Photographing Solar Eclipses
Author: Bill Kramer
Last update: 3 JUL 2014 BK
My own experience with video recording an eclipse is rather limited. However, Denise has used a handheld camcorder at several eclipses to record the event as far back as 1991. The most precious component has always been the audio where you can hear the reactions of everyone around us. Over the years, as camcorders have gotten better, she has continued to use it in a handheld fashion to get some wonderful video of the eclipse, the environment, chasers, and of course the audio.
Consumer video cameras do not have the same resolution (number of pixels) as digital cameras and are not as robust in terms of optics. There can be a lot of scatter noise when the image is viewed. Below are some video image examples (captures). Video links posted by others at youTube are also provided (do you have an eclipse video on youTube? Email the author the link.)
Camcorders are pretty easy to use and you really can't go wrong giving it a try. The people reactions are really the best and the noises you hear during the eclipse are sometimes pretty amusing - especially if you were there.
Make sure your batteries are fully charged. Having an extra battery is a good idea since the set up starts early and the celebration continues long after totality. Keep an eye on how much tape/memory remains - you don't want to run out just as totality begins.
Denise's Video Tips
Based on Denise's experiences here are some tips for using a consumer grade video camera. Professional videographers might want to just glance through this material since it is really intended for the casual camcorder operator.
- The best part of the video is the audio. You cannot hope to capture professional looking images with a consumer camera however the hoots and hollars, cheering, and assorted noises of the eclipse experience are wonderful.
- The camcorder will not focus right away on the eclipse or horizon. If you want to keep the camera on these items plan to use manual focus, set it ahead of totality, and don’t forget you have it on if you try to get people pictures.
- Digital zoom is kind of useless, stick to the optical zoom and only use about half of it. Consumer hand held camcorders have small lenses and small chips.
- The video display should be reduced in brightness before totality so that you can see more than just the display. Other people around you will appreciate it as well. If you have an eyepiece style option for viewing use it. You will be 'blinded' in one eye, but still able to see the eclipse.
- As the eclipse sweeps overhead the camera will try to compensate and thus cannot really capture the sudden change of light to dark when in automatic mode. If you leave the gain in manual mode there is a chance you will get nothing but black once the shadow falls apon the camera.
- Use the video unit to capture the horizon and changing light as best possible at second contact. You can integrate close ups of the corona at the computer edit station later. A slow sweep of the horizon with eclipse chasers in the foreground makes for fun video after the event. It doesn’t have to be smooth and perfect to be enjoyable by all that were there.
- Do plan to try and capture the diamond ring at third contact. As third contact approaches focus on the corona and just watch the show. When the brightness starts to cause the image to bleed (vertical white lines) move the camera away from the sun so you don’t fry anything inside the camera.
- Keep rolling after totality. It may take a minute or two but the reactions are priceless in many cases (turn automatic focus back on). Initially there will be cheers and screams of joy but then the conversation kicks in and everyone talks at a rapid speed with the kind of enthusiasm that only comes with such events.
- A quick release type tripod will allow you to enjoy the eclipse and keep the camera on. You can attach it just as totality gets underway and release it right after third contact. Placement of the tripod in the midst of your group ensures you get a good sound track even if the video is very static for the few minutes of totality.
- Zooming in and out does not really improve the video. Especially if the focus is slightly off or you have a lot of movement.
Technology of consumer grade video cameras is rapidly improving. The electronic components are getting smaller and the storage capacity continues to grow.
Three generations of camcorders. Left to Right: 2009 JVC Everio 1920x1080 HD, 2005 Panasonic 3CCD GS-250, 1994 Nikon VN-870. Today's cell phone cameras are smaller and are capable of video recording however the tiny lens makes them all but useless in terms of getting a good video of the eclipse.