Photographing an Eclipse on 35mm Film

Blog, Photography / Thursday, March 21st, 2024

Recently, it came to my attention that the 2024 solar eclipse will be happening next month. On a whim, I decided to take a day off, and make a day of it. I have been itching for some time to relax, and celestial events are a good catalyst for relaxation, in my opinion.

However, I couldn’t just take a day off to stare up at the sky for a few minutes here and there throughout the afternoon. No, I needed to turn it into a project. I decided that I would photograph the event on film. I’ve been on a film photography kick for the past year and I have happened to have started collecting some of the things I would need to make this dream a reality.

Specifically, in the past year I’ve found deals on and bought the following gear:

  • Ricoh XR-7 35mm Film Camera
  • Tamron BBAR 500mm Mirror Lens
  • Tamron 2x Teleconverter adapater
  • A sturdy tripod
  • A shutter release

Is all of this specific gear required to shoot the eclipse on film? No, but it will help me get the results I wanted. For example, you can use most any sort of camera to take photos of the eclipse and what is happening around the eclipse but the greater your focal length, the more detail you’ll be able to capture of the 93,000,000 mile way Sun. That is why I will be using a 500mm lens with a 2x teleconverter. I’ll be able to have a much larger sun in the frame. The tripod and the shutter release will be used to keep my camera steady so I have the best chance at a successful photo.

However, you cannot take a camera and point it at the sun or eclipse and not ruin your equipment or eyes. You do need protection for both. As I understand it, if you pointed a 1000mm focal length lens at the sun, you would concentrate all of the intensity of the sun on a small area and ruin things even faster. So, while you are looking at the sun, you should wear approved eye protection like these goggles and your camera should have an appropriate filter covering the lens. I chose to buy this Celestron Universal Solar Filter, as it would fit nicely over my mirror lens.

One thing to note, with solar filters there are a lot of warnings about not using optical viewfinders when using the solar filter but I had a lot of trouble determining if that meant using the viewfinder on my SLR camera. It is an optical viewfinder, however, since it is a Single Lens Reflex, meaning the viewfinder sees the same light that is coming through the lens it is safe to look at the sun through the viewfinder with one of these solar filters covering the lens. I ended up testing it by pointing the camera at the sun with the filter in place and putting a piece of paper behind the viewfinder. It didn’t catch fire. Once I looked through the viewfinder, it was obvious that the light was drastically subdued. It cannot hurt to be safe though.

Great, I have a way of pointing my camera at the sun and not melting my face. The next step for me was to pick film and figure out how to meter it.

In my Ricoh XR-7, I am not able to see the built in light meter when I have the solar filter over the lens. There isn’t any light coming through where I need it to. I looked throughout the internet for any mention of how to meter for the sun through a solar filter like mine, but all of my results turned up nothing to even start with. What I was hoping to find was how to calculate the exposure time with my lens and the filter but I was unable to find how many stops to add to account for the filter. That information didn’t exist anywhere I looked, at least not in a way that I could make sense of. The best I could find was this article from NASA from the 1990s which talks about shooting the eclipse on film. Their advice? Practice. Most people had this same advice. Get a roll of film, or your digital camera, and shoot it at different exposures to figure out which one will work for you.

So I picked up a roll of Kodak TMAX 400 – 24 Exposures, and I laid out a plan for all 24 shots. This was drastically simplified by the fact that the Tamron BBAR 500mm lens has a fixed aperture. I just needed to vary my shutter speeds. I had twelve shutter speeds at 1 second or faster. I took out the 1 and the 1/2 second shots because these just felt too slow. Additionally, my camera has an exposure compensation setting, so I mixed that in for the remaining shots to see how it might affect things. The results of my tests are below:

#Shutter SpeedExposure BiasTest Shot
10Aperture Priority0
All of these images were scanned on my Plustek OpticFilm 8100 in RAW and then processed in Darktable with the same settings for each shot so I had results I could compare.

Clearly, the test was helpful. I think I had found a calculator that would estimate the shutter speed and it suggested 1/200. That would have been way out of the ballpark and my roll of film would have been wasted had I not tested. For the actual day, I think I’ll bracket my shots between 1/8 and 1/15 seconds. Also, it looks like the exposure compensation does nothing for these types of shots. So, I successful test in that I don’t need to worry about it on the big day.

The other thing I noticed from all of these test shots is that I’ll need to spend more time adjusting my focus. The thumbnails might not show it but setting my lens to infinity didn’t cut it. To be fair, infinity is just a mark on the dial and I can go past infinity on this lens. I’m open to suggestions on how to practice the focus for this lens. I should note, I used the shutter release cable for every shot to minimize camera shake.

I suppose all that is left now is to start planning my shots for the actual event. I’ll likely plan for a few before the maximum eclipse, and couple during, and a few afterwards. Of course, the whole event from partial eclipse begins until the partial eclipse ends is supposed to be about 2.5 hours. During that time, I want to have a few other things to photograph to commemorate the event. I’ll likely bring a colander or similar holed object so I can take some photos of the funky shadows. And since I expect to be around people, I think just documenting those who are out and about during the event might be interesting as well. I’ll have to bring a second camera for this so I’m not setting up and breaking it down for different shots.

Since I don’t live in the path of totality, and I planned this too late to make the trip, I’ll be satisfied with the 89% we’re getting locally. My plan is to trek up to the highest point nearby, as I know it has a clear view of the sky. But, if the forecast shows clouds, I have one or two back up locations in driving distance.

3 Replies to “Photographing an Eclipse on 35mm Film”

  1. […] Let me tell you, again, there isn’t much information out there on how to take photos of the eclipse on film. The vast majority of the information for both film and digital photos tells you to get your setup and start testing ahead of time. So that is what I did and I posted the results in a previous blog post about photographing the eclipse on film. […]

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