the brighter sky and hearing the comments is pretty easy to set up. Just start the movie mode and mount the camera in a sturdy way behind you. It should catch your reactions and the eclipse sky.

Above all, don't get obsessed with taking pictures during totality. Experience it!


Thursday, 2 March 2017

Eclipse 2017 - To Photograph or Not (Part 4)

Okay, so you really want to photograph. You have a camera, maybe a camera phone, maybe a DSLR, but you really want some current, relevant details.

Here is the thing, the technology is constantly changing and getting up to date information is almost impossible. If you are going to use a new camera then I can only advise one thing - lots and lots of practice. We still have plenty of lunar views and sunsets (or sunrises) between now and the solar eclipse. So get out there and do some practicing!

Lunar pictures showing full lunar disk are best for eclipse practice.
Practice with the Moon and Earthshine

Now, where to learn as much as possible before the big day... Here are three recommendations.


How to Photograph the Solar Eclipse by Alan Dyer - This eBook is amazing, I highly recommend it. Alan Dyer makes beautiful astronomical pictures and the presentation in this eBook is amazingly simple yet complete. Follow his directions and you can create wonderful images.

How to Photograph a Solar Eclipse by Fred Espenak - Web page and book reference. Recognized as one of the leading eclipse experts in the world, Fred has put together some useful information for experts and novices. His book, Totality - Eclipses of the Sun, is a great reference and has a detailed chapter about eclipse photography. The web pages of Mr Eclipse and his books are highly recommended.

Photographing Solar Eclipse by Bill Kramer - My own web pages about how to photograph a total solar eclipse. I've seen 16 total eclipses thus far and done some sort of photography at each one. With practice comes knowledge and I tried to share that on the web pages.

Most of what you will find is based on using a DSLR. That is, a larger camera with interchangeable lens. You can use a smart phone, I suppose that should be the next subject.

Know of another good resource? Leave a comment with a link to it!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Eclipse 2017 - To Photograph or Not (part 3)

TSE 2016 - Bill Kramer - Handheld, Canon Powershot wide angle 
Let us suppose you have decided you want to do BOTH. You want to observe the eclipse and you want to take some pictures. You have a couple choices.

Simple approach: Watch the eclipse but have the camera at the ready. Set it up just before totality for NO FLASH, manual infinite focus, vibration suppression on, exposure set in manual at 1/125, ISO/ASA preset to 400. Take a picture if you remember. I have used a Canon Powershot SX60HS for an eclipse without a tripod. Not all of the pictures came out nice, but some did. And I could adjust the focal length with the camera, no lens change required.

TSE 2016 - Bill Kramer - Canon Powershot handheld, maximum optical zoom


TSE 2016 - Bill Kramer - Canon Powershot handheld

No selfies: Do not waste your time taking a selfie during totality. It will look bad and the flash might go off in your face. If you really want a selfie type image, set up a wide angle shot with you between the camera and the eclipse. Don't block out the eclipse in the view. Let the camera run in video mode (make sure your memory and battery are up to the task).

Exception to selfie comment maybe?
More stuff: Bring a tripod and a camera that can be preprogrammed. Set up the camera on the tripod shielding the display so as not to shine in your face (and your neighbors). Use the multiple exposure setting if available. Using the timer can be a bother if there is a light on the front of the camera counting it down. That can be "fixed" using some electrical tape. Otherwise a cable release or remote control is the ideal solution.
TSE 2006 - Melissa Kramer - Questar prime focus

The best way, total automation: Bring along multiple cameras and maybe even a telescope that can all be controlled by a computer. The number of I/O ports may limit how many of these things you can connect. The cameras should be connected first. The telescope only needs to track the Sun and that may be a simple setting on the mount. Once set up you can sit back and relax, watch totality, and hope the software you use works.

What software should you use? Take a look at my web pages about photographing solar eclipses for more information.


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.