Happy Birthday, America!
Total solar eclipses are relatively rare. They happen somewhere on the earth every few years, but on average it is more than 300 years before a total solar eclipse will be visible in the same place twice. So, when I heard earlier this year that there was going to be a total solar eclipse passing just to the north and east of where I live, I decided to make the 4 hour drive to a spot pretty close to the center of the totality band near Mackie, Idaho, and try to photograph the show. Special thanks to Tom and Amber for letting us come crash on their land with them – thanks, guys!
Eclipses have always fascinated me, though I admit that I did not realize how rare total solar eclipses are. I remember seeing an eclipse when I was in high school – but that was only a partial eclipse, and where I was living it was only slight. In fact, the last time that a total solar eclipse touched the continental United States, I was only 2 years old and did not live anywhere near the totality band. The last time a total solar eclipse passed from coast to coast in the United States was on June 8, 1918, almost 100 years ago. Learning not only about how rare an eclipse like this is but also the celestial physics behind exactly what is happening only doubled my resolve to make sure I was there with a camera ready to capture whatever I could.
WARNING: Photographic geekery is just around the corner for the next several paragraphs. If you just want to see some pictures, skip ahead a bit.
After doing a lot of research on lenses and deciding what kinds of shots I wanted to capture, I opted to rent a Canon 300 mm F4L lens from LensRentals.com. I added a 2x coupler that effectively doubles the focal length to 600 mm. I wanted the sun to fill between 10 and 20% of the vertical height of the frame, because I wanted to capture the corona as far out as I could during full totality. Zoom in too far, and you crop off corona. Don’t zoom in far enough, and the sun is too small in the frame to capture some of the smaller details such as the solar prominences, the chromosphere, etc. I knew I would be shooting on a full-frame body (my brand new Canon 6D Mark II) and the math for this lens worked out just right to have the sun be the size I wanted in my frame.
I also bought a simple cardboard and solar film filter that fit over the end of the lens for shooting before and after totality.
Here’s a shot of my gear all set up for the shoot:
I also used a radio remote shutter trigger to avoid shaking the camera by pushing the shutter button, and I mounted everything on a very sturdy video tripod weighted down with sandbags to provide as stable a platform as possible. I also found that the fluid head on the video tripod was far better for tracking the sun during the eclipse than my regular photography tripod, as it was far easier and smoother to tilt and pan.
As soon as I had everything set up I flipped out the articulating LCD screen on the camera so that I could switch to live view and set the focus on the lens manually. I read lots of recommendations about setting the focus and then taping down the focus ring so it never moves, but I found that anything more than breathing on the focus ring (including trying to tape it down) moved it enough to throw things out of focus, so I just set it and left it. I also found that the drastic temperature change that happens during the eclipse subtly changed the optics of my setup such that I needed to adjust the focus right before totality started and again right after it ended when things started to warm up.
Everyone always wants to know what settings I used for shooting, so that they can do the same with their camera. However, any settings I share are really only applicable to this camera with this set of lenses and this filter. Whatever you use to shoot the eclipse will undoubtedly need different settings. In the interest of sharing exactly how I captured my images, I’ll list my settings below. If you are from the future and trying to shoot an eclipse in your area, you’ll want to practice first and adjust your settings to fit your specific imaging equipment. I was able to practice with this setup several days in advance, and that let me settle on the following settings for the partial phase of the eclipse:
F9, ISO 320, with auto exposure bracketing set up to take shots at 1/250, 1/200, 1/160, 1/125, 1/100, 1/80 and 1/60 seconds. The 6Dii allows you to set up the auto exposure bracketing such that a single press of the remote shutter trigger fires off all 7 shots in very rapid succession (about 1.5 seconds total to capture all 7 shots).
Here is what the midpoint shot (1/125 second) looks like straight off the camera (no adjustments at all):
I was shooting in RAW, so I had lots of flexibility with playing with the exposures in post, but I found that I really didn’t need it. Here is the sun from a burst of 7 shots, with auto bracket exposure. Note that the darkest one is just a little too dark, and the lightest one is just a little too light. The middle is the goldilocks shot. Since I didn’t know beforehand what the weather was going to be at my shoot location, I kept the AEB enabled just in case I needed the flexibility that all the extra exposures provide.
I set all the above into my 6D’s C1 custom preset setting, so that I could flip to it anytime I wanted. The 6D (and most of the professional or pro-sumer bodies from Canon) offer one or more custom preset settings on the multifunction dial, so I set these into C1, and my best guess for totality exposure settings into C2.
Not having a totally eclipsed sun hanging out in the sky to practice on, I had to take my best guess about what settings to use during totality. During my research I read in various places that the corona during totality is roughly similar to the brightness of a full moon, but I suspected it would be substantially brighter than that at the very inner edge of the corona, and that is where I wanted to start my exposure. My plan was to start at a fast shutter speed of 1/4000 second, F11, ISO 200, with auto bracketing up to a shutter speed of 1/250 in a 7 shot burst, then bump up my starting shutter speed by one tick of the shutter speed control wheel (1/2500) and fire another 7 shot burst that would then end at 1/200. Click wheel, click shutter speed, wait for burst to complete, lather, rinse, repeat. I practiced this a few times, and was certain that I’d be ready as soon as totality hit… but I was so caught up in the moment that I completely forgot to change to my C2 totality settings, and nearly missed it! Luckily, I realized about 30 seconds into totality that I’d forgotten to switch the dial, and was able to get the shots I wanted. I wound up shooting all the way from 1/4000 second up to .4 seconds, all at F11, ISO 200 before Bailey’s beads made an appearance on the far side of the sun and it was time to switch back to my C1 settings for a few quick diamond ring shots and then put my solar filter back on to shoot the moon exiting stage left.
On the left is the dimmest shot I took during full totality. Note you can easily see the chromosphere and prominences. On the right is the longest (brightest) shot I took during full totality. It may be a little difficult to see on this website, but the corona extends all the way to the edge of the frame, which is exactly what I was hoping for.
For the “gee-whiz” file: I managed to get 302 shots using this approach during the last 1:22 of totality. I’m *really* glad I received my new 6Dii in time, as my old camera (Canon 60D) has a much smaller buffer that would not have been able to shoot that quickly.
I could not stop shooting long enough to look at the shots to see if I was happy with what I was getting and to make any adjustments, but I’m very pleased with the results. I have not had time to start to build a large composite of the corona, as the technique for doing that will take several days to get right with lots of trial and error. Instead, here is one of my medium-exposure shots of the corona right at the point of totality in my location:
Once I have finished processing all the images and putting some composites together, I’ll be back with another post that is more of a slideshow of the final images.
Have not had time to go through much of anything yet, but here are a few quick shots that I liked on first glance:
Want some prints? You can order some here.
I had some time today to work on some of my long-overdue projects. One of them was to fix the switch for my bandsaw (it was damaged during our move). The fix involved cutting and shaping a new plate for the new switch to be installed into, and I grabbed this shot while cutting the metal plate for the switch.
I had an opportunity to join Jim from http://improvephotography.com and Darren from http://shootboise.com last night on a midnight hike to an old abandoned mine outside of Boise, Idaho. The hike in and out is VERY steep, but completely worth it to get a shot like this:
The weather was perfect, with clear skies and excellent viewing of the Milky Way. Shot on a Canon 60D with a Tokina 11-16 2.8 II lens, 15 second exposure at F2.8, ISO 1600.
Isaac recently joined Boy Scouts Troop #1 in Meridian. This troop has been in continuous operation since 1917, and meets at and is chartered by the local American Legion chapter. The leadership is fantastic, and they have a great group of boys in the troop.
This past weekend was the annual Willow Creek competition camp, and was Isaac’s first camp with this troop. I decided to go along with him for this one, and I’m glad I did. The camp was a ton of hard work, but very fulfilling and worth the effort.
We arrived Friday early evening having already eaten dinner. The senior patrol leaders (yep, his troop actually uses the patrol method) had already been up to the site earlier in the week to put up the large mess tent and set up all the tents for the scouts to use. So, Isaac just needed to find which tent he was assigned and get himself settled. I had to pitch my tent (which I wound up sharing with another dad, which was fine because it’s a HUGE 8-man tent with plenty of room) and then we headed off to the bonfire.
So this campout is what is known as a “competition camp” – something I’d never heard of before. There were 20 or so troops there from all over Idaho and 1 from Bend, OR. There were also 3-4 explorer units involved. There were a LOT of scouts there…. something like 225 boys all together. I mention these numbers so you can sort of get a feel for the sheer scale of things… imagine 225ish boys and about 75 adult leaders arranged in a huge semicircle around a pile of pallets and other scrap wood that was easily 20 feet tall and 15 feet across at the base. Then picture a vintage civil war canon firing at exactly 9 pm right over everyone’s heads while a crazy scoutmaster throws a lit flare at the base of the kerosene-soaked aforementioned massive pile of wood.
Everyone had to back off around 100 feet from the fire because it was literally a towering inferno and WAY too hot to even approach.
It was easily the biggest bonfire I’ve ever seen.
Various troops took turns doing skits in the no-man’s land between the edge of the fire and the distance away from it where the heat was tolerable. The skits were all short, and some were even pretty funny… though it was hard to hear them over the sheer noise of the fire.
After the bonfire we all retired pretty quickly because we had to be up at 5:30 to start preparing for the competition day on Saturday. We started with a flag ceremony / welcome / orientation from the event organizers at 6, then headed back to our campsite to have breakfast and prepare for site inspection (part of the competition). At 9 sharp everyone assembled back at the flag ceremony area to receive their orienteering maps for the day and the competition was officially underway. I decided to join an adult patrol to run the course the same way all the scouts did. This accomplishes more than half of what has to be done in case I ever decide I want to be an assistant scout master or fill other leadership roles in the troop.
The gist of the competition was like this: You’ll be given a topographical map and a list of a series of waypoints in the form of compass degrees and distances. Use your compass to plot a waypoint on the map, (adjusting for declination away from true north to magnetic north, etc) and then hike to that waypoint. You should find one of the 10 stations there where you need to perform a skill. There were stations for knots and lashings, first aid, flag ceremonies, rifle shooting, fire building, an obstacle course, civil war re-enactment, scout knowledge, and some others I’m forgetting. Once you perform the skill or accomplish the task at the station you’ll plot your next waypoint with your map and compass and head off to the next one.
The hardest part of all of this was getting the points plotted on the topo map correctly and then finding the stations there. The area was mountainous with lots of steep hills, sharp corners, hidden ditches, etc. Of course, unless you were pretty accurate with your orienteering, you’d never find the stations.
The boys worked in their own patrols, and the adults worked together in their own patrols. By noon we had only finished up 3 of the stations, and the camp organizers started passing along the word that it was no longer necessary to find all the stations in order – just try to get to them all. So we stopped messing with the mapping and used a cheat-sheet map that they provided that had all the stations marked. We did manage to get to all of them before the course closed at 5:30, but just barely.
In short, it was a long, hot, hard day. We hiked around 6 miles all together, and learned about and performed all the scout skills I’ve ever heard of. In talking with Isaac, his patrol did not fare quite as well as our adult patrol did. They didn’t get to all the stations, and he was particularly disappointed that he did not get to the rifle range (it was the furthest away from everything and the highest elevation). But, he did seem to have a good time overall and is enjoying getting to know the boys in his troop and patrol.
We had another massive bonfire on Saturday evening, again with skits and lots of fun jokes etc from the boys running the show. At the end of the bonfire fun, the event was changed into a flag retirement ceremony. In all the years I’ve been involved with scouting in various ways, I’ve never seen one of these: It’s when a US flag has reached the end of its serviceable lifetime and needs to be destroyed. Each troop was given a flag to retire, ranging in size from 50 feet across to maybe a dozen feet across. The first troop formed a color guard, carried the flag over to the fire, unfolded it to its full size, then everyone would salute as the flag and recite the pledge of allegiance. Then the flag was carried over the top of the fire and lowered over the fire like a blanket. Salutes were held until the flag was completely destroyed, at which point the next troop’s color guard would march forward and the process would repeat, omitting only the pledge. It was an extremely solemn and respectful ceremony, and really touched me. Isaac was not selected to be in his troop’s color guard, but I spoke with the scoutmaster after the camp and he was surprised I’d never seen one of those before. He says that the troop does it at every campout, and Isaac will get plenty of opportunities to participate.
Sunday started bright and early with another flag ceremony, then breakfast, then a non-denominational church service that featured a guy with a guitar singing generic christian soft-rock songs in the rain. That was followed by a brief sermon about god’s love for us. In talking with Isaac about it afterwards, he said that it was sure different, but that he liked the stories in the sermon.
Up next we had a visit from a life-flight helicopter to demonstrate what the chopper and crew can do, and to teach the scouts about the important role that life flight plays in backwoods rescues. All the scouts had a chance to go right up to the chopper and look inside while talking to the pilot and paramedic that it carries. That was pretty cool, and Isaac really seemed to enjoy asking how many cup holders were in the chopper. 🙂
After lunch we had a closing awards ceremony and flag ceremony, then packed up and headed home, exhausted.
While Isaac’s troop did not win any awards in the competition, I’m really impressed with how well organized and run the troop is – especially since the troop is very focused on having the boys run everything. They organize the meals, they collect money and shop for the food, they make sure everyone has all the right gear, they run the camp and get themselves where they need to be when they need to be there, etc. The adult leadership is really just there for safety and to make sure things are running smoothly. There was very little I needed to do other than try to keep up with the boys.
Isaac is looking forward to the next campout.
I’ve driven from Boise to McCall a bunch of times, and each time I drive over this bridge just to the north of Smiths Ferry and wish I had time to stop. I finally made time to schlep up there with some friends in the middle of the night to get this shot.
By the time we were finished shooting I was frozen nearly half to death – but that was a small price to pay for this shot.
Isaac came home from his first week of school with a homework assignment for his parents: “In a million words or less, describe your child.” After doing the assignment for him, I thought it would be worth saving what I wrote. Here it is, for all posterity:
Isaac is a vibrant young man full of a love for life and all things comedy. Blessed with the ability to see the world through the eyes of a comedian, he is constantly ready to make everyone around him laugh with a joke, quip, or quick observation of the absurd.
He also loves baseball, and has been honing his skills on the field in little league play for the last year. Someday I believe he’d love to either play second base for a major league team, or be the guy in the giant mascot suit helping the fans have a great time at the game.
Isaac also has a vivacious imagination full of the need to explore and create. He loves games such as Minecraft, Roblox, and SimplePlanes, all of which revolve around the idea of building something from raw materials and then using your creations to achieve the goals of the games. He is constantly sharing his latest virtual creations with the rest of the family, and they are impressive.
Isaac also has a naturally calm and caring disposition. He’s the peacemaker amongst our children, and is always ready to lift another who may be feeling down.
He is quite talented as a videographer as well. One of his favorite things to do is to make movies with his sisters or with a sketching program on his Nintendo DS. He shares his videos with pride with the family, and they are honestly very well done and very funny.
Isaac loves to watch shows such as Mythbusters with his dad. The exploration of myths as presented there appeals to his love of learning and natural curiosity – but he’s most interested in the explosions.
He is a voracious reader, and asks to go to the library at least once a week where he’ll pick up another huge stack of books, after spending time playing and researching on the library computers.
Most of all, Isaac is a joy to have in our family.