Capturing the UK Partial Eclipse with the Canon SX20

On the 20th of March the UK experienced a partial eclipse of the sun. From where I was in the UK it was about 85-90% partial and because the weather forecast offered a good chance to observe it, I decided to have some equipment ready to capture some images.

Because I wasn’t sure what would happen to my camera, I decided to use my Canon SX20 instead of my SX50 in case there was a risk of damaging the cameras CCD. I also had some grade 10 welders glass borrowed from my dad which I intended to fix in front of my camera to reduce the glare from the sun. 

  

The best way I found was to tape the glass to the rear of my Skywatcher 130 telescope and mount the camera on top using the camera adapter on the telescope mounting rings. It’s a bit Heath-Robinson but the cardboard and tape fixing worked well on the day!

On the morning of the eclipse, which was due to start at 8.30am UK time, there was low cloud and mist but the weather report promised that this would clear in time for the start of the eclipse. I set up early, picking a spot where the rising sun should clear the trees at the front of my garden. I had to set the camera up in such a way that it would see through the welders glass as, at a certain distance it would only see it’s own lens reflection. 

  

I also read in Sky at Night magazine some suggested settings for photographing the eclipse, such as a shutter speed of 1/500 and an ISO of 100. Using the full zoom of the SX20 (20x optical) I focused in on the sun in time to see the moon just starting to transit the sun. The weather at this stage was cold but the mist and cloud was rapidly clearing and was becoming sunny. 

Over the next few minutes I took some shots but adjusted the shutter speed down to 1/1600 (the lowest on the SX20) as the sun still appeared a bit too bright in the images. I also used the self-timer function set to a custom trigger of 4 seconds as my remote shutter attachment wasn’t supported on the SX20. A good thing about using a camera in this way is that you don’t have to look directly at the sun, I had special eclipse viewing glasses for this purpose – thanks to the Society for Popular Astronomy and Sky at Night magazines for those! 

  

What was also apparent in the images was a sun spot transiting the left-hand side of the suns face which was quite pleased at capturing!

  

Still sunny, the strength in the output of the sun was becoming noticeably weaker though the light wasn’t the same as the setting sun, it was quite strange and it was becoming noticeably colder. I had to pop inside the house and noticed the sun catching a glass ornament in the living room, which produced an interesting effect where the sun reflected also had the moon transiting. This is best illustrated in the images below. 

  

  

  

Because I had to move back up the garden, by about 9.10am the sun became blocked by a small bush and I had to perform some quick trimming of the top branches to stop my view behind spoilt!

At 9.30am, the sun reached its maximum totality, so I’ve combined a number of images into the image below illustrating the progress of the transit.

  

There had been reports of an ‘eclipse wind’ to watch out for and though I didn’t notice any change at the time, the birds had become noticeably quieter as the eclipse progressed to its maximum totality.

At 10.30am it was all over – considering how poor the weather was in the rest of the UK, I was quite lucky to be able to capture the images I have done.

Now I know that the welders glass works fine with the camera, I think I may try the SX50 with a piece when there is a larger number of sun spots to photograph. With the SX50’s better photographic capability (RAW image output, 50x optical zoom) it should help to produce some interesting solar images – something I’d never expected to be able to do with a point-and-shoot camera!

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