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Mutiple cameras for the eclipse

Setting up multiple cameras for the solar eclipse

Multiple Camera Eclipse Coverage

By: Dave Henry and Ken Sklute

July 07, 2017

It’s always a good idea to take advantage of technology and labor saving devices and try to multi-task whenever you can.

For example, your automatic lawn sprinklers water your yard, while your dishwasher is washing the dishes, while your robotic vacuum cleans your floors and your DVR records your favorite ball game – all while you are having fun editing your vacation photos on your computer. Add to that a self-driving lawn mower and that would be the ultimate in multi-tasking.

The same multi-tasking possibilities occur in photography.

It is possible to have one camera shooting a time-lapse sequence with an intervalometer automatically clicking the shutter while you’re operating a second camera. You can add to that a video camera documenting your movements and/or that of your friends and family at the same time. It just takes planning, coordination and equipment.

In a previous article, Supporting your camera, we discussed a new tripod head – a motorized equatorial mount that keeps your camera moving in sync with the sun. This camera could be mounted with a moderate telephoto to show a smaller sun disk that will include all of the sun’s corona. With this new head, the camera is staying in sync with the sun for the entire 2½ hour eclipse.

That means you can be shooting a different camera at the same time, on a different tripod, with a really long focal length lens to capture close-up prominence details (solar eruptions) during totality.

That’s multi-tasking to the max!

An equatorial mount also allows the use of a second camera, as long as you keep all the equipment under the 11-pound payload limit. In the accompanying illustrations, there are different equipment scenarios utilizing cameras the average person might have in their bag.


Multiple Camera Set-ups

The first scenario shows a Canon EOS Rebel with a Canon EF 300mm f/4L lens and Canon 2x tele extender. The other camera is a Canon PowerShot SX60 HS. The equatorial mount will keep both cameras synced up with the rotation of the earth. The Rebel (on the right) can be set up to shoot automatically, at a pre-determined sequence, using the Canon Timer Remote Controller TC-80N3. The TC-80N3 is an intervalometer that you can set a timed interval sequence and walk away from and let it do its own thing (some EOS cameras including all Rebel models require a Remote Controller Adapter RA-E3). The PowerShot camera can be zoomed in or out, depending on how large you want the sun disk to be in your frame.

Canon EF 50mm lens showing aperture

Many of the newer EOS cameras such as the 80D and the 5D Mark IV have a built-in intervalometer.

Without this new head, you’d have to manually move the cameras constantly to keep the sun centered in your viewfinders. With this head, you could set up the camera once and watch the rest of the eclipse from a lawn chair in the shade.

Again, that’s multi-tasking!

This new head keeps the sun’s disk centered in the viewfinder. With the camera and intervalometer set to shoot frames continually at a prescribed interval, each frame shows the sun in the same position. This sets up the possibility of producing a time-lapse Quicktime® video, which will be covered in our next article.

The other scenario again shows the Rebel that might be shooting a time-lapse of the entire eclipse. The other camera is a Canon Vixia video camera that can be activated moments before totality and record full HD video, in real time, of the entire 2½ minute totality show.

Rebel and Vixia on tripod

The third scenario shows a three camera set up. The two cameras on the left might be shooting video and time-lapse sequences automatically (as in the first two scenarios) while a long focal length lens is set to capture intricate details of prominences during totality with a much longer focal length lens. With three cameras mounted on equatorial clock drives, you are free to shoot a fourth camera of the location and people around you or simply sit back and soak in the experience.

three camera set up

The fourth illustration shows a single camera with a wide-angle lens that would be used with an intervalometer to do a time-lapse from a fixed tripod, allowing the camera to record the progression of the sun across the sky. These images would be layered in Photoshop® to show a composite image of the eclipse traversing across the sky. That process will be covered in the next article on multiple exposures.

single camera with wide-angle lens


Three Ways to Use Time-Lapse Images

The first way is described above using layers in Photoshop to composite numerous component images that traverse the sky into one finished composite still image.

The second way (as in the first scenario above) is to record images taken at a pre-set interval to create a QuickTime movie. This is the scenario where the equatorial mount really comes into play. After the 2½ hour eclipse, all the individual component images would be loaded into software such as Apple’s QuickTime Pro. The software assembles the individual images into a Quicktime movie. The playback would show the entire eclipse sequence in about 1½ minutes. Very cool.

The third use of time-lapse images would be to create a collage of the entire eclipse sequence from first contact through fourth contact in a single image. This requires layering in Photoshop.

All of these scenarios will be discussed in the next article on multiple exposure sequences.

One well-known astronomer said that even though she has attended many solar eclipses, she’s never actually seen one. What she meant was that she was so busy documenting the eclipse that she never took the time to stand back from it all and experience it.

If your cameras are multi-tasking and tracking automatically, that frees you up to shoot environmental photos or videos of people enjoying the eclipse or some of the other phenomenon happening around you. You never know, you might also use the time to soak up the experience while your cameras are doing the work for you. If so, be sure to wear solar-safe eye protection.

If you have questions you'd like Dave and Ken to address in an upcoming article, email them at: info@theeclipseguys.com.

Click here for more information on photographing the solar eclipse!

SAFETY FIRST: Never look at the sun without accredited and approved solar filtration over your eyes. Permanent, irreversible eye damage and/or blindness can result in seconds. Never point your camera into the sun without an approved solar filter over your camera lens(es). Not using a solar filter at eclipse magnifications will ruin your camera in seconds. Never improvise, modify or use general photography neutral density filters.