Solar Eclipse 2024

Blog, Photography / Saturday, April 20th, 2024

At the beginning of this year, I didn’t know that photographing the eclipse on film was something that I wanted to do. Heck, I don’t think it even registered for me that there would be an eclipse. Then, I saw some videos where people were hyping it up and why and suddenly I was hyped for it as well. After that, I put in my request for the day off and started researching how I could make the most of it. For me, that meant more than just seeing it, it meant turning it into a project. It meant photographing the eclipse on 35mm film.

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.

As the day approached, my excitement grew. This was, in part, because I was able to share in other people’s excitement. That post I made started to gain attention and I had a small amount of ‘fame’ for the week leading up to the eclipse. This site doesn’t see a lot of views in general, but it did for those days. It made me realize, I was onto something. I’m not the only silly person out there that wanted to experience the eclipse in a different way.

The Friday before the eclipse, I was out on a walk with my wife and she casually tossed out the idea that I should drive down to totality and experience the eclipse in its fullness. Previously, my plan had been to walk over to a nearby hill and relax for an afternoon and if the sky was cloudy, see where I could drive within an hour to get a view. But this idea of driving got stuck in my head for a solid 24 hours. I was ready to pack everything up and head out first thing in the morning for Terre Haute, Indiana (not because it was closest (it wasn’t) but because their celebration was being called “Total Eclipse of the Haute” and I loved that). However, the more I thought about it and fretted over what that would mean (10 hours of driving round trip and no time with my wife and kid for a day), I decided that I wasn’t going to make the drive. It would be the above reasons to fret, for only a few minutes of difference than what I’d experience at home. Was it a mistake and did I miss out on a once in a lifetime opportunity? Maybe, but I ultimately enjoyed my eclipse experience.

The day of the eclipse, I was scrambling to pack last minute items for my afternoon. I had three bags, two camera bags and a backpack of supplies. I was throwing together a cereal box viewer twenty minutes before I planned to leave and shoving our colander into my bag so I could see the shadows. My gear included:

  • Ricoh XR-7 35mm film camera
  • Tamron BBAR 500mm mirror lens
  • Tamron 2x teleconverter
  • Pre-planned shot list
  • Celestron solar filter
  • Cable release
  • Tripod
  • 36 exposures of Kodak TMAX 400 film
  • Ricohflex Dia 120mm TLR camera (with Kodak TMAX 400)
  • Canon Rebel T6 with stock telephoto lens
  • 12 pairs of eclipse glasses
  • A cereal box viewer
  • A colander
  • Folding chairs
  • Snacks

Technically, I had another camera with me but I didn’t take it out to shoot any shots with it so I won’t officially count it.

When I showed up to my site, the sky was perfect and the weather was pleasantly warm for early April. However, I was a little disappointed that I was the only person there before the eclipse started. I don’t know what I really expected, but I didn’t think I’d have my pick of the best spots on the hill. I grabbed a bench and started setting up.

I had planned out my shots the previous day. In total, I had 34 shots planned. I was going to take a photo every ten minutes from the start to the end of the eclipse, plus one photo at its peak. And I planned to bracket those shots, meaning I would take different exposures just in case. Based of my previous tests, my best chance for success was taking photos at 1/8th and 1/15th of a second. I’m glad that I did.

My humble setup.

As the beginning of the eclipse drew near, I became more and more nervous. I felt like I had planned a lot, for me, and I really hoped I’d have something to show for it. However, when I put on my eclipse glasses and looked up at the first contact of the moon to the sun I just didn’t care as much if my photos came out because what I saw was so much cooler than I could have imagined. It was so breathtakingly simple, but powerful at the same time. This was the first time I really saw an eclipse. Back in 2017, I didn’t have contacts so using the eclipse glasses was finicky and everything was a bit blurry. This was something else.

An eclipse is best viewed with your partner.

Slowly, as the eclipse progressed, people started to show up. A lot of couples came together to share the moment. My wife didn’t have the day off, but I made sure she showed up 30 minutes before the peak. As people showed up, I kept snapping my pictures and offered to let people look through my lens to see things better, only a few took me up on the offer and that was even after I told them you could see sun spots. Some people showed up without eclipse glasses and I felt great that I had a stash that I could freely hand out to people and they could then see what I was seeing. One person asked me if I was some sort of astrological expert. I laughed and told them I was just a guy with a day off of work.

All throughout, I was snapping photos and playing with the things I brought with to help experience the weirdness of the eclipse. The cereal box viewer was pretty neat, but I could have done a slightly better job putting it together so I had a slightly crisper projection. The colander made some cool shadows as we approached peak. What I wasn’t able to document in any other way than experience was how much the temperature dropped. I went from feeling a comfortable heat on my face while looking at the sun to being borderline shivering.

Finally, the eclipse peaked. It was amazing. I was so glad I chose to make the day leisurely and share it with my wife.

After the peak, people started filtering away and returning to their jobs and lives. I kept snapping photos. I had my shot list after all.

By 3:30, the eclipse had ended and I knew I just had been through something quite unlike anything else I had experienced. I snapped a couple extra shots to use up my roll and packed up my gear. I wanted to get home so I could get my film developed that afternoon.

Aside from two snags while loading the film on the developing reel, my photos could not have come out better. Only one shot seemed to be messed up from something I must have done while taking the shot but even so, the photo was usable. There really is a huge benefit in being able to shoot and develop a roll of film all in a day. It was great to see that my photos had come out and I’d be able to pull them together into a single composition, as seen below.

For me, this one composition tells a story. Not only does it show the phases of the eclipse as seen from my camera, it also shows the movement of the celestial bodies and the constant adjusting I needed to do to chase the sun and moon across the sky.

The only thing I wish I was able to illustrate in my composition is that I was able to capture sunspots. It just blows my mind that I have equipment good enough to be able to see sun spots. Because I knew the spot was there, I was also tricking myself into thinking I could see it through my eclipse glasses. I doubt I was though. This photo does a great job of showing the sun spots.

All in, it was a pretty fantastic day. It is rare that I take days off to relax, and this was the perfect day to do it. The next eclipse to come by these parts isn’t for another 20 years, so the memory of this experience will have to hold me over until then (or we’ll just need to book a trip to one happening elsewhere in the world),

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