How to prepare to capture the rare natural phenomenon
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BY COURTNEY BROCKMAN
On August 21, the moon will completely block the sun from coast-to-coast for the first time since 1918. A 70-mile wide path will stretch from Salem, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina. Viewers in that pathway will see the corona, the outermost layer of the sun, which burns 200 to 300 times hotter than the surface at 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit.
Sitting in the middle of the total eclipse pathway is Fremont County, Wyoming, and that’s where Jim Brown, an award-winning nature photographer, will attempt to capture it with his camera. He’ll have from 10:22 a.m. to 1:09 p.m. to make pictures, with totality, when the moon completley covers the sun, lasting about 3 minutes and 25 seconds.
Capturing this spectacle is a photographer’s dream, yet it is also challenging. Brown, who has photographed Wyoming’s skies for 40 years but never shot an eclipse, shares how he is preparing to capture this rare event.
PLAN THE PICTURE YOU WANT.
Ask yourself what you want to get out of the photo and whether you want an image with a foreground or just the eclipse in the sky. Study different locations and the surrounding landscapes.
Arrive at your spot a day or two before the eclipse at the same time it will happen and watch the sun move through the location. The totality of the eclipse will only last a few moments, and you want to be ready.
KNOW YOUR CAMERA.
For crisp photos, don’t shoot through a telescope because it will fuzz the edges.
The time lapse between when the button is pushed and when the shutter actually closes may cause problems when using point-and-shoot cameras. However, point-and-shoot cameras may be used for progressive images of the eclipse, such as the dropping light level on surrounding landscapes, as well as the horizon’s glow during totality.
If you have a wide-angle lens, find a beautiful location to shoot. If you have more expensive pieces of equipment, focus on the eclipse and shooting the corona. To capture the corona, the focal lens length must be at least 300 mm.
Brown plans to shoot with two cameras simultaneously: a 600 mm to capture details of the eclipse and a wide, 35 mm lens for shooting a time-lapse of the trail with a rock formation in the foreground.
PREPARE YOUR SETTINGS.
Brown will shoot with a wide-open f-stop at f-2.8 and an ISO at 800. Other typical combinations for eclipse photography include: ISO 100, f-4; ISO 200, f-5 or 6, or ISO 400 and f-8.
Pretest the ISO and f-stop beforehand because they will remain the same. Use manual focus and aim it at the sun. Take some test shots beforehand. You can secure the focus with a strip of tape over the focus ring to prevent movement.
During totality, the eclipse will become as dark as night. As the moon begins moving over the sun, covers the disk and moves away, you must manually adjust the shutter speed to capture each stage. Brown’s shutter will range from fast to fairly slow as the light changes.
The changes during eclipse totality occur rapidly. Run through the series of exposures during the eclipse with the fixed f-stop to capture the full range of the sun’s atmospheric brightness.
PROTECT YOUR EYES AND CAMERA.
Place a glass piece on the front of your camera lens to shield it from the brightness. Although Brown will use a neutral density filter, he suggests buying a 4×4 square of dark welder’s glass for about $10 from any welder’s shop, instead of purchasing an expensive filter.
The filter must remain on the lens during the partial eclipse to avoid damage. It should fit nicely over the front of the camera lens, but also be easy to remove. If the camera does not have through-the-lens viewing, put a filter over the viewfinder as well to protect your eyes. Make sure to remove the filter during totality.
GET A GOOD TRIPOD.
For clear pictures, a tripod is absolutely necessary so the camera is stable.
FIND A UNIQUE SETTING.
In Wyoming, Brown says the Castle Gardens Petroglyph Site will be a popular spot, as well as Hell’s Half Acre with its interesting rock formations along the highway. But the best places are the deserted areas.
“To sell pictures, you’ve got to have one-of-a-kind,” Brown said.
WATCH THE SHOW.
Don’t forget, once you have found a spot and set up your gear, to sit back and watch the sight. Photos will be great memories of the eclipse, but be sure to enjoy the moment while it lasts.♦
–Courtney Brockman is an OWAA intern and a senior studying journalism at the University of Montana.