It's become something we're all very used to: Anytime anything interesting happens, everyone reaches for their phone to try and photograph it!
At a total eclipse, that might not be the best idea, for a variety of reasons! Let's check in with our experts for their thoughts on the subject:
So you know, I think the best way to go into an eclipse is not to be too prepared, because the wonderment will be there much more. I think everybody should see more than one, and they can read up about it. But all you need to tell people is to look. And the camera you want to use is the camera in your mind. My wife says to people, when it's over - "Draw what you saw!", and I think that's probably the best thing. What are you gonna draw when it's over, and that will focus you mind on the prominences, on the corona, the environment around you, the way the shadow came in, went out - whether or not there were shadow bands. It's amazing - the people who couldn't draw anything were the people who had cameras. Someone said to me once, he said, "I can't tell you what I saw until I look at my negatives".
Make your mind your camera!
Very well said!
It's simply, plan B which has never been formulated - which is, screw it and watch the thing. So I just turned the telescope by hand and then kept on watching.
Well, we just had a 59-second eclipse in Gabon [in 2013], and I spent the whole time snapping away. So I am sorry I didn't take 15 seconds out to look up. But I think there's no one answer to that; I know we're all tempted to say it's better just to watch it without looking down at a camera. But first of all these days, if you really want to automate the camera taking [the pictures], you can - so we actually have more time to look at an eclipse even when you are photographing. And second, you can divide your time. And third, some people really like to take pictures - they're dedicated to photography. And so, if you're a good photographer, and you have a nice camera, then that's a good thing to do. And if you're just a novice, and you wanna watch, well that's fine too. The nice thing about eclipses is that there are just all these different ways of observing them.
All right! With that great introduction, let's move to the world's pre-eminent eclipse photographer, Dr. Miloslav Druckmüller. Dr. Druckmüller uses extremely complicated techniques to get these wonderful, very detailed photographs of the corona during totality - because this detail is required for scientific research purposes. But in the meantime, he manages to come as close as possible to capturing what totality really looks like! His pictures are astonishing.
Eclipses are definitely the most beautiful thing I have ever seen - but I had only a very very small possibility to enjoy.
It is better to enjoy it, because there will be enough images on [the] Internet.
It is, of course, hard to say - because my job is mathematics. So I'm a mathematician. And, the task of creating eclipse images is, for a mathematician - let's say - unusual, because you have to solve a problem for which I do not have any information [as to] what is the correct image. The first step for me was defining some sort of [set of] axioms [as to] what is for the human vision [the] correct image. Of course, these axioms must enhance the high spatial frequencies which are important for human vision, or [the] enhancement must be symmetrical from the point of direction view. So, these are some sort of axioms I defined, and then I created a software which was fulfilling these axioms. [These] images, of course, [are] not identical with the image which is visible during the eclipse, but as far as I know, let's say [with respect to] the properties of human vision - it is very, very near.
So after I returned from my university, I typically work 5-6 hours on that program, on the eclipse alignment and composition of the images - so let's say, one week of my work, and then about two days of raw computing time. Another step which is not very easy is [the] composition of these images in only one file, with [a] linear dependence of the pixel value[s] on brightness. So, in principle the procedure is different than the classical procedure made with Photoshop, for example - because the classical procedures work in such a way that every image is processed separately, and then these images are matched together. So my procedure is different: I compose all [the] images I have, in only one image which has 64 bits per pixel, and typically 7 million pixel value levels. Finally, I have some program which is able to visualize this linear image, because nothing [is] clearly visible because the lower pixel values are in units, and the highest pixel values are in millions of these units. So, if there is made some, let's say, simple transform to the 8-bit images, then there is nearly nothing on the image. So then, I have special adaptive filters which are visualizing the image, so that it is near to the human sensation during the eclipse. And finally, I have such a two-layer image: one layer is used for viewing, and the second layer is the linear image which I'm able to analyze for some scientific purpose. The procedure is very complicated, and I must say that after one year or two years between eclipses, for me it is not easy to teach myself [how] to re-work the program!
I [will] try to describe the procedure. So of course, the first step is [that it is] necessary to obtain data. Again, there is big progress in computer control - especially the [Eclipse] Maestro program written by Xavier Jubier. [This] is a great step forward, because it is able to flip the mirror in the camera and take all the sequence without vibrations. So at first, I must take the squence of, let's say, 100 or even more eclipse images with different exposures - typically starting with 1/1000th sec and the longest exposures are something about 10 sec. And then, there is probably the most complicating thing - which I was fighting [for] about 10 years - it is sub-pixel-precise alignment of the images. I made a program based on face correlation - this is a mathematical procedure using Fourier transforms - and this method is able to align these images, not only if the images are shifted, but even [with] images which are rotated and [in a] different scale. It is possible to align with sub-pixel precision. Unfortunately, the procedure is far from automated! I described the procedure in the article which was published in [an] astrophysical journal in 2008. So it is for me, let's say, the greatest problem I would like to solve in the near future: To somehow automize the procedure, because otherwise it is really extremely time-consuming work.
For me, it is very important that there exists, let's say, people for whom I'm making it. Because it makes no sense to create these images and [then] let the images lie on the hard disk of my computer. So, without [the] existence of the community of people which are interested in these images, my work has nearly no sense - because to invest such a lot of work, and [then] don't show these images to anybody, makes really no sense.
I must say that for me, the most emotional thing is that, after a lot of work, that you have only images in which there is something visible, and only guess that there will be something in the image, that after the long [period of] processing you have a beautiful image on the display, and then you can look at it. So for me, it is very near to the sensation when I was young, and was working with my father in a darkroom, and developing films and making photographs. And I was amazed by putting the photographic paper in the developer, and looking [at] how the image was coming out of the paper. And so, nearly the same is the feeling in working with this sequence of images, and finally I have the final image.
My recommendation is, enjoy and look at the eclipse. Because I remember my first eclipse - at that time, I had no idea about eclipse photography, no information about eclipses. I was from my childhood, [an] amateur astronomer, I was looking forward [to] the event, but I had zero experience with total solar eclipses. And I brought with me a big Maksutov-Cassegrain with [a] one-meter focal length, and negative classical film, [a] Minolta camera, a very stiff tripod - but without any mounts or without any tracking, and I made one 36-picture [sequence] on film, with relatively sharp and good images. The images were correctly exposed, at different exposures - there were prominences, Baily's Beads, everything! I made large prints of it. The images were sharp, but I was really, really disappointed, because the image was something completely different than the reality I saw with my eyes.
I've heard many people say the same thing. Thank you so much, sir, for your work - and for your remarkable images!
You have to see it with your eyes, because you want to see the entire phenomena of the sky, the 360-degree sunset all around you, and the colors, and the scintillations of the light…
Ah yes, the "experience" of totality!
If people start to snap images, and then don't really enjoy the eclipse, then it's also wasted from their point of view - I mean, if you start to focus on, oh is my camera set up properly, you miss the whole event. I think experiencing the eclipse for the population in general is going to be the most important thing.
Very well said - thank you!
Let me just finish with one thought - because the last time the [continental] United States had an eclipse was 1979 [ed: a total solar eclipse], and it was way up in the Northwest, during the winter. So, by and large, roughly 100% of people that you meet will never have seen a total solar eclipse. This advice comes from the photo editor of the best-selling astronomy publication on Earth: Don't try to photograph the eclipse. Okay? Wait for your second one! Just let this one happen - just enjoy it, without having to worry about exposure times, and lens settings, and filters on - when do I take them off - et cetera, et cetera. Why would you want to look DOWN, when all of that heavenly glory is going on above you? This is an event for the eyes! There'll be plenty of great eclipse images - we're gonna publish ten pages of them in an upcoming issue of Astronomy Magazine. So you'll have plenty of opportunity to see them, and relive the event. But these are from photographers that have photographed 5 - 10 - 15 - 20 total solar eclipses! They know what they're doing, and if something goes wrong, they simply stop and enjoy the event. You, on the other hand, with your point and shoot camera, or DSLR that you bought specifically for this event, or worse - your cellphone - believe me, you're not gonna get anything like an experienced photographer is gonna get. So, don't photograph the eclipse. Just enjoy it!
I couldn't agree more! Thanks, Michael!
Let's now tackle a subject many will be interested in - some of the science that's being performed during total eclipses! This will feature Dr. Habbal prominently, and it's truly fascinating stuff. Please join us!