In the shadow of the Moon - How I shot a time-lapse of the total solar eclipse

One of the best things time-lapse photography has given me is my interest for astronomy. When I started shooting the night sky, I needed to learn basic astronomy in order to understand what I was photographing. Thanks to that I was able to capture a time-lapse of the total solar eclipse the past July 2nd in Córdoba, Argentina.

The planning

I shot time-lapses of a total lunar eclipse in the past, but when I got into the planning of the solar eclipse, I realized it was something completely different, specially because totality is something that happens REALLY fast, and depending where you are in the path of totality, it could last even less than what you might expect.

Thanks to the great help of Colin Legg I was able to better understand what would happen photographically during totality:

  • To get a good time-lapse it was better to just shoot some minutes before and after totality. Using a wide angle lens during partial phases you can’t really appreciate any change in the light because the Sun is overexposed.
  • During totality light drops about 10.5 stops in relation to a full noon Sun.

With these two things in mind I just needed to test my cameras to make sure I wouldn’t have buffer issues since I would be using very short intervals.

As always, I used the NASA eclipse website to check dates and times since I trust completely in their information. Then I checked the places where totality would happen in a website created specifically for that by Universidad Nacional de Córdoba.

Finally, I used the PhotoPills planner, to again confirm locations and exact times of totality in Almafuerte, Córdoba, where I was going to shoot the time-lapses.

 

Once I did the pre-scouting, we went with a friend to Almafuerte a week before the eclipse day to scout for compositions in the area. Luckily we found a pretty calm place away from crowds. My biggest fear was people crossing in front of the camera during the time-lapse. Just one single frame with a person in the middle of the shot would completely ruin months of work.

In Almafuerte, I once again used PhotoPills to check the composition using the augmented reality to confirm the position of the Sun during totality. With this I had everything I needed to shoot the time-lapses. I just needed to wait for the day of the eclipse.

Problems, they never fail to be present

While testing my cameras, a 6D and a 60D, I noticed the faster interval I was able to use was 1 second. Since this was a unique event in years, I decided to rent a third backup camera in case something went wrong, so I went for a 5D3. Knowing that this is a high-end camera, better than mines, I assumed I should be able to use a 1 second interval as well with no issues, but to my surprise it wasn’t the case.

Unfortunately, the camera had buffer issues when trying to use a short interval and the worst part is I realized about this moments after renting it, since I wasn’t able to test it before. So I had to go with a 2 seconds interval on that camera, that meant capturing only half the footage. For my specific needs, the camera was a huge disappointment, having a better buffer on a 60D was just ridiculous.

I realize I should have tested the camera before, but I didn’t think it would be an issue since it was a better camera than the ones I own. Now I know better.

The post-production

I automated everything for the time-lapses because Colin told me it was better that way. “I’ve seen six eclipses and it affects me every time”, he said. And he was so right, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing during totality. I wouldn't have been able to change settings on all the cameras if I used manual mode.

Because of this I had to smooth lots of exposure jumps in post-production, that took me a whole day (I have a slow computer). I did renders in the second day (it takes about 1 hour per render), and in the third day I did some color correction and stretched the time-lapses so totality wouldn’t play so fast. The fourth day was for cutting.

The gear

  • Time-lapse: Canon 6D, Canon 60D, Canon 5D3, Canon 70-200 f/4, Canon Extender 2x, Samyang 24mm f/1.4, Sigma 14-24 f/2.8, Timelapse+ VIEW, DIY solar filter, 6 stop ND filter
  • Software: Magic Lantern, PhotoPills, phone compass
  • Pictures taken: 2895

Behind the scenes

I made a vlog about the whole experience (and not so technical) you can watch here:

 

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