A total solar eclipse is a sight you never forget. Along with good mirages and auroras, it is one of the visual wonders of the natural world well worth crossing oceans for. The next “convenient” one will sweep through Mexico, Texas and upwards towards the North East of the United States. If health, economics, medieval politics and flight shamers allow, I’ll be there. Wanna join me?
I made the photograph above in Turkey, in 2006, with minimal gear. A light tripod, a cheap 3″ refractor, an even cheaper home-made solar filter, and whatever camera was mine at the time (presumably my Nikon D80, but I’m no longer sure). Here’s a photo of the kit, operated by yours truly, photographed by very early DS contributor Caroline.
This was my second eclipse photo shoot. The first occurred closer to home, in 1999 France, in Beauvais, and felt much more like a suspense movie. My daughter was born a few days before so, up to the last moment, we didn’t know whether my wife would be out of the clinic. Then there was the drive from Paris (where we lived at the time). If you enjoy apocalyptic movies where some sort of cataclysm forces millions onto the roads, this would have been right up your alley. Except we were all heading towards the event, each of us anticipating this very rare opportunity to witness an astronomical phenomenon which, in the past, had led to the erection of temples, the freeing of Tintin (inspired by a trick played by Christopher Columbus on Jamaican natives), the test and confirmation of Einstein’s General Relativity theory, wars to be started or ended. And the post-apo vibe rose to a whole other level as the time grew near to the event with us all stuck in traffic and, suddenly, people lost it and abandoned their cars on the road-side (yes, honestly) to rush up to hilltops on foot while we weren’t even in the totality zone. Oh dear.
Motorway authorities eventually came to the rescue opening all possible service exits, tolls, gas stations … and we landed in someone’s field within minutes of totality. Under a cloud cover. But, luck, meteorology, or answers to the prayers of the world’s most-stressed out photographer, parted the clouds as the moon finally obscured the sun’s disk to reveal it’s shiny hippie hair. I took one memorable photograph on that day. During the minutes before totality, my 4 year-old sun rushed out of the car to ask who had “switched the lights off” while he was reading his comics! And my daughter got hungry. So my one photograph of the day is one of my wife breast-feeding my daughter, seen through the windscreen of our car, with the solar eclipse reflected to the side, surrounded by clouds. It was quite a stunning photograph, now lost – all copies of it – to Memorex’s shit technology. Alas poor Kodak, I remember it well.
Totality lasts only a few minutes. Two to four, on average. But a lot goes on before, during and after. In no particular order :
And, of course, there’s photography involved 😉 It’s quite technical and very interesting. The first pic above isn’t a single photograph but a stack of multiple frames shot at different exposures to get all the various parts of the corona. I actually overexposed the center. Otherwise, pink solar prominences would have been visible on the surface of the sun. My bad, I was just beginning and had very little tech info about what to do.
If you encorporate the area in the immediate viscinity of the totality path into the potential tally, that makes for a lot of subjects to observe and photograph. In fact, it’s far too much for a single person.
On the spot, you’ll want to enjoy every precious second of the show and to capture as much as you possibly can. This overload leads to frustration during what should be a rare moment of pure awe.
So I’m suggesting a group project 🙂 We could each focus on a single simple task and curate the group’s result into one body of work. What say you? Heck we could even sync with others further afield …
For example, something I’ve never seen done is a time-lapse of totality. Imagine people photographing totality at regular intervals along the eclipse’s path. Line those up and you get a time lapse of the sun’s corona over a few hours 🙂 Moving solar flares during an eclipse, anyone ?
But, even at a local scale, we could each focus on a specific aspect of what’s around us from the list above, and more, and create some sort of group document.
Plus it’s a cool chance to finally meet the faces behind the names 🙂
What say you? If there is interest, I’ll publish maps and tutorials during the months running up to the event. I plan to head West of San Antonio, or the West coast of Mexico (near Puerto Vallarta) as the best locations for maximum totality duration are in parts of Mexico I’m not comfortable travelling to. A good starting point, then, might be to find local knowledge among readers and their friends and relatives. I’ve identified nice places to stay and to observe from already, but eyes on the ground are better than Internet pages and Google Maps 😉
The date will be April 8th 2024. We have time, but need to start planning, because – from experience – everything (flights, hotels, gear) is booked years ahead.
Who’s in? 🙂
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LOL – well I was going to suggest “except the colour of the hair!” – but you got in first.
Sounds like fun – but I’m probably only good for another couple of trips overseas, at most, and I’m saving them up for other things.
A few years back, a bunch of us headed into the hills, where our “Observatory” is located in a deep valley, to shield it from pollution from the city we all live in. There are about 4 astro labs there as well as a museum.
It was a great outing, and one thing I will immediately add to your “gear list” is – bring a small torch! You WILL need it, while you’re setting up for and taking shots like this. And it needn’t occupy a cubic centimetre of your gear bag, because you can stick it ANY of your pockets.
In the meantime, I’m still thinking of buying that telescope I mentioned to you earlier – going to have a look at one, possibly next week. Hopefully my next shot of the moon will be much sharper than the last one was!
Please keep us posted about that telescope. You will make me very envious 🙂
PS – If I was still younger – which of course I’m not! – I would have done it like a shot.
One of my great-great-great-grandfathers was a farmer in Texas, but after the brawls between Sam Houston’s mob and Santa Anna’s mob, he pulled out. Unfortunately. Because he had two big farms, both near Galveston. Sigh!
Too bad – anyway a stetson would never have suited me – I detest wearing hats!
Oh well, no hat wearing for DS travelers on that trip, in solidarity 😉
Well as you now know, I’ll be with you in spirit – shooting stars – maybe even shooting “shooting stars” – heaven only knows what’s up there!
But I’ll happily stay away from Chimera Mount – do you remember a couple of years back, we sent a cruise ship to explore a volcano in New Zealand? – the passengers were all decanted onto the island, to have a look – and when they got there, walking around the mountain, it exploded – I think from memory only one of them survived!
Yes, that was White Island, from memory. Terrible. We’ll stay away from any such peril 🙂
Pascal, great idea, but as stars are not my genre, I will leave room for those who do appreciate it the finer art of star gazing.
LOL – you know TONS more than I do, about telescopes in photography, Pascal – anyway, target is to go to the opposite end of Perth (Joondalup, actually) and buy whatever’s needed, next Tuesday.
Brilliant! Joondalup is also the home of Andrew St Pierre White, an overlanding youtuber than many on this blog follow. Say hello for us, if you meet 😉
Telescopes and overlanders … sounds like the Promised Land to me 😉
Keep us posted!
2024, huh? Well, even though I have no interest in photographing the eclipse, I would like to meet up with any DS folks in Texas! Big Bend National Park lies west of San Antonio, so that proximity would be a draw for me. And April is a great month for touring around the often hot Southwest. In other words, count me in, Pascal!
Hi Nancee, I was hoping you’d say that! Very much looking forward to it.
Even if you don’t get to the totality path for the eclipse, it’s worth trying to get close to it because I think you’ll find the light fascinating. We are used to softish shadows because the sun is 0.5° in diameter. As the moon gets that surface to a more pinpoint nature, shadows take on a much harder aspect Everything seems etched, plant leaves look a bit like origami. It’s a bad analogy, but the difference is a bit like freezing waves with a very short exposure vs letting them smooth out a bit, if you see what I mean. Given how adept you are at finding and highlighting patterns, I think you’d find that quite interesting. It happens over a 60 – 90 minute period both ways, so 2 – 3 hours altogether.
Cheers, see you in 2024 😉
Sounds like an interesting environment for photography after all, Pascal! Where were you thinking of staying? You mentioned that the eclipse path was west of San Antonio. Just curious.
Count me in, Pascal. I have not done even one actualization of astrophotography in my life, but I am certainly up for meeting DearSusan folks, for experiencing the light of the eclipse (the ground-based eclipse photos I have seen are, as you point out above, amazing in a light so special and rare as to be breathtaking), and I would even consider contributing to a group eclipse project if I thought I could make a useful contribution. I understand that everyone’s needs and desires can be different, but I would, if I might, second Nancee’s mentioning of Big Bend National Park. I’ve never been there, but the possibilities for space and angles and elevations for setting up seem endless. I have researched it only a tiny bit, but I certainly know that I will get there one day with my small camper van (a few blog posts back you wrote about the pleasure camper “vanning” and photography–to that I say “yes!”). There seem to be many options for all levels fo camping at Big Bend, but again, that may not work for everyone and I have no agenda. I would try to work with whatever works for others. I just think that you have made a great proposal.
That’s really great, Claude. Let me check Big Bend wrt the totality path and get back to you both 🙂
Well, I did mean “actuations in astrophotography” in my post, but I rather like “actualizations” as well!
Glad to hear that you’re also interested in Big Bend NP, Claude. There is one hotel & restaurant (Chisos Mountain Lodge)inside the park, so camping is optional! The lack of light pollution in the park supposedly makes the night sky spectacular.
Thank you, Nancee. I looked up the Chisos Mountain Lodge. It looks like a great option, should Big Bend NP turn out to be the right place to be for the eclipse.
Like Nancee, I’m not getting giddy with the idea of photographing the eclipse but, when in Rome and all that jazz. The main draw card would be to meet some of the DS peeps in the flesh! Count me in as well, pretty please.