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Photo of the Month - exploring the Story behind the Image...

Solar Eclipse at Kovalam

Solar Eclipse at Kovalam

Year: 2010, Month: January

India > Kerala > Kovalam

At lunchtime today, the 15th of January 2010, we were privileged to witness a partial 'Annular' solar eclipse. I am currently staying at Kovalam Beach, which is in Kerala, southern India: a location quite near to the optimum viewing area, which is just to the south of the southern tip of the Indian peninsular. I took some photos for a record, and am sharing one of them here, as this month's 'Photo of the Month'. I make no claims that it is a technically brilliant image, rather that it is an interesting one, and hence worth sharing.

I have seen eclipses in the past, but not always had the means of viewing them safely, and certainly not the means of photographing them. This time, though, the Indian newspapers were full of advanced warnings, and everyone at Kovalam's Lighthouse Beach kept reminding each other, so there was no excuse for me to forget about it. At the appointed time, I made my way to the roof of my hotel with camera, tripod, and accessories. Events happened right on cue. Just before time, the daylight started to fade, as if the evening twilight was coming. The general background light didn't go as dark as on some eclipses I have witnessed in the past, but it was still quite gloomy, and the birds of the area certainly noticed the change, increasing their calling and trilling. At the exact moment of crossover, a large flock of crows took to the air from the coconut palms that surround the buildings along Lighthouse Beach. I was hoping that one might cross the sun whilst I was photographing it, but unfortunately that didn't happen. I tried for a palm frond in the shot, to add some atmosphere, but missed that, too. Still, at the right moment, some wispy clouds appeared, which provided a nice background to the shot - there's a limit to how interesting a white ring can be, even with the best efforts that PhotoShop can throw at it!

A bit of background information: Annularity occurs when the sun is a little closer than normal to the earth, and the moon a little further away. The sun's distance to the earth is about 390 times the moon's distance from the earth, and the sun's diameter is about 400 times the moon's diameter: as these ratios are roughly similar, the moon and the sun appear roughly the same size when viewed from the earth. These ratios changed slightly for this occasion, with the result that when the moon crossed the path of the sun a ring of bright light was seen. To find out more about Annular Eclipses, or just Eclipses in general, the Wikipedia External link opens a new Browser window website is always worth a look.

For the technically minded, these photos were taken with a Nikon D300 and a 200mm DX lens (equivalent to 200 x 1.6 = 320mm) at f5.6 and 125/s. A bigger lens would have been better, of course, but I didn't have one with me. I used 2 neutral circular polarising filters at set to maximum exclusion to bring the light down to a manageable level, otherwise the camera's sensor would be toast by now. Even at the moment of full eclipse, it was not possible to look at the sun with the naked eye, should anybody have been foolish enough to try such a thing. The extra rings you can see in the photograph are reflections off the filter and lens surfaces.

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