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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

Alyssa in DC: 2015

This post is overdue.  Long overdue.  Like, almost a YEAR overdue.  I even got our New York pictures up way sooner!  It's all my fault; honestly the pictures from Day 2, hiking in Harper's Ferry, just left me reeling.  They were so uncooperative, and left me frustrated as a perfectionist.  This is a personal post; I put my paid work before it, perpetually backburnering this and other personal work.  But it's here finally, for Alyssa and all my friends who hear all about "that Rhode Island friend of mine."

Day 1: Arrival • Annapolis, MD

Alyssa was due to touch down at BWI in just a few hours; I was coming from Rachel and Andrew's wedding shoot from the day before and drove direct to BWI in time to get her.  Leaving Rachel and Andrew's, I photographed one of their horses grazing in the dawn fog.  On the way to BWI I passed a convoy of various military equipment.

This was the first time I'd met Alyssa in person after about two years of long-distance friendship thanks to iMessage and FaceTime.  We happened across one another on the Internet mid-2012, and found we had a lot in common, as we're both photographers.

I hadn't planned anything in particular, so I chose to take her to nearby Annapolis for lunch and a bit of exploring through Old Town.  Annapolis is one of the region's most charming cities; it's a place I've explored a little bit, but not to the extent I'd like to.  Every time I visit Annapolis I can only think of how wonderful it must be to live there, right on the Chesapeake Bay.  I'm desperate to continue my love affair with Maryland's capital city.

It was a hot day; I took Alyssa to a tavern on the shore for authentic Maryland crab cakes, and eventually we gave in and got ice cream, which we devoured because it was melting quickly!

After this, Alyssa got her first taste of a DC traffic jam; it took several hours and a thunderstorm to get us back to Fairfax.

Day 2: Hiking in Harper's Ferry, WV / MD

Harper's Ferry is a little Civil War town at the crossroads of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland.  It is where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers converge, and is the only point where all three states can be seen at the same time.  The town itself is in West Virginia, right along the Appalachian Trail, with the popular Maryland Heights Trail physically in Maryland, not West Virginia as popularly thought (it's in the name, people!).

Alyssa had seen the pictures of this hike from several other trips of mine, and wanted to go to "the bird hike," which I am just now noticing I never blogged - one time I went, I photographed from above a variety of birds circling the cliff face - it's a perspective not often seen with bird pictures.  The cliff face itself is ~650 feet above water, and less than 1/4 mile from the West Virginia Shore directly, but the height makes for crazy perspectives especially when paired with 400mm lenses even at f/8.

Harper's Ferry also is home to several active and defunct rail lines.  Because of the frequent rail activity, Harper's Ferry is a popular location for train spotters, both on the peak and at different points below.

We went on a damp day, and the greenery was in full bloom!

That face when she reached the peak...

As usual, I'd packed lunch for the trail, and we ate at the peak.  Much to her dismay, there weren't any birds flying.  She did, however, get to spot quite a few trains.  This was on a weekday, so we had the entire trail and peak to ourselves.  It was very calm; the quiet was only disrupted by the occasional train, and a few trucks in the distance.  I've never heard this trail so quiet before.

400mm lets you really zoom in on things, even at great distance.

It was finally time to turn back; down is always quicker, but we were racing to catch the last shuttle back to the visitor center.  We'd have to explore the town another day; the next time Alyssa visits.  At the bottom we found the only wildlife we saw all day - two geese and their goslings.

Day 3: Washington Dulles International Airport • Steven F. Udvar-Hazy National Air & Space Museum

Washington Dulles International Airport

The next day, I had a photoshoot scheduled, but that was only for a few hours, so I brought Alyssa along to see how I photograph commercial images of food and concessions for marketing.  In this case I photographed mostly menu items for an airport restaurant.

After the shoot, I showed Alyssa around the airport I've called home for 11 years.  Our first stop was a complete surprise to her, and a place very few people can visit.  The historic, now out-of-use, Air Traffic Control Tower in the center of Eero Saarinen's Dulles Main Terminal Building.  It was another rainy day, so not the prettiest or best visibility, but still awesome nonetheless.

Now it was time for a bit of a drive around the airfield.  Alyssa got to stand under the two largest commercial aircraft in existence; Lufthansa's 747-8i, and British Airways' A380.  Most people only get this close to aircraft of this size when boarding through a jetbridge - standing on the ground next to them will leave you awestruck at the engineering and physics that even allows these birds to fly.

Next, I brought Alyssa over to Airport Operations; to her surprise there was ANOTHER tower: the midfield OPs / Ramp Tower that actively controls all the taxiway and gate area ground traffic.  Operations is a great group at Dulles, and they know how to give a great tour.  They explained how aircraft interface between them and the FAA ATCT (which controls all taxilanes and runways), how mobile lounge traffic is directed, and shared stories from some of the interesting and historic events the controllers have been a part of throughout their stay at Dulles.  Sometimes the controllers will hand over the headset and dictate the radio commands, letting guests give actual live commands to ground traffic; I'm a little disappointed they didn't let Alyssa do that, just because... how many other people (who aren't controllers) can say they've done that?  Even I can't say I've done that.

The Ramp Tower is a little closer to the heart of activity at Dulles, so it offers a the best view for planespotting of all the towers at Dulles.  And yes, planespotters who follow me, I even think it's a bit better than the FAA ATCT, just because the Ramp Tower is a little more diversified in its views.  Yes, the FAA Tower is twice as tall, but you can't see any ramp operations, and you only get a clear view of arrivals on R/W 1R, 1C, and departures on R/W 30 (which quickly grow into ants as they close the two mile length of runway in a few seconds time).  That said, on a clear day you can spot the Washington Monument and air traffic at DCA from Dulles FAA Tower... so there's that.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy National Air & Space Museum

Since it was kinda a dreary day, with patches of blue sky and sunshine, but mostly rain, I thought it would be a good opportunity to use the rest of the day at the Udvar-Hazy Center and complete the aviation theme of the day.

I still have never been up the Udvar's Observation Tower.  We just came from two of Dulles' actual towers, so of course we skipped that and checked out the exhibits.  Unfortunately we only had a few hours before the museum was to close, so our visit felt a bit rushed.

It still doesn't feel like that long ago, but it'd been three years.  Three years (four years now) since all the Space Shuttle events that so dramatically changed my career.  Looking back, even though it doesn't feel that long ago, it's still be long enough for my photographic style to refine a bit.  Still though, the photo of Enterprise departing on the SCA... I feel it's probably the best photo I've ever taken.  And here she is, Discovery, safe at home.

This was one of those times I only brought one lens with me.  Like usual, I selected the 85mm f/1.2L.  Anytime I do something for fun like this, I travel with only one lens, usually a prime, and challenge myself to get great photos with a set focal range (the hike was a different circumstance; I always bring a telephoto on that hike because I know I can get great bird pictures from that peak).

Day 4: Washington, DC - The White House • WWII Memorial • Lincoln Memorial • Vietnam Memorial • Washington Nationals Baseball Game

Washington, DC's Mall and Monuments

So on Day 4, we spent the afternoon touring around DC's Mall area; pretty basic stuff if you live here, but must-see stuff if you've never been.  Alyssa will surely return for another trip, so let's introduce her to DC's basics.  Because we were carrying our cameras, I opted to drive in and park at the Ronald Reagan Building rather than take the Metro; even though our cameras would be allowed in the baseball park, I never bring mine because I'm happier downing half-smokes, beer, and peanuts than looking through a lens for 9 innings.

I didn't realize that the Ronald Reagan Building was home to a few exhibits, and the Global Entry offices; I'll have to pay another visit later on.

Outside, I spotted a wrapped Jaguar XJ L RS with New Jersey HQ plates - pretty cool to see a production tester out on the streets just a block from the White House.  The car had all kinds of equipment inside and stuck to the windshield (cameras, telemetry, GPS?).

The White House

I didn't tell Alyssa where we were going.  I simply led her through the streets, following the ever-growing crowd until we reached the clearing showing the unmistakable home with the unforgettable address.  For what it's worth, this was the first time I've visited the South Lawn side of the property.

For good measure, I also took her up to the North Lawn, but we weren't there 1 minute and the Secret Service closed off Pennsylvania Avenue, Lafayette Square, H Street, and 15th street for a VIP movement.  Thanks, Obama (Obama wasn't home though).  This was the first time I'd seen the additional fence added after the fence jumping incident earlier in the year.  I snapped this photo as everyone was being pushed back.

World War II Memorial

The way we were pushed several blocks away by the Secret Service kinda put a kink in our plans, especially since Alyssa's one request was to go see "the sitting guy."  Uh, you mean Lincoln?  "The sitting guy!"  You don't mean FDR do you...  "The sitting guy!"  Uh, ok...

So we had to book it back to the Mall and start heading West in a hurry if we were to go see Lincoln and still make it to Nats Park before opening pitch.

Along the way we passed through the WWII Memorial, and got Alyssa her picture with Rhode Island.  We also spotted some DC duckies, for which the Reflecting Pool is famous for.

Lincoln Memorial

Finally we got to the Lincoln Memorial; it was a lot more packed than I was expecting, even on a weekday.

Vietnam Memorial

On our way back to the Ronald Reagan Building I decided to surprise Alyssa once again, and take her to the Vietnam War Memorial ("The Wall") and The Three Soldiers statue since it's so close and so impacting.  Several months later in New York we'd visit the 9/11 Memorial together, which very similarly displays the names of the fallen.  The 9/11 Memorial would have a much larger emotional impact on me than I ever could have expected.

Washington Nationals vs Chicago Cubs

Baseball is my favorite sport.  I watch almost every Nats game - I'm usually editing photos with the game on.  This was a last minute decision - I purchased the tickets just that morning; I wasn't sure what the weather was going to do that week, but everything worked out!  We were seated in nosebleed, but I really don't mind it as long as you're somewhere along the infield, because it gives you a great overview of every play.  That said, PNC Diamond seats are amazing because you get a view of every pitch (and can tell when the umpires make a bad call - I took my Dad to a game behind home plate, which happened to be the one where Papelbon hit Machado with a pitch; only the beginning of Papelbon's troubled stay with the Nationals.  Please, go back to Philly.).

Tanner Roark went on to win this one for the Nats 7-5 against Tsuyoshi Wada of the Cubs.  As we left, we watched part of Nats Xtra being filmed live, which is always pretty cool.

On the way back to the car, we had some fun in a fountain, and I tried the iPhone's slo-mo (high-speed) function out.  It's pretty cool if you have the right thing to film!

Day 5: Katie's Cars and Coffee • AOPA Fly-In & Airshow • Wine Tasting

Katie's Cars and Coffee

If you've even briefly followed my pictures, you know I shoot a lot of cars - cars are a love of mine, so I shoot car events for fun when I go... which is quite often.  Seeing these pictures from me for years, she wanted to go to the car show and meet some of my friends.  It wasn't long before Patrick arrived (barefoot as usual).  Our cars look good together ;-)

You should also know that I have a serious lust for Porsche.

At one point, Alyssa wanted to try my camera, so I let her at it, to compare my 85mm f/1.2 to the 50mm f/1.4 she had just gotten (on her crop body the FOV is roughly the same, but with less DOF).  Here are a few she shot that I pulled out and edited.

And here she is ruining a picture.

This was that one day everyone got their food except Jake.

AOPA Fly-In & Airshow

That afternoon we had all planned on meeting up with Ellen at the AOPA show in Frederick, MD, which is basically like Katie's car show, but for aircraft (so it's not every weekend ;-)).  Unfortunately, she couldn't make it this year, and we missed meeting up with her Dad, who owns a glider and aircraft tour business in New Jersey (still haven't gone to check it out yet).

This year Europe's Breitling Jet Team was in town performing in their Czech L-39 Albatros trainers.

They're quite a sight.  Their precision flying is definitely not to be missed.

I was very shocked at how close they let the public get to the aircraft.  Working at Dulles I am used to it, but every other airshow I've been to has had a lot of separation; at the AOPA show the jets just taxied right up to the crowd standing on the taxilane.  After that you were free to just walk up and stick your head in the aircraft - crazy!

Next performance was the Goodyear / Whelen stuntplane.  I actually took a bit of video of him too - it's shaky; 400mm handheld will do that.

After that, we browsed the parked aircraft for a bit, picking up free swag along the way.

Wine Tasting

If you know me then you know my other love, beyond cars and baseball, is wine.  All wine, as long as it's dry.  After the air show, we went back to Virginia wine country to vineyard hop.  The first vineyard we planned to visit was closed for the day for a wedding, so we went a mile up the road to The Barns at Hamilton Station; ironically the local vineyard I've visited the most, but not one of my favorites.  Although their wines aren't my favorite, they do have a cozy atmosphere, and they have a cat!!!  The last time I was there, it just hopped in my lap and cuddled until closing time!  I've actually been back there several times since Alyssa, Patrick, Jake and I went.

If you want more photos, you'll have to bug Alyssa for them, because I was more focused on tastings than taking pictures - left my camera in the car so I could enjoy the vino.

After Hamilton Station at the Barns, we headed over to Fabbioli Cellars; a place none of us had been, but I'd like to go back and try again.  They were interesting to me because they really focused on pairings - they actually give you a paired bite of food with every wine you taste.  If you're new to wine, you'll be in awe the first time you try a great pairing - compare a bitter red to how it tastes after a bite of certain food, and just see how it will open up into a robust, rich flavor with no negative traits - pairings are an exciting part of your wine journey, and are one of the most fun things to experiment with.

Day 6: Departure

I don't have any more photos to share.  Her last day in town, Alyssa and I spent with some family she has living here, and her grandparents who drove up from Mississippi.  We spent the day lounging by the pool and enjoying a nice dinner before I had to drive Alyssa back to BWI to fly home.  The flight to Rhode Island isn't that long; we raced home, me in my car, and her in the plane.  Even though I grabbed a donut at Dunkin before getting lost in the parking garage searching for my car, I still beat her home by a few minutes, all the way from BWI to Chantilly.

One of these days soon we'll plan another trip together.  We already met up again in New York since the trip in this post took place.  Til we meet again...