Capturing the Eclipse in 2024

After my successful effort to capture the eclipse in 2017 I was hooked. I made plans to see the total eclipse of April 8, 2024 early. I figured I’d take my full astrophotography rig since it totality would be driving distance from my home.

That was until I went out to practice setting up during daylight. Getting good enough polar alignment to allow me to track the sun during daylight was doable, but it was somewhat frustrating. The thing I learned in 2017 was that the solar eclipse is not a photo opportunity, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I didn’t want to clutter the experience with the tedium of equipment setup and alignment.

What I optimized for was: keeping the photography simple so I can enjoy the experience of totality. I think I did this somewhat less intentionally in 2017, but that became an overriding concern for 2024.

I hadn’t had opportunities to observe a total solar eclipse before 2017, but I knew I wanted to try my hand at photographing it. And photograph it I did!

A solar eclipse
Composite of the total eclipse of August 2017

Before that though, I did some research and captured notes and a simple, fine-grained order of operations, because I didn’t know what I was doing and it’s not something you can really try over again if you fail. Plus, I actually wanted to enjoy the moment without fiddling with my camera, and having a concrete plan helps with that.

I wrote earlier this year that my biggest blocker to regularly engaging with my astrophotography hobby is:

[A] fundamental laziness I have when it comes to setting up and taking down my equipment. This is the biggest blocker I find to just getting out and doing.

This inspired me to rethink: what if I assembled a lighter-weight, more portable, less cumbersome astrophotography setup using my (beefy, carbon fiber) camera tripod, a polar mount (first the Vixen Polarie I’ve had for a while, then the iOptron SkyGuider Pro), maybe throw my autoguider on there, and hey presto! A setup that should be less effort to set up and take down on a little more of a whim, that I could set up and carry out whole. Or that was the theory.

The first part of my lightweight re-think of my astrophotography setup has to be my mount. I’ve been using an Orion SkyView Pro GoTo. It’s been a good little, reasonably lightweight (as decent goto mounts go), and has done the job well — I haven’t felt it incapable of what I needed. The mount, counterweight, and tripod weigh around 17kg total when set up, and have a maximum capacity of 15kg. 17kg is… not insignificant.

Astrophotography has been an off/on hobby of mine for almost twenty years. In that time I’ve taken a few images a really like, and many I don’t. Typically I go through periods of enthusiasm and frustration, both with gear, weather, and my own limitations.

One thing that does recur is a fundamental laziness I have when it comes to setting up and taking down my equipment. This is the biggest blocker I find to just getting out and doing. I’ve thought about putting in a permanent pier, so that I don’t have to mess around as much with the tripod and mount alignment, but that’s not the only problem I have. It’s also somewhat hard to travel with my setup. I downsized about 10 years ago from an 8” Schmidt-Cassegrain to an 80mm refractor, and that helped, but given how I frequently I’ve gone out over the past few years, I thought it might be time again.