Sunday, May 27, 2012

Solar Eclipse Time-lapse - Part 2

Finally made some time to complete part 2 of the solar eclipse time-lapse post. Let's get right into it, but first a quick warning message you all should read if you're not familiar with taking photos directly of the sun:

Without proper solar filtration, there is a very real chance that you could cause serious and irreparable damage to your camera equipment, and more importantly serious or permanent eye damage such as blindness. If you do not feel comfortable with such photography, I do not recommend doing it... even what I did can be considered borderline (and I actually don't really recommend my method either), but I'll explain my actions below.

Ok, now with that out of the way I'll start with a quick list of equipment used:
- Olympus E-3
- 50-200mm Zuiko lens
- 2X tele-converter
- camera hand-held
- Variable ND filter ... DIY type

Nothing really stands out from the list above until you get to the last item, a do-it-yourself (DIY) variable ND filter. I already have a couple of circular polarizing filters (one with a 67mm thread and the other being 72mm), and with a couple of adapter rings I can get the two to face each other. In my next video (yes, I'll get to it eventually!) I'll be demonstrating why this is important, but in a nutshell you have to have the linear polarizing plates facing each other (watch my Polarizing Filters video to learn about how they work if you haven't already). This way, you can "turn down the light" if you will by rotating the filter (the front part of the filter which is actually facing back towards the camera; the part of the filter looking outwards is the quarter wave plate and rotating that won't do much good).

Anyway, as you can begin to guess, I rotated the filters to a point where they blocked out almost all incoming light, thus allowing me to shoot the sun in a safer manner. Nonetheless, I must point out that this method is not a true solar filter. If you have the budget and you would like to shoot the sun more often, I highly recommend purchasing a proper solar filter. These block up to 99% of the sun's light and they generally stay put when attached to the lens, whereas the variable ND filter can be accidentally rotated, thus allowing the sun to burn a hole through your sensor or retina.

Even I would not use my makeshift variable ND filter if the sky was free of clouds, but on the day I shot the eclipse I lucked out. High altitude clouds strongly reduced the sun's intensity and at my location the sun was starting to drop closer to the horizon. On the downside, the clouds ate up some of the detail on the sun's surface, namely those massive sunspots, and occasionally almost entirely blotted out the sun itself. But I'll take what I can get with such events being quite rare here.

As for camera settings, they went all over the place due to the cloud over. With my variable ND set nearly as dark as it could go and with lighter cloud cover, my exposure was around 1/8000 sec for shutter speed, about f/10 - f/14 or so with ISO at 200; camera was in manual mode. With cloud cover increasing, I slowed the shutter speed to 1/320 of a sec with aperture set to as wide open as it would go, which was f/7 with my setup. Since the shutter speed was quite fast I didn't bother with a tripod... although it would have made holding a fairly heavy camera and lens a bit more comfy to deal with. Lastly, I didn't bother timing the shots; I simply took a few photos every so often and once the stills were in the computer I examined the timestamps to sort them into the video.

And that is about that. Again, times are busy for me, but hopefully in the next couple of weeks I'll try to finish off the long exposure episode that was voted for on my Facebook page. So until next time, happy shooting! L8r!

Edit: June 17, 2012 - Thought I'd add the video I made of the solar eclipse here as well as in part one of this post, since I've had some comments about where it is.


  1. Replies
    1. Hi! Wow, I actually didn't link it in this post. Check the "part 1" post or my YouTube channel at

  2. Hmm, not sure I would be comfortable with this although I understand the ND400 is good for sun photography as its very dark ( 10 stops). I think I would be safer with doing the moon as its reflected sunlight and less harmful to you and your camera. Look forward to see any video you have done though.

    1. Hi Jane! If the skies were not cloudy, I certainly would not have done this either; I'd rather get a real solar filter instead of burning a hole through my camera (or eyes!). But with heavily clouded skies and the sun low towards the horizon, I decided it would be ok and I could get away with it. As for the moon, you can safely shoot it without any filtration, even through a telescope which I have done in the past (I have some shots on Flickr). The video of this event is in the "part 1" post or on my YouTube channel at Thanks for your comment.


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