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Great American Eclipse: An Experience

The Great American Eclipse

While most photographers have been planning years in advance for this eclipse event, I was unaware. By the time I finally got to prepping for this awesome occasion, two months in advance, everything ‘essential’ was sold out. I add essential in quotations, because as you can tell by this blog; I still got amazing shots of the eclipse and totality. As you read this you will see tips on how to better shoot the eclipse when you’re on a budget or totally unprepared, peppered in here and there.

Planning the Journey

Right off the bat, I will say that you should not be married to your plans going into eclipse day. Planning everything months in advance has its benefits, however, if you over plan you may find your day ruined by cloud cover. Being flexible is the key to a successful totality experience. For example, I had planned to be on the coast in Charleston, South Carolina. Fast forward to the day of the eclipse, humidity skyrockets overnight! Not only does that bring in thick fog, but clouds and rain too. I ended up traveling 100 some miles west to find a prime location in the path of totality.

Getting settled into your location is another good thing to plan. Do you want to camp? Hotel? Quickly view? Knowing how long you plan to be in place on eclipse day is very importaint to dealing with traffic after the fact. You must prepare for delays along every major interstate for hundreds of miles. This is no joke. Anticipate doubling your travel time from your journey down. I traveled roughly 500 miles from Virginia to South Carolina in about 7 hours. The return trip was 12 hours on the dot. Roughly 40% of eclipse viewers are in place the night before and everyone will be anticipating to leave just after the totality.

The Wait

I got into place a little more than two hours before the start of totality. Be aware the start of the totality is not the start of the eclipse! The partial eclipse starts around an hour and a half before the totality. In this time there is a lot to see and photograph. As I was taking a shower before my departure, I was running over what would be good to have on location in South Carolina and I knew that a lawn chair would be exactly what I need for maximum enjoyment. Sadly, I ran off without grabbing one and my legs certainly aren’t thanking me.

While I may not have had a chair, I did bring water bottles! I saw campers grilling with coolers full of drinks and if I could have done the day over I would have thought of that! Enjoying yourself is something I believe is part of the total experience. Take the day slow, like sipping on fine wine.

The Photos

As I mentioned, everything ‘essential’ sold out by the time I started searching two months in advance. All I had to work with were some UV filters and a Neutral Density filter of 10 stops. The biggest risk you run is melting your camera sensor much the same way you can destroy your retina by staring too long at the sun. This is where the solar filters come in. You need one for you lens if you want to take sharp photos of the partial eclipse. You can see in my photo above that the sun has soft light emitting around it. This is because I could not limit the light properly with a solar filter.

I do not know what the maximum amount of time you can leave your sensor exposed directly into the sun, nor do I want to find out on my good D800. Perhaps another day I will find a throwaway Nikon P90 to experiment with. However, I was shooting at shutter speeds around 1/30 and 1/3 and I have not seen any observable damage to my sensor. The faster the shutter speed the better off your camera sensor will be when it’s all said and done.

The Eclipse in 360

Not only was I able to capture images on my camera, I brought my Ricoh Theta S 360 camera with me and captured the whole eclipse totality in virtual reality. The results came out fairly well for a 12 megapixel camera, but they don’t compare to my 36.5 megapixels on my Nikon.

The Next Eclipse

I hope my documentation has convinced you, and motivated you, to participate in the next American solar eclipse. No matter how well you photograph the eclipse, you have to be there to truly witness how powerful the event is. For this reason I truly can’t contain my excitement for the new higher quality cameras that will be around for the next one. I hope to see you in 2024!

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