To Photograph An Eclipse

by Kevin Shank | Feb 29, 2024 | 0 comments

Solar eclipse. Photo © Choosakdi Kabyubon|

I visualize several groups of solar eclipse observers. One group makes no effort to photograph it. They simply enjoy the view without the distraction of fiddling with camera gear. A second group wants to grab a few shots just to prove they were there…kind of like me as a boy, using a Kodak Instamatic camera to photograph a deer a hundred yards away. A third group gets a little more serious. They pull out a long telephoto lens, a sturdy tripod, a DSLR camera body, a solar filter, a cable release, and a comfortable chair.… Chair? Where is my chair? Don’t tell me we forgot to pack the chairs?!!!

A fourth group might take photography to yet a deeper level. As we sit back and watch, we see a sturdy tripod emerge from a cargo trailer. Next, a camera on a long telephoto lens is attached to the tripod. A solar filter is securely attached to the lens. Next out of the trailer comes an equatorial mount, and then another. A second camera with a long lens emerges, and we watch it get secured to one of the equatorial mounts. Our fascination increases when a solar telescope is plopped onto the last mount. To it is attached a dedicated solar camera.

Out comes more gear…boat batteries, a table, a notebook computer, sunglasses, spotting scope complete with solar filter…the gadgetry doesn’t stop. Binoculars with solar filtration, chairs, a blanket-type shade that is black on the inside and white on the outside…later we discover it is used to cover the photographer and his computer so he can better see the screen as he achieves sharp focus with the camera and evaluates the exposures.

We resist the urge to interrupt him while he works feverishly setting up his stuff, or do we? Curiosity brims and is about to leak out. Do you suppose he would mind if we ask him to explain what he is doing?

And then there is a fifth group—photographers who are serious about their photography…!

Probably most of you reading this know we are dealers for Celestron, Sky-Watcher, Explore Scientific, and Meade telescopes and accessories. Besides the new equipment, occasionally we have used equipment become available. Right now is one of those times.

For one, we have a used CGEM DX tripod and mount (equatorial GoTo mount, used recently for the photo on page 14) for sale that can be purchased in combination with a C14 optical tube assembly. The tube is brand-new but has minor cosmetic blemishes. The tube is flawless optically, and it has a brand-new warranty. This is while supplies last only—first come is first served. This 14” Schmidt-Cassegrain system would be nearly $4000 below the cost of a brand new C14 on the CGX-L mount.

If you have interest in either the mount or the OTA but not the kit, we might sell them separately. Just give me a call.

We also have a Canon camera body that has been modified for astrophotography purposes. The H-alpha light can record on the photo, revealing fascinating colors and details that otherwise cannot be captured with stock 35 mm cameras.

I often hear from folks who are interested in purchasing a telescope but have no knowledge to draw from to help them in their decision-making. Here are several things to consider.

Do you want a telescope that helps you find the targets and tracks across the sky? These are often called GoTo telescopes, and they require power to operate them. Usually a 12-volt battery is used.

One advantage these telescopes have is that they speed up the learning curve. On your first night out after mastering the simple alignment procedure, you can look up dozens of targets. (My son once looked at 130 targets before going to bed at 3:00 a.m. He did this with a manual telescope, thanks to his knowledge of where the targets were. I cannot name that many targets, let alone find them. I would want the GoTo.)

Another beautiful application for a tracking telescope is when a larger crowd wishes to file past for half an hour, each taking a turn looking.

Manual telescopes are just that. You point them at what you want to look at. The learning curve is steeper, as you need guidance from somewhere to learn where to point the scope. Thankfully, Shaphan’s book, A Seasonal Guide to Exploring Our Skies can provide the needed guidance quite efficiently.

And one more tip, mirror diameter is important. We were told when we bought our first scope that if we do not buy at least a six-inch mirror, we will not enjoy the scope enough to get it out and use it. We bought an eight-inch telescope.

To explain this, astronomy is all about capturing really faint light in a low-light environment. The surface area of the mirror determines how well a given mirror will perform. Consider this:

3” mirror gathers 7 square inches of light. This is not enough light-gathering ability to enjoy using to view nebulas and galaxies.

6” mirror gathers 28 square inches, which is a four time increase over a 3” mirror. This is the minimum size we encourage someone to consider. A manual 6” can currently be purchased for less than $500.

8” mirror gathers 50 square inches, which is a 78% increase over a 6” mirror. To me, I’d consider this a minimum size rather than the 6”, but various astronomers I respect use 6” as the smallest they recommend.

10” gathers 78 square inches.

12” gathers 113 square inches.

14” gathers 154 square inches. This is the size of the OTA mentioned first on page 13.

16” gathers 200 square inches.

To discuss your interests/purchase a telescope, please give me a call. Kevin 1-540-947-1636.

Barnard's Loop, NGC 2071, M78, NGC 2067 nebulas
Barnard’s Loop, NGC 2071, M78, and NGC 2067. Photo © Kevin and Adrian Shank.

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