Sunday, 24 January 2016

Photography from a Ship

Taking solar eclipse photographs from a moving ship is not easy. In the original cruises, captains shut down the engine(s) and we were bobbing corks in the sea. The waves eventually won of course and the ships would bob along in a somewhat rhythmic pattern.

We were underway for the past few eclipse cruises I've enjoyed. In most cases our course was set to minimize the effects of the sea and using the computer controlled stabilizing fins keep the ship as level as possible. This kind of works. In other cases the course was set to minimize the wind across the deck.

Okay, so here is what I have learned in doing these past cruises. Unless you are willing to bring along a good auto-stable mounting system, you need to think about what other tools are available such as auto-stabilization in your camera. Many modern lenses and cameras offer some sort of anti vibration feature. This works great on the cruise ship as my wife Denise learned in 2009.

A favorite image of ours was made using a 300mm lens and Canon camera, hand held, from the balcony on a moving ship.
Denise Kramer, 2009
This image was one of many, most of which did not come out too good. So another tip is to take a LOT OF PICTURES! Keep clicking and don't count on getting a perfect shot every time.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Eclipse 2017 and Balloons

The following appeared on the popular website - who wants to join in on this experiment? I do!

SOLAR ECLIPSE BALLOON NETWORK: and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have developed a balloon payload that can photograph solar eclipses from the stratosphere. This sets the stage for a one-of-a-kind photography experiment: On August 21, 2017, the Moon will pass in front of the sun over the USA, producing a total eclipse visible from coast to coast. We will launch balloons to record the event from a dozen points along the path of totality:
Floating more than 100,000 feet above the clouds, the balloons will have an unobstructed view of the eclipse. From each of a dozen payloads, one camera will point up to record the sun's ghostly corona while another camera points down to record the passage of the Moon's dark shadow across the landscape and cloudtops below. When the eclipse is finished, we will combine the footage to create a unique video portrait of an eclipse sweeping across the American continent. The finished product will be a one-of-a-kind synthesis of art, technology and science.
The payload has already photographed a partial solar eclipse in Oct. 2014: images. To test the payload under conditions of totality, a team of students and parents from Earth to Sky Calculus will travel to Indonesia six weeks from now to observe the March 9, 2016, total eclipse: animated map. Stay tuned for news from their expedition!
Readers, would you like to join the Solar Eclipse Balloon Network? Starting now we are recruiting teams of citizen scientists who we will train in the art of high-altitude ballooning to become members of the solar eclipse launch crews. Schools, scout troops, home school families and others are welcome to apply. This is a great way for novices to learn ballooning and to participate in authentic science. We will also be seeking sponsors for the 12 payloads. Contact Dr. Tony Phillips to register your interest.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Solar Eclipse ISO settings

Getting ready for the next TSE! I will be on board the Volendam in the waters of Indonesia.

Recent experiments with my Sony NEX-5N and sunset have revealed that the ISO setting can greatly change the result of an image. Of course, post processing can clear many of the color and brightness issues up, but keeping it pure and matching what you "see" is the goal.

Here are two recent images taken of the same sunset. Each image is 1/60th of a second with the lens at F/4 and a 0.48x 58mm attachment.

ISO 640 - Sunset mode

ISO 500 - "Intelligent mode"
The third image was shot using manual settings with a much higher ISO. This allows for a much faster exposure, something that is handy when imaging the eclipse sky from a moving/vibrating platform.

ISO 1600 - 1/400 F3.5
We have awesome sunsets here in western Jamaica. Plenty of practice options!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

TSE 2016 Thoughts

The Total Solar Eclipse of March 9th is approaching quickly. After much deliberation over cameras and lenses to use I have decided to go with the most portable.

I will be on board the Holland America Volendam cruise ship with plans to be in the Makassar Straights for totality. We will be at sea which of course means the platform will be vibrating, maybe rolling a bit, and the exact position of the ship relative to the eclipse will remain a variable up until the very time of totality. Portability is best.

Partial Eclipse at SEC2014

So my equipment list is modest. Binoculars, a small camera, and a tripod. Getting pictures before and after totality of friends and family are best done with a basic camera. During totality I am going to use a wide angle lens with the goal being to catch the horizon, sky, and silhouettes of fellow chasers.

Backpack of Eclipse Chasing Gear
Our planned location will provide about 2 minutes and 45 seconds of totality. Not that totality is ever long enough. Settings for the camera will be just about the same as sunset. ASA 400, 1/2000s up to 1/125s. Around the middle of the show I will set the camera aside and watch with the 15x70 binoculars as 3rd contact takes place. At 15x the view of third contact is dramatic. Just before it one can see the corona lighten up on the side the chromosphere will appear. Strong sinews of plasma are mesmerizing. Yup, binoculars are the best. Just got to make sure I take the filters off before totality!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Updated Exposure Calculator

The estimated exposure calculator has been slightly updated to include menu selections for full sized sensors. I added the 56mp Canon and 36mp Nikon to the options.

You can also select "user" and type in the values for your sensor and/or camera.

These estimates are merely suggestions for where to bracket exposures. Lens differences, atmospheric effects, altitude, humidity, and more may directly impact your results.

For example if the calculator suggests an exposure setting of 1/60th of a second, use exposures surrounding that value (1/30th to 1/125th).

For lower altitude eclipses the calculator has an option to incorporate atmospheric extinction due to the increased amount of atmosphere you will be observing the eclipse through.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Next TSE in just a few months

With the next Total Solar Eclipse just a few months away, attention has been turned to what to pack. We will be observing this eclipse on board a ship in Indonesian waters. Ship board observing is fun and is our second most favorite way to enjoy a TSE. The people on board make it special and having "eclipse virgins" around makes it fun. While our group contains several veterans (including one who will be passing the one hour mark of umbral duration) we also have a newbie. Our newest son-in-law will be seeing his first eclipse.

So in addition to packing for a long visit on board a ship with plenty of shore excursions and evening activities it is time to give serious thought to what equipment should be brought along for the eclipse observations. This will be my sixteenth TSE. For my wife, it will be her twelfth. We know what to expect and what we hope to see and photograph.

The eclipse will be about 35 degrees above the horizon during totality. That is less than half the way to the zenith. While we hope for clear sky and unobstructed views, experience has taught us a few things. The first is to be as portable, quick and easy to move, as possible. Even though you can set up hours ahead of time on shipboard, you could find your view suddenly impeded by other observers or a turn of the ship. It is critical to remain mobile.

Another big issue is the movement of the ship. There are lots of vibrations and so on as people move about and the ship floats in the open sea. Mounting a telescopic lens and camera is possible and with the right gear can be made hands free. A gimbal mount with some sort of stabilizing mechanism (gyros or weights) is not practical to bring along so the best option is to go with a basic camera on a tripod at wide field.

My plan is to use a camera in video mode for totality. Video mode is fun when it captures the silly comments and human reactions. While it will not capture details of the corona, the overall sky conditions can be recorded. Also, no manipulation of the camera is needed unless the ship repositions during totality (or just before). Having a light weight camera on a small tripod is extremely portable.

Photography of eclipses is fun but after a dozen tries at that I found binoculars to my preference. My tool of choice for this eclipse will be a pair of 15x70 binoculars. I use these for night time observing as well. While a bit heavy they do provide amazing detailed views of the corona and prominences. For totality I do not need a tripod. It is only a few minutes long (just over 2 and a half minutes for this next one).

The small tripod can go in the luggage while I carry the camera and binoculars in a backpack. Now I just have to wait until it is time to go...