Flirting With Venus

The planet Venus (upper right) transits across sun as viewed from Munster, Ind., Tuesday, June 5, 2012. The next transit of Venus will not occur until December, 2117. 800mm (400mm + 2X) ISO 50 @ 1/5000th @ f45.

I had a sinking, sobering moment when I re-read the above photo caption earlier after I wrote it, namely, the last sentence. “The next transit of Venus won’t occur until December, 2117.” That’s right, the next time Venus flirts her way past our main-squeeze of a star, I’ll have my own headstone somewhere. Every stress or worry I have now will be inconsequential. Sheesh! I’ll spare you and myself any further depressing discourse, though I will say that there was something quite therapeutic about photographing something this evening that my eyes will never see again.

Actually capturing the images, however, proved to be slightly less therapeutic and more necessitating of therapy. Choosing my shooting location was the easy part. I wanted to be somewhere high up, without obstructions, that would allow me to photograph the sun until the very last moment when it dipped below the horizon. I chose a giant mountain of garbage, Munster, Indiana’s Centennial Park (built on a former landfill), as my perch above the suburban sprawl.

Munster, Indiana’s Centennial Park (build atop a towering, former landfill) provided a perfect perch above the suburban sprawl to capture the transit. Pictured here are two pieces of Lee 210 gel taped over the front of my lens to control the exposure of the bright sun.

Trying to expose for a little pebble-looking “planet” in front of the brightest thing in our sky was, of course, a bit out of the normal exposure range of my cameras and lenses. While I ended up using doubled-up layers of Lee 210 neutral density gel (one sheet cuts the exposure by 2 stops) taped over the front of my Canon 400mm 2.8, I tried another exposure-cutting technique first using strips of gaff tape (shown below).

I have no problem with sharing my failures here, and this was at least a partial one. If you need to cut the exposure of a scene and you can shoot wide open on a fast lens, strips of gaff tape across the front element work quite well. If you actually need to stop down to capture, ohh say, THE BRIGHT, BLINDING SUN, this won’t work. Lesson learned.

When I realized that the gaff strips method only worked to cut the exposure with the lens aperture set to its widest setting, I knew it would be a no-go for the sun (since most of my photos would be shot with the lens aperture closed down all the way). With the Lee 210 in place, I sandwiched three more layers of the stuff between my face and the viewfinder of the camera to allow me to see the sun and Venus with my naked eye, and to compose my images. While looking at the sun through this combo didn’t hurt, I’m sure that dainty lighting gel wasn’t cutting the harmful UV rays from reaching my retinas. Never let it be said that I don’t occasionally sacrifice myself for my crafts!

The transit of Venus. 800mm (400mm + 2X) ISO 50 @ 1/8000th @ f32. Two cuts of Lee 210 ND gel (2 stops per cut) were also taped over the front of the lens for this photo.

As I began to shoot photos with the 400mm with a combination of 1.4x and 2.0x extenders (at one point, using both stacked at once), I began to fantasize about an airplane flying in front of the sun. Just like that, it happened! I hung the motor drive as a jet slithered across the dark glowing disc in my viewfinder. This happened not once, not twice, but a total of five times in the 40 minutes my camera was trained on the sun. Unfortunately, most of the planes were far too distant to be recognizable as such without the benefit of seeing them move, but I was lucky that a 737 made a close enough appearance to give me my favorite image of the evening.

A 737 aircraft (left) and the planet Venus (upper right) transit across sun as it begins to set behind a water tower in Munster, Ind., Tuesday, June 5, 2012. 560mm (400mm + 1.4X) ISO 50 @ 1/2000th @ f18.

Posted in Photography, Photojournalism by Guy Rhodes on June 6th, 2012.

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