My 19th and 21st century photographs of Saturday’s solar eclipse

Digital and wet plate collodion pictures of the partial solar eclipse.

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Here in Maine, if you didn’t already know it was going on, you probably wouldn’t have noticed it was even happening. The effect was subtle but I still got some decent pictures.

On Saturday, the Moon came between us and the Sun during a two-hour partial solar eclipse. At it’s height, around 1:30 p.m., the Moon blotted out about 15 percent of the midday light over the Pine Tree State.

I was atop Fort Hill in Gorham, watching the celestial fun with my telescope and a digital camera. I was also making authentic wet plate collodion tintypes with my truck-mounted mobile darkroom. 

For the digital pictures, I attached a smartphone to my 127mm Newtonian telescope. The scope is nothing special as an observation instrument but more than powerful enough to get a good look at the Sun. Of course, I attached a special, shaded viewing shield to the end of it to protect my eyes. It’s dangerous to look directly at the sun, especially through a light-gathering telescope.

The Moon takes a 15 percent bite out of the sun on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, in the sky over Maine.

My iPhone takes surprisingly good pictures when attached to the scope via an inexpensive adapter. Once I had a few good digital pix of the Moon-and-Sun combo, I made some fun pictures of my wife, Kris with my wet plate collodion setup.

As the name suggests, with the wet plate process the photographic picture is made on a metal plate and must be coated, sensitized, shot, developed and fixed while still wet. This takes a lot of specialized equipment and chemicals. But I’ve had a lot of experience making these kinds of photos, having learned the trade more than a decade ago, and everything came out great.

Kris sits for a 5×7 inch wet plate collodion tintype during the partial solar eclipse on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023.

With wet plate, the pictures also come out reversed and upside down. So, when I made a cardboard sign for Kris to hold saying the photo was made during a partial, I had to print the writing in reverse. Kris then held the sign while wearing some protective sun-viewing glasses, sitting in front of the telescope.

The best place in the U.S. to have seen Saturday’s eclipse was near San Antonio, Texas, where the moon’s dark circle traveled directly through the sun’s center, creating the so-called “ring of fire” effect. Here, in Maine, the Moon appeared top take a crescent-shaped bite out of the top left side of our lunar satellite. 

The last partial solar eclipse we saw from here was back in June 2021. Next April, a full-on total eclipse will be visible over Maine. During that event, the skies will go dark at midday and stars will come out. Folks from all over the world will probably flock here to see it. After that, we won’t get another solar eclipse over Maine — partial or total — for another 20 years. 

That’s why I’m so glad I got photos of this one. 

Kris sits for a 5×7 inch wet plate collodion tintype during the partial solar eclipse on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023.

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