Shooting A Total Solar Eclipse

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This is the story of how I got shots of the total solar eclipse in August 2017. This trip had to be one of the most awe-inspiring sights I have ever seen. I can only remember seeing partial solar eclipses in my life. I was determined to see this total solar eclipse because of how rare it is to get the chance to experience this phenomenon.

The trip planning actually began months before the date of the eclipse. I researched sites along the path of totality with the best possibility of good weather on the date of the eclipse. Many places along the path of totality have hot summer weather with humidity that grows large thunderstorms as the heat of the day builds up. I finally decided on Jefferson City, Missouri as ground zero for my attempts to photograph the eclipse. It was close to the center of the zone of totality, with a forecast of almost 2 minutes and 40 seconds of totality.

One of my best friends lives in Northwest Arkansas on Bull Shoals Lake. We planned to meet at his place and then drive to Jefferson City the next day. I had booked a hotel well in advance, so the accommodations were set when we got there. So I double-checked all my gear and headed out for the 12 1/2-hour drive from Florida to Northwest Arkansas. The next morning we were ready to make the 3 1/2-hour drive to Jefferson City. Once we checked in to the hotel, we decided to check out the park I had found on Google Earth that looked like a great place with open areas to watch the eclipse. We found a good spot to park and then went back to the hotel to rest before the big day.

On the morning of the eclipse, we left the hotel around 7:00 am to buy supplies and get a good parking space. I admit that was probably a bit overboard since the total phase of the eclipse was not set to start until 1:12 pm. But I wanted to get the perfect parking spot. So after buying 20lbs of ice and enough water and snacks to survive for 2 weeks, off we went to get a parking space. As predicted, there was only 1 other vehicle in the whole park when we arrived. At least we did indeed have our pick of any parking spot we wanted. Then we settled in with bottled water and some snacks and waited. My first eclipse photo was taken at 11:57 am. While we waited I took shots of things around the lake we were parked beside.

I took a test shot with my setup at around 9am to make sure everything was ready. For this shot I was using my Canon 70D APS-C camera. Fitted to the camera was my Tamron 150-500 mm zoom lens. The cropped sensor of the 70D camera gives you a 1.6X view from the lens, making the 500 mm zoom almost 800 mm. The other accessory that is necessary to shoot the sun is a solar filter. The one I purchased was from Thousand Oaks Optical. If you are going to order a filter from them be sure you allow enough lead time. They make each filter to order, so it took about 3 weeks from order to delivery. The camera is tripod mounted to allow for a longer shutter speed due to the solar filter blocking so much light.

Below is my test shot of the sun after it got in the sky-high enough to not be affected by haze. The spots just above the center of the image are sunspots.

sunspots

At 11:57am I got this shot as the moon began to take a bite out of the solar disk.

solar eclipse start

The following shot was taken at 12:19pm as the eclipse progressed.

solar eclipse progressing

Finally, at 1:12 pm the world became totally quiet as twilight enveloped the area. Then a huge cheer erupted from the crowd. Totality! It had to be one of the most incredible sights I have ever witnessed. I had to quickly remove the solar filter from the camera and snap a few shots before I could take in the total solar eclipse and the environment eclipse chasers describe as being surreal. They are not wrong!

solar eclipse totality

Seeing the sun’s corona around the black hole in the sky that was the moon was an incredible sight I will never forget. But all too soon it was ending after the 2 minutes and 40 seconds of totality. I shot one last shot of the diamond ring and then the moon’s shadow moved on.

diamond ring

I have to tell you if you get the chance to witness a total solar eclipse you need to take it. Besides only happening anywhere on Earth about every 18 months, it’s even rarer for one to happen close enough for you to actually view it in person. The next total solar eclipse visible in the US will be in 2024. I’m already doing my planning. Now that I have moved to the Ozarks I am directly in the path of the next one. I can’t wait!

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