A Great Year for Astrophotography

Wow! As I sit here blurry eyed, I marvel at what a great year it has been for photographing the sky! And really…I can’t say how much this has forced me to extend my knowledge and perhaps even my skills as a photographer.

Flowers are filled with Color
Florida’s Colorful Flowers

Moving out of my comfort zone, essentially that of a flower/garden photographer, with a passion for macro photography, has been a challenge. Florida is just such a great place to appreciate all that color. It always seemed strange to me that there were people out peering at a black sky, usually in the cold, just hoping to catch a glimmer of a bit of space dust. And.. doesn’t this flower look like something from outer space?

 

But, the eclipse in April moved me into a whole different world, forced me to use a tripod and to learn an awful lot about using my Olympus 75-300mm telephoto lens. I also came to appreciate the available expertise there is on the topic.  Interested? First do what I did and find a local camera club.  The Florida Center for Creative Photography, ended up being a great resource for tons of advice.  Then of course there are the myriad of websites which provide advice to the astrophotographer. These include the biggies, such as NASA,  Space.com, and EarthSky.org,   But a Google search will generate a whole slew of professional and amateur photographers: many provide product reviews and detailed advice on settings and the like. All of these photos were taken with the camera set for manual photography.  Step-by-step information was definitely out there for this low-light photography.

This has been such a great year to just look up.  We have had a total solar eclipse,

a lunar eclipse (only partial in Florida, but full in the west) and three supermoons.

Boat and Supermoon
A Boat Watching the Eclipsing Supermoon

I can even say I learned a lot from my mistakes. I was able to watch the first of the supermoon rise, but in the absence of a critical piece of my tripod, I ended up with an orange blob. Well..at least I have the experience etched in my memory.

A bad picture
How Not to Take a Photo of the Supermoon

Really though, the sky has been the limit and this morning I was able to set up my tripod alongside like-minded folks on Clearwater Beach, set the Olympus OMD-EM5 to manual setting, set my ISO, and shoot the moon.

Supermoon over the beach
Supermoon Eclipse Over Clearwater Beach

Photographing the Eclipse in 2024: Lessons Learned From 2017

Eclipse

 

Well the 2017 eclipse has come and gone, so it’s time to prepare to photograph the 2024 eclipse. Wait, you say, you haven’t even gotten your 2017 prints developed. Trust me, this is a good time to review the experience and lessons many of  the 2017 eclipse.  Remember, folks were making reservations for hotels and rental equipment two years in advance for this last eclipse. Place some strategic reminders on your Google calendar for 2023 and consider incorporating some of our lessons in your plan. First lesson: Plan ahead! Second Lesson: Have contingency plans!

Eclipse Preparation

We did have a plan for 2017, albeit many things seemed to go wrong.  Here is what we did:  About six month in advance we examined our map and chose a Holiday Inn close to the totality in South Carolina where we could watch. We arranged to rent a Tamron 150-600 mm lens for my daughter’s Nikon D5100 and planned to use my Olympus OMD EM5’s 75-300 mm lens. We ordered solar filters for both my lens and my daughter’s rental lens. We ordered our eclipse viewing glasses from Amazon and a new, sturdy, tripod from Adorama.

What Can Go Wrong Will Go Wrong

That all sounded great, right? So… this is what really happened.

Sometime during late-July, a few weeks before the eclipse, Holiday Inn left us a voice mail to let us know that they had cancelled our reservation; the folks who rented us our lens emailed us to tell us that they did not have the lens we arranged to rent; Amazon emailed to tell us that our glasses were not approved for solar viewing; the solar filters we ordered weren’t the proper size (this one mostly our mistake) and finally the tripod was out of stock.

All’s Well That Ends Well

We pretty much redid everything at the last-minute. We ended up at a Quality Inn in Spartanburg, South Carolina, north of the totality. On the day of the eclipse we drove an hour to the Clemson Campus to do our viewing ($90 donation to the scholarship fund). We ended up with a different  a 200-400 mm, Nikon lens for the D5100 that cost us an extra $100 to rent. (As it turned out, we only used the Nikon during the totality as filters for this rental lens sit in slots in the center of the lens. Had we done this we could have damaged the lens mechanism, left unfiltered during the partial eclipse phase). We bought a different colored tripod and found certified glasses at the 7-Eleven convenience store.

Some of the things that we did actually do right included 1) attendance at a class on eclipse photography that our camera club Florida Center for Creative Photography, held the month before the eclipse; 2) identification of the exact seconds for the totality for our location (found on the internet); and 3) practice taking photos.

In the end it all worked out. So here are some of my best shots from the OMD.  I did minimal editing, mostly just some cropping. The “people pictures” are from my daughter, Emily.

 

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Lessons Learned

  1. If you have never photographed an eclipse, consider taking a class. Try to do this as far in advance so that you can make any needed purchases.
  2. Know your camera: It is necessary to use the manual setting for this…something that I finally learned to do before the eclipse. I also learned a lot about my menus.
  3. Practice…a lot. The eclipse is not a static event so you should be comfortable repositioning the camera.
  4. Have your planned settings and timing on some type of portable media, such as paper or a tablet. You will need to change these throughout the eclipse. This is especially helpful during the totality period.
  5. Check your camera settings often. I know someone who inadvertently changed his ISO: lots of ruined photos
  6. Make as many arrangements online as far in advance as possible
  7. Follow up these logistical arrangements by phone, if possible. Online ordering and reservations may be problematic for such a huge event. There were questions that I should have asked about lenses and filters.
  8. Prepare for large crowds and traffic.
  9. April will more likely be a time of cool and changeable weather, rather than hot as it was for 2017. Plan your location well. Check out the weather history on one of the weather websites.

More about the next eclipse at space.com.