May 19, 2012
Eclipse Expectations

A solar eclipse is a big event. Big. And perhaps because it involves forces far beyond our Earth, it seems to occur that much further from our control. It is huge, inevitable and unstoppable, like being run over by a glacier.
In 1979 when I was just developing my passion for photography, I traveled to the Columbia River gorge to shoot the last total solar eclipse visible from North America. The experience had a profound effect on me which changed the direction of my life forever. I admit I became so obsessed with standing in the moon's shadow in subsequent years that I spent more money than I had traveling to places like Mexico, Kenya, and Papua New Guinea to get another brief dose of 'eclipse adrenaline.'
Is it any wonder that over the years whenever I've felt common stress or anxiety, I have had the same nightmare: I step outside and suddenly realize that an eclipse is happening and I had not known it was coming. It is already underway, and I am not ready. I don't have my camera and I am going to miss the great moment. So Wednesday, when I learned an annular solar eclipse was soon to appear in my own backyard, I feared the worst. I had precious little time to prepare, and nothing takes more preparation than astrophotography.
Photographing the sun requires some specific equipment. Mainly, I need a long telephoto lens or telescope, and very dense filters to cut down the sun's intense light enough to see its details. Fortunately, the Bee photo department has a 600mm telephoto lens and teleconverter which--when coupled with a Nikon V1 camera--is perfect for this purpose.

RB V1A.jpg

The V1 camera uses a high resolution image sensor that is much smaller than the DSLR cameras the 600mm lens was designed for. This lens/camera combination results in what would be a 2,200mm lens on a DSLR.

RB LensA.jpg

Unfortunately, the solar filter I have used for years is much too small to fit on this enormous lens. Although there are cheaper alternatives, particularly a product called Baader film, most of the commercial suppliers are sold out of the stuff. Hoards of people have exhausted the stock of Baader film to use for another upcoming solar event, the transit of Venus. I have made makeshift solar filters in the past using fairly common aluminized mylar, so I bought a few samples of a similar product from TAP Plastic here in Sacramento. It proved to be dense enough, and after a few tests, I think it is also optically adequate. So now I will be using a $600 point&shoot camera with a $10,000 telephoto lens and a $0.39 filter.

RB FilterA.jpg

NASA MapA.jpg

NASA publishes detailed data about eclipses on their website and from this, I scouted what I think will be an ideal location from which to shoot. I will be at the Lassen National Park where the moon and sun will align most precisely. My hope is that I can also include a prominent recognizable landmark in the photo as well. In this case Mount Lassen. The park is expecting a crowd of people to view the eclipse from there, and I will try to photograph them as well. If everything works as it should, the Bee will have a nice assortment of photos to chronicle one of the rarest and most beautiful natural phenomena to come our way in years.
I encourage everyone to make an effort to experience the eclipse on Sunday. It is a rare opportunity you should not waste. And I am ready.

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