Wednesday, August 23, 2017

It’s Eclipse Time! Photographing The Great American Eclipse.

Good Morning Everybody,

I’m pretty darn excited about my post today. The topic is completely different from anything I've blogged about before.  Why, because today I'm blogging about a once in a lifetime event.  That's right, today I'm writing about the Great American Eclipse!

What happens if you take this…


and place it in front of this…


You get this… the Great American Eclipse!


First, The Back Story

About 6 weeks ago news about the first Solar eclipse to cross the US in years was really starting to intrigue me. On August 21, 2017 the epicenter of the eclipse was going to be pass over Hopkinsville, KY, just about 3 1/2 hours down the road from us. Nashville was only about an hour more and it seemed that it offered a lot more to experience so we decided that we would head to Nashville, TN to check out the eclipse.

Eclipse Path

Now the challenges of photographing the eclipse began to appear. Hotels throughout the eclipse's path were all but sold out but we did manage to secure a suite at Embassy Suites  very close to downtown Nashville - a very nice property BTW.

Next, where should we view the eclipse? A check with the Nashville website gave many suggestions - we opted for the beautiful Cheekwood Estate and Gardens, the old Maxwell Coffee estate and now a beautiful arboretum and museum, about 8 miles outside the city.

Sigma-150-600_thumb2And finally what gear should I use to capture the best images. I had just picked up Sigma's new 150-600mm Contemporary lens which I just previously blogged about here on my blog [link]. With my 1.4x tele-extender and the 1.6 magnification factor of the lens and tell-extender on my Canon 7D Mark 2 I would have an effective maximum focal length of over 1350 mm - practically a small telescope - and that should do the trick. Check out my hands-on review of this lens right here [link].

Those of you who have read this blog regularly know I'm not a big fan of tripods in most cases but in this case it was absolutely a necessity. I dug out my old Gitzo tripod of years past, prepped it for the shoot, and re-familiarize myself with using a tripod.  I know that sounds crazy for a professional photographer to say but after about an hour of trial and error I thought I had developed a satisfactory eclipse routine with my tripod.

We had our approved eyeglasses but oh no… what was I forgetting? The eclipse filter so I could actually photograph the sun. Heck, I didn't want to take a chance on going blind during this adventure. After a little research I ordered and 8x8 filter from Thousand Oaks Optical and a 95mm UV filter. I simply cut the Mylar to fit my UV glass filter and secured, with a few drops of glue, one to the other and I was good-to-go.

Thousand Oaks Optical also sells a 95mm solar filter for about $80 but they were out of stock by the time I got around to ordering one - it would have been a better choice. OK! I think that's good for the back story - let's head to Nashville for the Great American Eclipse!

Heading Down the Road

We were up and packing about 4:45 a.m. Monday mourning - we had commitments all day Sunday which prevented us from leaving the day before.  Besides, we were hoping our later departure would help us avoid the dreaded traffic jams predicted by all the news stations.

Well, as they say the best laid plans....  Just 15 minutes into our trip Google Maps alerts us of a major traffic jam just north of Louisville, KY and directs us down to Lexington, KY and then west to the I-65 corridor adding about 25 minutes to our drive time.  No problem, it was still a beautiful drive through the horse farms in central Kentucky.

IMG_4594We were nearly to the on ramp for I-65 when Google Maps alerted us of a 22 minute delay just to progress onto the road - more darn construction - the upside - as we crawled along we passed a awe inspiring field of sunflowers. Our very slow progress allowed LaDawn time to retrieve one of our favorite vacation cameras, the Canon SX-60, and began firing away.  She managed a very nice collection of sunflower images in our 15 minute drive by.

Shorty after that delay we were finally southbound and down…. 10-4 Good Buddy - we were on our way albeit about 55 minutes behind schedule. We would still arrive about an hour before the start of the eclipse so no problem.

Pulling Into Nashville - It's Almost Eclipse Time!

About three hours later we're pulling into Nashville. It's almost eclipse time and we are fired up.  You could tell this was an "eclipse town" by the messaging on the signs over the expressway - "No Parking during eclipse". 


I have to say, I've never seen anything like that before! We followed Google Maps directions to Cheekwood Estate and Gardens and were soon slowed again by the fellow "eclipse watchers" heading to the arboretum   But in a short time we arrived, parked our car and made our way to Reception to pick up our tickets.  The place was a buzz with fellow eclipse enthusiasts of all sizes, shapes, and ages.

It's Eclipse Time!

IMG_6198We walked the short distance to what looked to be a good viewing area and I began to set up tripods, cameras, long lenses, and filters. Another gentleman  was already set up with a nice looking setup.  We introduced ourselves to each other and I quickly struck up a conversation.  It turns out that he was a professor of Physics at NC State.  And boy, was he helpful - he had recently attended a local astronomy club meeting and picked up a "ton" of info on how to photograph the eclipse from beginning to end.  His info was invaluable and sure added to the success of our shoot.

Michael and I kept checking our time - the eclipse was due to begin in just a few short minutes.  Everyone was excited!  The moon was to touch the sun at 11:58 a.m. I was looking through my viewfinder and in just seconds I was witnessing the beginning of the Great American Eclipse – Wow! It was cool!  LaDawn was using our little Canon SX-60 camera fitted with its own eclipse filter.  Both of our camera setups gave both of us effective focal lengths of over 1300mm – plenty to witness the eclipse.

We were ready and the crowd of our fellow eclipse watchers were ready too.


But alarmingly clouds began to float in over the sun – horrors of horrors – were we going to miss the eclipse!!!??? The clouds kept coming and were getting thicker – we were all a bit panicked but could do nothing about it except hope and pray that they would surely pass. We did have time on our side.  The full eclipse was not scheduled to happen until 1:27 p.m. – we had plenty of time for the clouds to clear and the clouds were relatively scattered in the sky above. Check out the two photos below – YIKES!!!



As luck would have it the clouds did clear and I got some great images as the moon made its way across the disk of the sun. Check out the next image below I was seeing something nobody else saw if there were wearing their eclipse glasses – Sunspots – three of them right in a row just next to the moon’s disc. Way Cool! Check out the next two images. You can really see them clearly.



The image below is a quick HDR I made in-camera on my Canon 7D Mark 2. I think it looks kind of cool with the halo around the sun.


As the eclipse progressed I continued to shoot. The eclipse went from looking like Ms. Packman to a banana and beyond – it really was amazing to watch the progression. You could feel the temperature drop significantly too.



We were getting close now.  With just a few minutes from totality…. and then – I couldn’t believe it, nobody could!  We were just seconds from totality and then it happened - we ran out of luck again!!! Those friggin’ clouds rolled back in just as we were about to hit totality.  Was the Great American Eclipse over for us? Were we all going to miss our-once-in-a-lifetime event? It sure was looking that way. Check out the next two photos and you can easily understand our panic and disappointment.


I kept shooting anyway, shooting through the clouds hoping all the time that the clouds would somehow pass quickly and we could still at least capture a few seconds of the total eclipse. In this next photo, even through the clouds you can make out the beginning of the Baily Beads effect, those sparkling little specks at about 7 o,clock on the disk, morphing from the Diamond ring effect. Darn, if those clouds would just disappear!!!


Luck of all luck – the clouds finally dissipated just a few seconds later just as the moon totally covered the sun and hit eclipse totality.  A loud cheer went up from the 2500 eclipse watchers – the it was – our first total solar eclipse – amazing!!! The image below clearly shows the Baily Beads twinkling near the bottom of the disk.


We were almost there – the Baily Beads were going to disappear in only seconds…


And then it  happened – a total eclipse of the sun – WOW!!! The picture below shows the full eclipse with Lightroom tweaks to bring out the sun’s corona.  Sure looks like a National Geographic photo to me ;~)


But wait a second, what else was I seeing?  What were those specs at about 3 o,clock and 5 o,clock on the eclipse disk?  They look like eruptions of some kind.  They were – they were solar prominences!!!  Check out the next image – you will see them quite clearly in the cropped image.  I’ve only seen this type of phenomena in magazines or on PBS Nova series.  To see them in person was quite a treat! They can shoot out from the sun’s surface up to 500,000 miles!


During those few moment of totality the world around you is eerily different – something special was happening and you probably would never experience it again in your life.  You felt as if you were communing with the universe!

The moon continued it path across the sun and soon we could see the Baily Beads and Diamond Ring effect clearly this time without the clouds distracting from the scene. The image below is just 32 seconds past the image above.


The moon continued its journey across the disk of the sun for another 90 minutes and I continued to shoot to the end still trying to soak up and appreciate what just happened.















IMG_4689Wow! It was over! It sure was exciting! You just couldn’t help but to keep thinking back on what you experienced first hand and what just happened.  The crowds started to disperse. A few folks walking past noticed my camera setup and stopped by and asked if I got any good photos.  I showed the back of my camera – then they began asking if they could buy my eclipse photos – they would pay any price some told me! 

I was amazed – more people wandered up to see what the others were viewing on the back of my camera – they wanted to buy photos too!  Wow! If I had only known I would have brought my Square card reader ;~)

IMG_4692Many even asked if they could snap a photo with their cell phones – I gladly obliged.






So that was our eclipse adventure and what an adventure it was. We had to deal with the drama of cloud cover two times but all worked out perfectly. We were able to see and capture so many cool eclipse images including sunspots, solar prominences, Baily’s Beads and the Diamond Ring effect, and we met a lot of really friendly eclipse watchers too.

Again, my thanks goes out to Michael, for filling me in on so many eclipse photo tips that I wasn’t aware of that really helped make our shoot such a success. Also my thanks for all the folks that stopped by to look through my camera and snap a few of the images off my LCD screen.

DAZNOTE: For all those interested, I really don’t care if you “right-click” on any of the images above and keep them as a souvenir of that special day – August 21, 2017.

Camera Exposure and Shooting Details

Before I leave let me give you a few details about how I handled the shooting session.  I was originally going to shoot everything on manual but that strategy quickly went south as the clouds started rolling in.  I switched to “Program” mode until I was just shooting the final crescents of the sun. Then I switched to “Manual” mode. Typical exposures were F11 at 1/250 second.  All the images above from the first two crescents forward were all shot on “Manual” mode

Here was the kicker though.  My Thousand Oaks filter were extremely dense which necessitated that I shoot at an ISO of 3200.  I know that sounds high and it was. My friend Michael was shooting a ND 5 filter and was using an ISO of only 400.  Nevertheless, I had to go with what I had - I’ll have to check into alternatives in the future.

With my camera, lens, tele-extender combo gave me a maximum aperture of only F9.0 – I wish I could have closed down more than F11 but the density of the filter prevented me from doing so and still shoot at an acceptable shutter speed. And speaking of shutter speeds, the camera sure was bouncing around a lot so I kept “image stabilization” switched on even though it’s recommended not to do so.

So there you have it, my experience photographing the Great American Eclipse.

Oh, BTW, the next “Once In a Lifetime” Great American Eclipse rolls around on April 8, 2024 [link].

2024 Eclipse

That’s just 7 years from now and tracks right up through Indianapolis, just two hours from where we live. It seems to me that these “Once In a Lifetime” events happen more often than you think ;~)


Hey Gang, that’s it for today.  I hope you enjoyed the post and if I met you in Nashville, I sure hope you will leave a comment. LaDawn and I are spending the few days in Panama City, Florida just soaking up unobstructed rays of the sun before heading back home.

Cheers everybody and Adios for now,


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