It’s not often that I have a chance to photograph something as awe-inspiring as a total solar eclipse. I love the pursuit of finding beautiful things in nature to experience and being able to share it with others. Growing up on Florida’s Space Coast instilled a passion for science and astronomy in me at a young age. Whether I’m shooting the moon, a star trail, a meteor shower, or the Milky Way, I love contemplating the vast expanse of our visible universe. The opportunity to shoot a total solar eclipse right in my own back yard was truly an exciting prospect!
The eclipse planning began months ago. I did plenty of research about experiencing and shooting the event. Once I felt comfortable with my understanding of how the day would unfold it was time to think about hardware. Staring at the sun in any capacity, especially with high magnification is dangerous. Therefore I had to bring proper protection for my eyes and my camera. A quality solar filter and eclipse glasses are essential pieces of equipment. I was one of the people that bought my eclipse glasses about two months in advance on Amazon, only to be informed by them about a week before the event that they were probably not safe to use. They refunded my money, but time was running out! Most people were unaware of the eclipse when I was planning everything months ago, but by this time it was becoming a big deal around Nashville and everyone was sold out of eclipse glasses. The online retailers had raised their minimum order quantities to 25, 50, or even 100 pairs making the cost to procure them astronomical if you’ll forgive the pun. After a last-minute scare running around and calling business after business our family optometrist came through for us with two pairs of eclipse glasses just days before the big day.
Now that my wife and I had the safety concerns handled, everything was smooth sailing, right? Not exactly. One of the biggest challenges of the day was something that none of us can control. The weather would play a pivotal role in how the day went. The early forecasts were predicting no rain, but weren’t out of trouble yet. A single cloud could ruin the chance of a lifetime, and every forecast was predicting partly cloudy. This simple fact caused me a lot of anxiety. I could practice my setup, my settings, tracking the sun as it moved across the sky, removing the solar filters quickly for totality; but.nothing can be done about a rogue cloud. I quickly realized that shooting the eclipse was something I would need to pre-visualize, plan out, and commit to.
I pre-visualize a lot of my shots, but usually not to this extent. Once the events of the day are set in motion there would be no time for second guessing or last minute changes. The next task was deciding the types of shots I wanted to make for the day. If resources weren’t limited I would have run a dozen cameras with intervalometers clicking away on different compositions during the eclipse. Of course my resources are limited and I had two DSLRs to shoot the stills and two GoPros to shoot the video of the experience for the VLOG. I think the first composition that comes to mind is a really tight composition with the sun nearly filling the frame. I knew it was a shot that many would capture, but I still wanted to have it because the astro-nerd in me wanted to look at the corona with the best detail I could get. The corona is an aura of hot plasma that surrounds the sun which is only visible with the naked eye during a total solar eclipse. For this shot I settled on the use of my APS-C crop sensor Canon 7D Mark II since the smaller sensor gives me a free 1.6x boost in magnification. I used my Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS on this camera along with a Canon 1.4x Extender Mark III. This gave me a final effective focal length of 896mm! That should be enough to get me as close as I wanted to be. I decided that this shot would be called “Totality”.
The other shot I wanted to capture was a wide-angle shot that showed the surreal experience of totality. When the sun is completely blocked by the sun for about 2 minutes the temperature drops, it becomes dark during the middle of the day, animals that can be heard at night are audible. All of this happened around 1:27pm in the Nashville area which meant that the sun would be quite high in the sky. I decided that for artistic and practical reasons my widest lens in a vertical composition would ensure that I captured totality. I set up a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 III on my Canon 5D Mark III for this shot. I could take the tight photo of the eclipse from pretty much anywhere in the path of totality, but the wide shot would require a bit more planning. My wife was only able to get off work for about an hour, so I had to find a suitable location that I could get a great landscape, but still be close enough for her to meet me so we could experience this event together. I decided that the nearby abandoned golf course would give me the space I needed, was close enough that my wife could make it, and would give me some options for the composition I wanted. With the sun being so high up, I knew that my options for a foreground object would be limited to tall trees. After searching for a while I found a dead tree with branches that arched out over the field I was in. I decided that this shot would be perfect for the Platypod Pro Max, which is an ideal accessory to mount a camera extremely low. It is also a fraction of the weight of carrying a second tripod which was important since I was already carrying so much. This shot would be called “Moment of Totality” as to suggest what it was like to be there in that moment.
As the partial eclipse begins it could be described as being somewhat mundane. The earlier phases just seem like an ordinary day. As the eclipse slowly progressed towards totality things began to get a little weird. The shadows cast by objects started to form little crescent shapes. Even more strange to me was the quality of the light. The light was still hard, but significantly less intense. It was a really unusual experience to be standing in a field in the middle of August in the afternoon and have it feel like I was wearing very dark sunglasses.
As the time of totality neared my worst fears were beginning to be realized. The clouds were moving in and staying. It seemed like the lack of intensity from the partially eclipsed sun were also changing the way that clouds were forming. Things were looking pretty grim for about half an hour, but as luck would have it, the large cloud that was in the way had moved by about 1:15pm giving us a clear view of the eclipse.
This was it! All the planning and excitement was about to pay off with the experience of a lifetime. Only a tiny sliver of a crescent sun remained. My expectations were high going into it, but easily surpassed by the grandeur of what we were witnessing. The partial eclipse was interesting, but nothing like totality! As the last moments of sunlight disappeared behind the moon, the corona suddenly burst around the edge of a black disc in the sky. It is a moment I will never forget. The temperature dropped, we could hear people cheering, the sounds of night animals could be heard, and we were staring up at an incredible sight in awe. The clouds ended up being a blessed for the photography as they added so much more drama to the sky in the wide shot. The long shutter speed gave them a lovely surreal quality, which I think complemented the experience perfectly. There will be other total solar eclipses, but nothing this close to home will happen again in my lifetime. I couldn’t be happier with the results, and I hope you enjoy the photos and VLOG as much as I did creating them.
These links will take you to Amazon where you can read more. Full disclosure: If you choose to purchase anything from the links I will receive a small commission from Amazon. I will only link to equipment that I use, trust, and would recommend to a friend!
Canon 5D MKIII - http://amzn.to/2plH8zw
Canon 7D MKII - http://amzn.to/2pyzXEI
GoPro HERO5 Black - http://amzn.to/2rnRwst
iPhone 7S Plus
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Canon 70-200 f/2.8L II IS - http://amzn.to/2plP97l
Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS - http://amzn.to/2quirOR
Seymour Solar Helios Glass Threaded Camera Solar Filter 77mm - Link to Seymour Solar
B+W 72mm F-PRO ND 0.9-8X MRC - http://amzn.to/2oZDjNR
B+W 72mm F-PRO ND 1.8-64X MRC - http://amzn.to/2pyHTFG
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B+W 77mm Circular Polarizer MRC - http://amzn.to/2plJmyT
Quantaray 82mm Circular Polarizer - http://amzn.to/2oZDjgB
Really Right Stuff TVC-34L Tripod
Really Right Stuff B5D3-L Bracket
JOBY GorillaPod SLR Zoom - http://amzn.to/2qnslCC
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Battery Grip 5D MKIII BG-E11 - http://amzn.to/2pyFafD
Canon Battery Pack CP-E4N - http://amzn.to/2pNm3iF
Canon LP-E6N Battery - http://amzn.to/2pyFU4p
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5.11 TacLite Pro Pants - http://amzn.to/2pyt9Xu
Asolo TPS 520 GV Boots - http://amzn.to/2plXQ1L
Editing & Post-Processing:
Monitor Calibration Datacolor Spyder5Pro - http://amzn.to/2qnG3FM