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The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

Solar Eclipse Photography Tips & Pointers

I'm sure a lot of you are planning to watch Monday's solar eclipse, and if you're a photographer I'm equally sure you've seen some information pertaining to how to safely photograph the moon's transit across our sun.  I'd like to share some information with you to point you in the right direction where you will be able to find more detail on certain topics, with a focus on optics.

Since you may be wondering, I will not be directly photographing the eclipse myself, though I do plan on traveling to the totality zone to enjoy the astronomy show, and probably document my journey and the other sunwatchers I'm sure to find.

Solar Eclipse Glasses

I won't mince words; if you don't already have the ISO 12312-2 compliant "solar sunglasses" you probably won't be able to get them.  They are long-since sold out of all online retailers for delivery before Monday, and all stores are out of them unless they get a batch of them in on Saturday or Sunday.  Here is a list of reputable eclipse glasses vendors, though expect most of them to be sold out.

American Astronomical Society (AAS): Reputable Vendors of Solar Filters & Viewers

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It is extremely important to only use ISO 12312-2 compliant solar filter film glasses to view the sun at all times any part of the sun's surface is exposed; in the DC Metro area, this means you must view the eclipse through the glasses at all times, because that area is outside of the path of totality, and therefore there will always be part of the sun exposed.  Solar filters such as the film in these glasses do more than stop down visible light; they also block invisible ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) light - this is key because the UV light especially can be so intense that it will permanently burn and destroy the central cones in your retinas, creating permanent central blind spots in your vision.  Without the solar filter, this dangerous UV light is not reduced to safe levels even if visible light from the sun is comfortably reduced; this is why "doubling up" on sunglasses is not a safe way to view the eclipse, and can cause just as much damage as staring directly at the sun bare.  Even with the solar filter glasses, you must only take short looks at the sun through the glasses - view the eclipse for no more than a minute at a time, taking long breaks between viewings to allow your eyes a rest and prevent eye damage which can still take place with extended viewing through the glasses.

Please read this article from NASA about more detailed information on safely viewing the eclipse.

Best Buy and Michaels seem to be the most knowledgeable about the glasses, though you should call first thing in the morning to ask about availability, and rush over in the unlikely event they have any more in stock.  Lowe's also carries the glasses, but are out of stock as well.  Home Depot is giving out unsafe advice to buy their welders goggles, but this is a bad situation, because they do not sell the required Shade 13 or 14 welders goggles - they only stock Shade 8, which is much too light, and will cause eye damage when viewing the sun.  Please refer to the link above for more information on welders goggles.

If you don't have any glasses at this point your best bet is to arrive at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia by 5AM to wait for admittance to pick up some of the limited supplies of the glasses they have.  The NASM has small quantities of the glasses they give away on a first-come-first-serve basis.  On Saturday and Sunday they have 300 pairs of glasses available, and all will go to the first groups who arrive at the gate.  On Monday, the day of the eclipse, 1,000 pairs of the solar glasses will be made available while supplies last.  This Friday morning the first car arrived at 4AM to wait; gates into the NASM parking lot are opened at 8AM, by which time a line of cars stringing all the way up to the 28 overpass will have formed.

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At this time a line is formed outside the Udvar-Hazy building (and well beyond) until admission to the building is granted at 9AM.  Another hour waiting, and the museum staff begin giving glasses to guests at the museum's opening time of 10AM.  Glasses are provided on a basis of two per group / family - realistically you can act as if you don't know one another and are a single person representing a group of two, but lets have some ethics and not abuse this - there aren't many glasses to go around, and if you can afford share a pair, then be good and let others also get to experience this rare phenomenon.  Plan to arrive early, and spend lots of time on your feet waiting in line.

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The National Air and Space Museums in DC and the Udvar-Hazy Center will be having solar eclipse viewing events at both locations; read here for details.

Alternative Viewing Methods

Welders Glass

As mentioned above, one can use Shade 13 and higher welding goggles, though this is a hard to find shade, since most stores stock much lighter shaded glass which is unsafe to view the eclipse. If you have welders glass already, and it doesn't explicitly list the shade rating, do not trust it - permanent eye damage is not worth the risk.

Pinhole Projection

An easy method anyone can perform with basic office supplies is to create a pinhole viewer.  All you need is some cardstock and a white surface to place the projection on.  Make a 3mm round hole in the cardstock and by hand focus the sun on your white surface; the eclipse will be visible projected on the surface through the pinhole.  This is in essence a pinhole camera.  You are safe to view the projection without any eye protection, though you may want some sunglasses since it will still be quite bright.

NASA: Projection: Pinhole & Optical

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Photographic Equipment and Telescopes

And here is the big reason I am writing this quick guide - I want you photographers to stay safe, and keep your gear safe.

Please, if you do not have a dedicated solar filter or solar film for your camera or other optical equipment, do not under any circumstance attempt to photograph the eclipse directly.  Without a solar filter, the intense brightness and heat of the sun's rays will burn and destroy your camera's sensor, and can become so hot it can begin to melt and etch an image in the sensitive surfaces of your camera such as the focusing screen.  You can indeed interchangeably use a telescope filter or raw solar film sheets on a camera; the key is you must have total coverage of the lens, and must never use the viewfinder for any reason.

Furthermore, "doubling up" on neutral density (ND) filters will reduce the visible light to a safe level for your sensor, but does nothing to reduce the ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) lightwaves which can still damage your sensor; UV filters, and the IR filter built into every camera's sensor may not be strong enough to reduce these wavelengths to a safe level - if you choose to use ND filters, do so at your camera's own risk; you will need at least 18 stops (ND 5.4) of density to reduce the sun's visible light to a level safe for your sensor.  Unless you have a dedicated solar filter, I recommend only attempting the ND method on a camera you are comfortable with possibly breaking permanently.  If you go this method I recommend placing a lens cap over the lens at all times except when focusing (via live-view only) or short bursts of shooting; don't expose the sensor or glass to any undue amounts of the sun's rays.

For all circumstances, you must only use live-view to focus and shoot - do not under any circumstance look through the viewfinder when aimed at the sun, regardless of if your camera has a solar filter installed or not.  Solar filters for optical equipment do not as stringently adhere to ISO 12312-2 compliance which is required for safe viewing with human eyes.  Furthermore, even using the solar sunglasses to look through the viewfinder will also be harmful because of the focused intensity of the sun through the camera's optics.  Do not attempt to use the solar glasses solar filter film as a camera lens solar filter; your camera must have 100% complete lens coverage in order for it to safely photograph the eclipse; your solar glasses' filter is not large enough to cover the entire lens, save for camera phones.  Looking through the viewfinder is placing a hypothetical ant (your eye / retina) under a literal magnifying glass (your camera / lens).

If you do have all the required materials to safely shoot the sun, you will need a lens or telescope capable of reaching the 500 - 800mm range to fill the frame with the sun to a useful amount.

Enjoy It

This is a historic event; don't get caught up in your camera so much that you miss watching!

I will mostly be enjoying the journey and nature of our moon blocking view of our sun, rather than fiddling with a camera; this is rare event that I wasn't even sure I'd be available to enjoy due to other scheduled photoshoots which have now been postponed (probably because people want to watch the eclipse?).  Since I only found out I'm free in the last few days, I will not be photographing the eclipse directly because A) I couldn't find a solar filter available for sale in time for a reasonable price, B) because the risks to my gear are too great for my comfort, C) there will be a massive amount of coverage by others who are better equipped to document this event, such as those at NASA, and D) it's nice to relax sometimes.  I will instead be enjoying the eclipse through my solar eclipse glasses and documenting the journey and those I see watching the eclipse on Monday.

Hopefully you all will be able to enjoy the solar eclipse safely and easily; please, please do not take any silly risks - hurting your camera may hurt your wallet, but hurting your eyes will hurt forever - don't risk anything - stay safe folks!

Below I'm leaving some helpful links which go into more detail about the eclipse than I've outlined here; please visit them and read for more depth than the overview I've provided.

Bad Self Portraits: Summer of 2017

A Day at the Museums

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Every year I try to visit the Smithsonian Folklife Festival; this year was no different.  As we always do, Adrianna and I arrived hungry and enjoyed several of the different cultural food vendors.  With this year's festival, however, that was about all we did, as we found the entire festival quite small underwhelming, particularly in comparison to previous years; it seems as though the festival has been shrinking over the last few years, much to our disappointment, as we both look forward to attending each year.  The nearby waste bins reminded me of some fine art photography series I've seen done on trash.

We perused the entire grounds of the festival, and barely anything was going on - we saw two discussion panels, which the speakers seemed to be attempting humor that was falling flat on the gathered audiences, and there were no demonstrations taking place even at the scheduled times posted.  Disappointed, we decided to hit a few of the less trafficked museums.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

At the Hirshorn we saw parts of Yoko Ono's exhibits which were nearing their close, and Ai Weiwei's "Trace" exhibit of large LEGO portraits of political dissidents.  This of course was alongside some of Hirshorn's collection of rotating artifacts on display.

One piece that initially confused us was Reynier Leyva Novo's "5 Nights," which appear as different sized rectangles of black ink on the walls, each equal to the amount of ink used in writing five totalitarian leaders' manifestos; at the museum, we did not see a plaque explaining this, but we did notice the plaque underneath the largest rectangle labeled "Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf" and we incorrectly surmised that these were placeholders for an upcoming exhibit, one of which would be a painting by Adolf Hitler sharing the title of his infamous autobiography.  It wasn't until later that evening on the Hirshorn website that all was made clear; the conclusion we'd drawn earlier just didn't feel as though it added up, and had been bugging me for clarification and correction all day.

The detail and depth in Weiwei's repeating patterns is breathtaking, and a designer's delight.  Overtones of surveillance, oppression, suppression.  The rise of Twitter, resistance, transparency through opposition.  It's bleak and hopeful and applicable to the political state in many governments the whole-World over.  It is a modern illustration of a timeless struggle.

Weiwei's LEGO art was expansive and reminiscent of 8-bit art, eliciting thoughts of the digital age in which many of his subjects relied upon in their tasks.

National Museum of the American Indian

Next we decided to visit the nearby National Museum of the American Indian.  Adrianna is part Native American, so she's visited many times and is well versed in the exhibits and history.  I, on the other hand, had never been before, and my entire knowledge of Native American history is limited one learns in 4th grade; that is, to say, I admittedly have no significant knowledge of Native American history.  Our visit was rushed because they would be closing in less than two hours, and frankly this is a museum to fully absorb a whole day would be required; I will need to return to devote an entire day to give it the attention this museum requires and deserves.

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At closing time we split a pastry in the cafeteria head off back to Virginia for dinner.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park: August, 2016

Continuing with my focus on closing out personal projects from 2016, here are photos from a trip to the National Zoo.  This was only the second time I've been to DC's Zoo (I've been to the St. Louis Zoo many times), and I actually barely remember my first time, which was in middle school. The only thing I remember from that field trip was we had to do some lame scavenger hunt, and we finished at the prairie dogs before getting back onto the bus.  This trip was much more enjoyable, however I STILL have not seen a panda, and this trip was on Bao Bao, Bei Bei, and Tian Tian's birthday; I saw the cake but not the pandas!  Same goes for the elephants; the exhibit was completely open, but the elephants were nowhere to be found.

I thought the most fascinating birds were the Roseate spoonbills, which apparently are very common in Central America, and into parts of the US' Gulf Coast.  These guys were not very intimidated and would freely walk close by.

2016 Dulles Day Plane Pull and 5K / 10K on the Runway

Dulles Day 5K / 10K On the Runway

In 1993 Dulles International Airport held the World's very first Plane Pull, a charity event in partnership with Special Olympics, that began a phenomenon of other plane pull charity events worldwide.  In 2013, Dulles added a 5K (and in 2014 a 10K) to Dulles Day.  While technically the 5K / 10K is a separate event from the Plane Pull, it is always held on the morning of as the newest annual part of Dulles Day.  Each year 2,500 participants are able to run on R/W 1R and return to the Start / Finish via T/W K.  It is one of Potomac River Running's most popular runs, both because it offers the unique opportunity to be a pedestrian on an airfield (and run under the wing of a United 777), and there is no other run of that distance which offers a perfectly flat venue other than a track.

In previous years I've been on the ground for photos (thank you to Airport Operations for always providing me with speedy transport anywhere I need to go), but this year I was in the helicopter circling the event to capture new angles and promo photos I haven't gotten for this event before. In contrast to the other photographers at the event who are tasked with capturing each runner's photo, my assignment for the Plane Pull each year is to document the entire day and capture marketing photographs in a photojournalistic manner.

Thanks to an unexpected, last-minute delay of the race start, I was able to capture some great photos and video footage of the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center before the run got underway.

Also visible is Washington Dulles International Airport's Concourses and Terminal, ATCT, VMF, and R/W 12/30.

Huge thanks to Bussman Aviation and all the fine folks in Dulles Airport Operations who make aerial photography and the entire day possible!

If you're looking for the video footage, scroll to the bottom of this blog post.

Dulles Day Plane Pull

The Dulles Day Plane Pull is a Summer festival suitable for all ages, and is great for families and aviation enthusiasts alike.  There are food vendors, games, giveaways, booths and displays, demonstrations, a classic car show, ARFF and Mobile Lounge rides / tours, live music, and ~50 private, vintage, and military aircraft on display, but the main attraction is the Plane Pull itself; ~100 teams compete in pulling a FedEx 757 or a United A320.

The first pull to kick off the day every year is always the Special Olympics team.  This year they had a little help from Superman!

Another notable team is the Fairfax County Police Department.  Dulles's property crosses over between Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, and many of the teams that compete are police and sheriffs offices in the surrounding communities.  The police community is already a tightly knit brotherhood, and that family is brought together every year with this friendly competition amongst neighboring jurisdictions.

Something of my own tradition I've begun since I began documenting the Plane Pull in 2013, every year I capture an aerial portrait of Eero Saarinen's famous Dulles Main Terminal Building.  This year’s Plane Pull was overcast - excellent for pictures of people and scenes, but not the most flattering light for glamour shots of buildings.  The iconic Main Terminal Building is seen here with ongoing construction for the Dulles Metrorail Project entering the bottom of the frame, including excavation and two cranes.

For 10 straight years now eyes have been on the Chesapeake Sheriff's Office; the team with an outright dominant reign as the Dulles Plane Pull's fastest.  They successfully defended their title for the 10th year in a row, with a time of 4.872s; 2016's fastest pull, however just short of setting a new Plane Pull record - a record of 4.753 they set in 2015.

The Dulles Day Plane Pull is also a planespotter's / AVGeek's dream; ATC does their best to route as much international, heavy, and otherwise interesting traffic to the nearby center runway.  Guests are encouraged to bring their cameras, and it's common for folks to come just to grab a lobster roll and planespot alongside the taxilane the entire afternoon in anticipation of spotting a jumbo like Lufthansa's 747-8i or Air France's A380.  This is completely in addition to the static private, vintage, and military aircraft on display.

Once again, I have to thank Bussman Aviation and all the fine folks in Dulles Airport Operations who make aerial photography and the entire day possible!  I rely on these fantastic folks to get me from A to B in speedy fashion, and what I do wouldn't be possible without them!

Video Footage

Here is a collection of the video footage I captured at this year's annual 2016 Dulles Plane Pull benefitting Special Olympics Virginia. Still photographs are my main focus, so this is content I captured between the still photos I captured to document the day.