The lure is there. Friends and family not going to the eclipse are quick to say “be sure and take some good pictures!” You of course were already planning on taking pictures but now there is added pressure to get it done, and those shots had better look great! The last thing you want to do is have to show them some blurry, unfocused, dark, eclipse pictures.
Recording a total solar eclipse on film, digitally or using a video camera can quickly become a huge task that monopolizes your time. The logistics of getting all your equipment to your observation site and setting up in a timely manner alone introduces stresses that factor into your experience. All of this adds up and can in some cases ruin both you and your family’s eclipse experience.
Here are some suggestions for helping to ease the stress level and to allow you to get the shots you want and need all the while enjoying the eclipse. But that can’t be done, can it? Sure it can.
Planning. You have to plan in advance. Months, and in some cases years in advance are needed if you factor in travel arrangements. The last thing you want to do is grab your gear a day or two before the eclipse and then go on a test run or worse, just pack it willy-nilly and forget it. This might seem like a no-brainer but people actually do this and then incredibly expect it to go well. Seldom is that the case.
Know your equipment. Practice taking images using your weapon(s) of choice now. The Sun is out most days. Do not wait until eclipse day to wonder about f stops, shutter speeds, whether to use 100, 200 or 400 film speed settings, or to introduce a new unfamiliar piece of equipment. That’s asking for trouble.
Test your equipment as best you can and make notes. Find out what works. Make a game plan that does not require you to be joined at the tripod leg for the entire eclipse and then stick to it. As I said earlier, you can very quickly become consumed in recording the eclipse only to find out afterwards you really missed the good stuff because you were so focused on the camera work.
Packing. Many people in the “planning” stage have already put in writing a list of things that they want to accomplish during the eclipse. So it’s natural for their packing list to spin out from that planning list. Once you have planned and tested you’ll then know what worked and what didn’t. You’ll have some decisions to make and then you’ll be ready to start your packing list. Do not wait to make this list or skip it. Make the list while it’s fresh on your mind. Lay it all out on the floor and note everything you need to pack. You’ll be surprised how much there will be, and I promise you’ll catch items that need to be added to your list that otherwise would have been forgotten and sorely missed. I know this from experience.
This is also a good time to begin the realization of what you can and cannot bring do to space or travel limitations. If you are flying to the eclipse spot you’ll most likely be limited. If you are driving and have the entire trunk or back of the van to play with then you can get more creative about what you want to bring. A good rule of thumb here is not to burden yourself with things that you can do without. Pack the essentials and necessities that will allow you to get the job done.
Knowing your equipment, what works best for you and sticking to your strengths is key. Eclipse day is not the day to learn about all the buttons and gadgets on your somewhat new DSLR camera. It’s not the time to get to know the new telescope you ordered either. Stick with what’s reliable and effective. Your chances for success are multiplied this way. Don’t over tax yourself. Manning four cameras yourself is not the best way to relax and enjoy an eclipse with all the amazing things happening around you. Allow yourself time to find a good spot, to unpack and setup well before first contact and then go over your game plan and test your gear.
Relax and enjoy the eclipse. This is very easy to say but can really be difficult for some people to accomplish. Realize that all your shots will not make the cover of Sky & Telescope. By that I mean, do not worry so much about the pictures. Follow your game plan but enjoy the eclipse and when it’s all over you can relish the great pictures you’re bound to get. If your game plan changes due to an unexpected issue follow the NASA protocol just “work the problem” as best you can but do not allow it to spoil the eclipse.
Make sure you have a list of things you know you want to just see, not photograph. While the partial phases march along slowly time moves swiftly as totality draws near and begins. Things happen very quickly and depending on just how much totality you have 1, 2 or 3 or more minutes, this time will go by in a flash. I make it a point to ensure that I see the Moon’s shadow expand on the horizon as totality sets in. Just experiencing the diamond ring and Bailey’s beads can be reward enough. If you have your head down at the camera or are scrambling around to shoot with other cameras you’ll miss things entirely. A very effective tactic is to setup a video camera and set it to take images at specific intervals during the eclipse but before totality starts make sure it films continuously and captures your setup and all your friends.
When totality sets in get your shots but slow down. Look around. Take it all in. You have very little time. I know I sound like a zen master or something. I don’t mean to but you’ll be glad you did because you’ll see more, experience more and remember more. Most of all have fun and enjoy the grand celestial spectacle that is a total solar eclipse.