Eclipse thumbnail


The solar eclipse of 11 August 1999 was a natural phenomenon we were very keen to see. We spent a week in Austria, staying at Weyregg on the Attersee (near Salzburg), and were fortunate to have good weather on the day. The close-up pictures were taken with a 500mm F8 mirror lens, using Fuji 100 ASA slide film, exposed at 125th and 60th for the total phase; 1000th for the partial. We watched the partial stages of the eclipse either through special “glasses” or using a pinhole card.

Sun seen as pinhole projection

We were pretty much on the centre of the track so we got 2m21s totality. We walked up the local hill, say some 1500' above the lake, so we had a good view of mountains some 40 miles away both to W (over the lake) and E, so we could see the eclipse coming (and going). There was patchy cloud, both wave-cloud and low scudding stuff, but it never really obscured the build-up (indeed, it meant we could get a few pics using the cloud as a filter). The sun went very crescent-shaped, C-shaped in fact, such that it was very hard to believe it was going to be total rather than an annular.

Partial eclipse

Up to at least 90% the light didn’t really change – the shadows were subdued like you get when a depression is coming in, but the light levels dropped slowly enough that the eyes adjusted. Only some 10 mins before did it go rather strange, almost brownish, and noticeably cooler, and then when it went total it was like turning a light off, really sudden. The air was too clear to see the shadow cone as such (in the same sort of way that you cannot see sunbeams in very clear air). The corona was really impressive, going out to 1½ – 2 sun diameters, sort of creamy-white, almost fibrous. Despite expectations and all the photos, the sky was not black, more deep twilight, and likewise it wasn’t truly dark – think 11pm on a clear summer’s night.

Total eclipse 1 We did see a couple of planets (Venus and Mercury [pretty rare to see this with the naked eye at all!]) and a few stars – but there was too much patchy cloud/too little time to identify constellations. There were some pink sunset-type clouds to both E and W briefly (which was odd as the sun was obviously not near the horizon). It was a really strange sensation to look up into this deep blue sky and see a truly black sun (yes, that bit was completely black) surrounded by this whitish corona. There were a couple of Baily’s beads that were very obvious, and surprisingly long-lived – but not too bright to look at, so I’m not sure I believe the official explanation. The pictures were taken within seconds, using slightly different exposures.

Total eclipse 2

When the diamond ring came as the sun re-appeared it was truly spectacular, and so bright you had to look away immediately (you didn’t get this effect on the way in as you were obviously looking through the black specs). We had very thin wave-cloud for the first minute or so of totality, but it was completely clear for the second half – absolutely amazing. Then the light returned, again very suddenly, was odd for 10 mins or so, then gradually brightened. The local cows lay down for the darkness bit, but we didn’t notice any other wildlife effects (there weren’t any birds singing anyway...). The picture below was taken just as the light returned, so is rather dark!


What we did see as the light first returned was a sort of wave of light spreading out across the sky (blue bits and cloud alike) like the ripples from a stone in water – taking say 10 sec to spread right across one’s field of view. Then we could watch the light spreading out over the mountains, right up to the 40m mark.


The photo above is taken from the same viewpoint as the cows, using a wide angle lens rather than the 500mm telephoto. It seems darker in the picture than it did to the naked eye!

Crescents of lightThere were some very pretty crescent-shaped ‘sunspots’ on the ground formed by the pinhole effect of leaves on the trees.

More pictures

A couple of days after the eclipse we walked to the top of the Gahberg and discovered an observatory belonging to the local astronomical society, the Astronomische Arbeitskreises Salzkammergut. Their webpage (in German) at has some excellent photos of the eclipse.

All photos Copyright © Adrian Smith 1999

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© Gill & Adrian Smith 1999