Pinhole Camera

I wasn’t going to bother watching the total solar eclipse.  I didn’t have time.  I hadn’t planned 3 years ahead to reserve a flight and lodging at the Grant Tetons so I could join the masses along the center path of totality on Gros Ventre Road.  I hadn’t purchased the special viewing glasses.  I didn’t have any white construction paper to build a pinhole camera.  And I had an appointment that morning that I couldn’t change.  I just didn’t have time.

I wanted to finish a photography project before getting sidetracked.  However, I noticed that — when I wasn’t looking — I did a quick Google search on viewing the total eclipse without the special glasses.  I sneaked in another search for the exact viewing time near San Francisco.

I printed out instructions on making a pinhole camera “to give to a friend” and then bookmarked the link.  But I wasn’t going to do anything with it because I didn’t have time.

This morning, Monday, August 21, 2017, worldwide focus was on the eclipse.  It was wonderful to see all news channels talking about nothing else.  We were all of one mind, waiting to witness this occurrence of a lifetime.  I was paying attention.  I was marking this event.  I would remember this always.  That was enough.

As I was waiting for my breakfast bread to toast, it occurred to me I could tape pieces of white copy paper to some cardboard I had.  That would be as stable as construction paper.  While vegies were sautéing in the frying pan, I found time to cut a square in the middle of one of the cardboards with an exacto knife.  It took only a few seconds to cut a square of aluminum foil, tape it over the hole, and poke through the foil with the end of a paper clip.

Despite my resolve, I had my pinhole camera.  Since I didn’t actually have to leave for my appointment for another hour, and there was a narrow patch of sunlight in my back patio, there was no reason not to try out the camera.

Breakfast over and tools ready, I stepped outside.  If the camera didn’t work, that would be the end of it.  Very little time lost.

I’d also read about using a colander, so I tried that first.  It worked, but I was more interested the pinhole camera.  Sure enough, a very tiny image of the crescent sun appeared on the paper “projection screen.”  I held the pinhole “camera” board with my left hand so I could shoot some photos of the screen with my right.

May I say that the hardest thing I’ve ever done was resist turning around to take a peek at the actual sun to see if it was disappearing the way it showed on the white piece of paper.  I don’t know how parents kept their kids from looking.  It took all the discipline I had not to.  Next time I’ll get the special glasses.

But I’m not the only one who found time to view the eclipse.  One clever ant did, too.  This fine explorer – a scout, no doubt — appeared on the pinhole “negative” or “screen” where the eclipse image was displayed.  It wandered along the edge of the paper and then stepped across the page towards the sun image.  The eclipsed orb was almost too small for me to see but the perfect size for the ant.  It seemed as interested in the astral event as I was and continued wandering about the screen until the “camera” was removed.

I’ve read that ants have “an ability to solve complex problems,”which explains this ant coming up with a strategy to safely view the sun.  They are also supposed to have sophisticated methods of communication using pheromones, sounds, and touch.

Then I received an email from a friend in Santa Barbara saying an ant there crawled onto her pinhole negative to see the eclipse, too.  Clearly, ants have added colony social media to their messaging arsenal, spreading ideas at the speed of thought.  Ants everywhere were leveraging pinhole cameras to observe the eclipse.

After the sun was covered 75%, I dashed inside.  I watched the Grand Tetons go dark on TV while uploading my snaps, sending screenshots to the printer.  Throughout the day I shared my photos and the story of that ant, clever enough to use a pinhole camera to watch the eclipse.

Who was I kidding?  I couldn’t miss this.