The Great American Eclipse Preparation, Part 2: We are the Dreamers of Dreams

The Great American Eclipse Preparation, Part 2: We are the Dreamers of Dreams

First: you know how you hear stories of people who try frying turkeys during Thanksgiving and cause an explosion? Or Meth producers who blow up their homes?  Like that, you risk catastrophic consequences if you go staring at the sun willy-nilly without protection–or looking through a camera without a solar filter. In all this eclipse excitement I feel for certain that there will be some who ruin their eyesight or their cameras. So I am going to mention it again to the 5 people who look at my blog. Get solar glasses and a solar filter for your camera if you plan on looking at or photographing the eclipse. Wayfarers will not do.

Ok, onward. After making my solar filter, I needed the practice in using my entire eclipse “set-up,” including setting up the “set-up,” getting to know the equipment and having this all translate into some pictures, data to guide my settings (shutter speed, aperture, ISO sensitivity) for the big day.  The set-up includes: a tripod at half-mast (to reduce strain and jiggle); my new lens, 200mm because I don’t have unlimited discretionary funds to devote to such purchases, though I learned late in the game that hardcore lenses could have been available to rent from sites like Borrow Lenses or even locally from Adorama in Manhattan; and my new wireless shutter release, which will also help reduce jiggle, is very cheap and is easy to use. Here is my set-up and me working it on my comfy behind. You definitely need a hat so you can see and tinker with the settings. And you don’t need your solar filter glasses if you are viewing everything through your camera’s screen, because your camera has its filter on.  But they are within reach.

As you can see, the camera’s settings are pretty darn important. The first photo is meant to show just how important.  You can barely see the faint orange smudge that is the sun with such a quick shutter speed.  My first test, a batch of 550 pictures, were taken within the same few minutes.  Below is a range of better photos, excluding that first shot.  I put a green star on the shot that I thought was the best. Many look similar but, after zooming in, had different ranges of crispness. Gosh, how perfect a circle is our sun in these pictures? It is hard to imagine that it is a three dimensional sphere with lots of movement and activity on its surface. 

After the results of the first batch, I played again. This time, staying closer to the settings in some of the more successful outcomes from the first test run. Of course there are plenty of variables I am unable to tinker that play into these settings. But the experiment provided me with what I needed: practice and data. Testing was almost complete and then! When I set up for my ISO sensitivity test, my tripod went caput.  Or, more specifically, the most important adjustment knob, the one that angles the camera upward, went caput.  I wasn’t shocked as it is a vintage tripod from the 1950’s that was my grandfather’s.  And I am glad it happened here at home and with enough time to resolve the problem. I ordered a new tripod for rush delivery. But I don’t have the benefit of practicing too much on the new set-up as it will be delivered the day before I leave.  And that’s today!  Here are the results of my ISO sensitivity test run with the nifty new tripod.

So based on my tests, I will be bracketing my shots between exposure levels 1.3 – 1/8 at ISO 1250. It shouldn’t be too crazy to maneuver as First Contact begins at 11:59 am (CDT), ending at Totality which will begin at 1:27 pm: about an hour and a half as the moon’s shadow engulfs the sun. Third Contact, when the sun begins to peek out from the moon’s shadow and continues to move away, also lasts about an hour and a half. Plenty of time to shoot and enjoy the view, I think?

Photo by NASA. They have good cameras.

But it is Second Contact that will be a different stress level: Totality (aka Annularity) when the moon’s shadow completely covers the sun.  The day will grow dark as the steady sun–the enormous, bright star in the center of our solar system–disappears from the sky for 2 and a half minutes.  All sorts of natural phenomenon, routines of nature which we all take for granted, will be out the window during this brief period of time.  This is when everyone will be screaming, at minimum. This is the reason for all of the hullabaloo–and there is no telling how I am going to respond, or how those around me are going to respond.  And as this very passionate account of totality mentions, “What happens in the shadow, stays in the shadow.” They also compare it to a 2.5 minute orgasm.  Confusingly, some have wondered, “What’s the big deal?”  The sun, the center of all life force and energy, completely gone from the sky in the middle of the day, confused crickets, celestial bodies emerging, noise and shadow and gravity and temperature all impacted… and the prospect of a 2.5 minute orgasm… not a big deal?!  Though many likely do, I would hate to exist in that mindframe, without wonder or passion.  If not for this world, all of it, and all of you, then what for?  [I say this as I squeeze your cheeks together, Willy Wonka-style, as if you asked what a snozzberry was.]

Anyway, with the sun completely blocked, I should be removing the solar filter and changing exposure levels to account for the lack of light (from 1 to 1/1,000, a broad range since this cannot be gauged in advance and I won’t see another total eclipse any time soon).  I hope to capture the sun’s glowing corona, though my lens will likely not catch any glorious solar prominences. I say “should” and “hope” because I really don’t know what I will be doing at this time. I hope where you are you take the time to look up. We’ll all be under it so we’ll all be together.

In conclusion, save travels to all the eclipse-seekers and to all who care about an eclipse-seeker, who get to hear the buzz of the hive in their bonnets, an Ode:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
Ode, Arthur O’Shaughnessy