A guest post from photographer Ethan Pines
I often shoot film (medium and large format) for my personal work, and I knew from the start that I wanted to shoot and print these completely analog. A true silver-gelatin print made in the darkroom has such depth, and the lith process I’ve used for these prints is virtually impossible to duplicate in Photoshop.
First I spent about three days researching and testing how to shoot this once-in-a-lifetime event — what filtration for the partial eclipse versus the total; what focal length for a tight view of the sun while leaving negative space around it; how to get the lenses needed; what gear to bring; how to safely view the sun through the long lens; how fast the sun moves through the sky (and thus through the viewfinder); what ISO, shutter speed and aperture would be ideal; how to process the film; et cetera. Traveling to the path of totality was another two days, with some good Oregon food and beer along the way.
At the actual eclipse, you can be fairly leisurely about shooting the sun in its various partial phases. When the total eclipse arrives, you have a fleeting two minutes to capture whatever you can, while the most mind-blowing thing you’ve ever seen is unfolding overhead and people are shouting, laughing and howling around you. The diamond ring, with that stunning sparkle and flare, lasted about one to two seconds. No time for bracketing exposures, no room for error. Picking up the film and seeing that single negative was one of my great days at the lab.
Back in the darkroom, I knew I wanted to make lith prints — I’d seen enough conventional eclipse images leading up to the event. The lith process produces painterly tones and gradations that vary from print to print, with grain structure, hues and contrast both lovely and unpredictable. Lith requires papers that are no longer made, so I’ve been gathering certain obsolete papers off eBay for the past year. Lith printing uses an alternative mix of chemicals to develop the print in the darkroom, and each print takes anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes to expose, develop and finish. As each print comes to life in the developer, you transfer it to the next chemical bath at the instant it reaches the visual point you like. There’s no formula, no rules whatsoever. And no two prints are exactly alike.