Main Screen Layout
Script File Format
Shortcuts and Tips
Credits & Acknowledgments
Initial Setup (long before Eclipse Day)
- Configure your Mac to disable any sleep or screen savers, but you can leave the screen dimmer on. There is an internal mechanism preventing sleep when a script is running, but you’d better be on the safe side. You don’t want your computer to shut itself off during the eclipse, ruining your photos!
- Turn off Camera Detection in every other applications such as Image Capture, Photos (Yosemite and newer), Nikon Transfer, Graphic Converter, or cloud web services such as Dropbox, etc. If you don’t, those applications will launch, sometimes in the background, when you connect a camera. If you have installed Canon applications, then ensure in Image Capture that No application is selected following a camera connection, as the Canon applications have no setting to turn them off; if you don’t those will launch automatically when a camera is connected, hence blocking Solar Eclipse Maestro.
- Make sure the camera connects OK. On old Nikon cameras (D40x, D70, D70s, D80, D200, D300, D2Hs, D2X, D2Xs, D3, D3X) and before you connect them, make sure to select MTP/PTP instead of MSC in the USB submenu of the Configuration menu. For old Canon cameras (20D, 350D, 5D), in the yellow Setup menu select Communication and set it to PC connect or Normal instead of PTP or Print/PTP. Consult this DSLR and MILC configuration guide and read Nikon’s, Canon’s, Panasonic’s, Sony’s, Fuji’s or Olympus’s troubleshooting instructions if you run into issues. Install and run Nikon’s Camera Control Pro or Canon’s EOS Capture software to verify that the camera can be controlled remotely. If you can’t control the camera from Nikon’s or Canon’s software, there is NO WAY it’s going to work with mine. Once you’ve got it working, close Nikon’s or Canon’s software (Camera Control Pro, EOS Capture or whatever), but leave the camera connected and powered on. When you connect your DSLR or MILC loaded with a memory card full of hundreds of images, the camera may not be identified quickly. If that is the case, then wait until the memory card access light stops flashing.
- Set up your camera(s). For full control, set the camera to Manual exposure (M) mode and manual focus. Don’t forget to do the same with the attached lens (does not apply to a non-AF lens or telescope). Turn off Auto Exposure Bracketing and White Balance Bracketing modes. Turn off also the Exposure Value Compensation and make sure the exposure level increments (shutter speed, aperture and ISO) are set to ⅓ stop. If you just want to press the shutter button on a camera, then set the camera to Program exposure (P) mode. Don’t forget to turn off the flash of your camera(s).
Then set the focus with the help of the remote Live View, on supported cameras, to fine tune.
Preset the size, type and image quality of your DSLRs or MILCs: currently the application isn’t able to change those settings for all the supported cameras.
- Start the Solar Eclipse Maestro application. When launching the application for the first time a few settings will be set to their default values and if you’re connected to the Internet a search for an update of the application will be automatically made. The configuration wizard can let you setup basic parameters such as the wanted eclipse and the observer’s location. You can also select the eclipse from the Setup > Choose Solar Eclipse menu and then go to the Observer menu and select the Observer’s Location… item. In the Photographer Location dialog that pops up enter the expected latitude, longitude, and altitude at your observing site. You’ll need to come back and update the latitude, longitude and altitude using your GPS on eclipse day when you select your actual observing site, since even small differences can shift the eclipse time significantly. Click the OK button when you’re done. This will update the displays to reflect your location and recompute everything. Use the Save Location and Restore Location buttons to save or load your viewing sites from a list.
- Check that the calculated event times are reasonable. Check the values shown against another source, like your tour operator’s predictions or the NASA (Fred Espenak) bulletin. The times should be close to what other people are using. Don’t fret if they aren’t an exact match because this program calculates circumstances much more accurately than most other people, but if they are way out -i.e. more than 10 seconds- then check your coordinates. If you just want to modify those times, then select Observer and then the Adjust Event Times… menu option. Click OK or Cancel when done.
- Now you must tell the application about the cameras you’ll be using. If you can it’s better to use an empty memory card for the camera as it will speed up the whole process. Using USB or Firewire cables, connect all the cameras to the Mac and power them up. If the memory card inserted in a camera isn’t empty, then you’ll likely see the memory card access indicator light while the Mac is reading the picture directory: this may take only a few seconds, but if many pictures are already stored in the memory card it can take up to a few minutes. Be patient or else use an empty memory card! Go to the Setup menu, and then select the Hardware Configuration… item. In the Hardware Configuration dialog you should now see your connected cameras in the Detected column. Set the camera model and then give each camera a different name: this name will be used in the script to reference a camera. If you don’t see your camera model select Other. By clicking on the Refresh button you will update the list of connected cameras: this is useful when adding a new one or when you turn on a camera that was initially shut down. Check the Synchronize checkbox to have the application automatically set the date and time of the connected camera: this will only work if supported by the camera and will ensure you have a correct time-stamp on your photos. Repeat these steps for each connected camera. To check if a camera is receiving the commands sent by the application you can use the Fire button to take a single exposure. This commands the camera to take a 1/2000 f/8 ISO 200 exposure. Check that the camera accepted these settings and that the exposure time, aperture and ISO are now set to those values, and that an image was created at those settings. Again, if this doesn’t work check your configuration. Finally, if you have a Garmin GPS connected on the USB port it will be detected as soon it’s turned on. Click on OK when done. At this point you may want to browse around the various menus to customize the settings of the more advanced options.
- Now you should test the cameras. Go to the Camera menu, select the Press Shutter Release item, and then pick one of the cameras that are listed in the submenu. Hopefully you will hear the camera take a picture with its current settings, and the camera’s memory card light should illuminate to indicate that it’s saving a photo to the card. If the camera doesn’t work, recheck the connections, play around with the hardware configuration, etc.
- Now you need to start developing a camera script or use the basic one generated by the configuration wizard. The script is a text file that tells the software when to take photos with what exposure settings. Go to the File menu, choose Open Script… and pick one of the scripts that the software was shipped with. basic.txt is a very simple script to get you started. deluxe.txt shows off all the possible features of the scripting language. Your script will probably end up somewhere in between. The TextEdit editor, or the one you chose in the application’s preferences dialog, should be launched with the file you selected. Browse through the file. If a script line starts with the character # that line is a comment that is ignored by the application. Otherwise each line has comma delimited fields specifying information. The first task you need to do is update the camera names, since odds are that you aren’t using the same camera as these stock scripts. Do a find and replace or a manual change of the camera name from D300 to your camera’s name. This name must EXACTLY match the name given in the Hardware Configuration dialog. Go ahead and start modifying the script to whatever you desire. Keep in mind that the eclipse predictions are probably only accurate to 1-2 second, so allow for some leeway around contact times (or just take a bazillion photos to cover all possibilities). When you’re done, be sure to save it.
- Back in the Solar Eclipse Maestro application, go to the File menu and then Load Script… item to choose the script you just made. If you get some error messages, try to correct them and then reload the script. If everything is OK, you’ll get a bunch of extra displays showing upcoming script actions.
- To test the script out, go to the Observer menu and then Simulated Time… item. Enter a date and time close to something interesting in your script, like a minute or two before second contact, and click on OK. The application time will jump ahead while leaving the Mac clock alone. You should hear your camera taking photos according to the script. After a while, stop the script (go to Observer > Current Time, or File > Unload Script) and compare the images stored on the camera to your script. If the camera didn’t perform exactly as per the script, you probably tried to stuff too many exposures into the script. Take some stuff out or respace them and try again.
- Once you’ve got a script you’re happy with, do a full end-to-end test. Pretend it’s eclipse day, set up everything. Set the simulated time to be a little before first contact or whatever and let the setup run non-stop all the way through your entire sequence. You want to make sure nothing goes to sleep, no batteries die, no memory cards fill up, the cameras don’t spontaneously go to sleep or disconnect, etc. You should also practice removing solar filters and measure how long that takes to complete.
- Once you’re happy, make a backup copy of the script, that you can refer back to in case you screw it up later. Hint: use Save As… in the text editor.
- Once finished, first quit the application to restore the cameras user settings and then turn off the cameras before disconnecting them.