The entire country knew that there would be a solar eclipse on Aug. 21. When I first found out, all that I could think about was getting shots of totality, especially since I never had seen anything but a partial before. It was time to research.
As I looked at all of the information, it was clear that the best place to be was Western Kentucky, IF the weather was good. Hopkinsville, KY to be exact, the spot with the longest amount of totality, a whopping 2 min and 40 seconds.
As luck would have it, Pam has family in Owensboro, KY, roughly 80 miles north of the most sought after spot on the planet for this event. We had been wanting to visit anyway, so a gracious invite from family had our plans set. Arrive Saturday, enjoy family. Head down Monday for the eclipse, back up to Owensboro, then the 9.5 hour trek back to Virginia on Tuesday. Done!
Trip down was easy enough as a 9.5 hour drive could be. We arrived morning, and not long after I was already researching and planning for Monday. I spent quite a bit of Saturday, and most of Sunday checking weather forecasts, cloud patterns, crowd predictions, and so much more. I knew Hopkinsville was going to get inundated with people, the local news was estimating near 150,000, so we really didn't want to be in the middle of that. So I wanted to find a place as near to the center line as possible so that we'd have more time in totality for photos, but to the north so it would be less distance back through traffic to Owensboro, but not too crowded. We'll finally late Sunday afternoon the decision was made to hit quiet little Crofton, KY, about 10 miles north of Hopkinsville. There were having an event in their park, bathroom facilities, food for only $20. Okay, sign us up.
We left Owensboro Monday morning around 6amexpecting our 1hr drive to take about 3x that. Surprisingly it didn't. There was little to no traffic, so apparently everyone was already there or coming down later.
We we showed up as one of the first cars there, gave our name for the reservation, paid our fee and found a nice spot in the middle of their field to setup shop. We setup our 10x10 canopy right at the back of the car, then we relaxed some as we had 4 hours until the moon would begin making its way across the face of the sun.
With about an hour left until the eclipse started, I began setting up the equipment. I had (3) cameras, (2) telephoto lenses, telescope and a solar filter. I had my Canon 7D with my 70-200 2.8, Pam’s Sony a5000 usin my Meade ETX 125 as a 1900mm lens, and my Sony a6300 locked onto my Canon 100-400mm 3.5-5.6. The solar filter would work on either of my telephoto lenses so I started on the 100-400 as my test shots the day before showed that 400mm was pretty good, even giving up the detail of sunspots. So let’s start there. I had all (3) on tripods.
Our weather that day was absolutely perfect. A mostly cloudless sky, about 90 degrees for a high but you didn’t feel it because there was a nice easy breeze all day keeping it tolerable.
As 11:30am CT came around you could see the energy in the field begin to rise. People were getting their Eclipse glasses on, cameras set, etc. the countdown to 11:56am had started.
It was a great crowd though. We had plenty of room and people on both sides of us were super nice. Everyone was in a great mood.
I knew that besides the shot of the corona during totality, there were 2 others specific photos that I wanted to go after. The first was the difficult to get Diamond Ring, and the second was a progression composite of the entire event, from the point the moon first starts across the sun, through totality and all the way to the moon coming off of the sun.
The diamond ring was going to be tough, but I knew that would have to be shot without a solar filter at just the right moment, so I had time to prepare for that.
The progression composite I decided to go with the Sony a6300 with the 100-400 Canon lens. Canon lens you ask? Yes, I have always shot Canon but moved into the Sony arena last year with my favorite little tool the Metabonz adapter. It allows me to shoot Canon glass on my Sony. LOVE it. Has one little drawback with autofocus tracking, but I am confident that might be fixed in a firmware update soon. Everything else is right on point.
So I begin by getting a bracket of exposures right as the moon started, then set my alarm on my Apple Watch to remind me in 5 minutes. I would do the same thing every 5 minutes throughout the entire event to give me the shots for the composite. Of course, I'm shooting at the sun before and after totality, so I was using a solar filter on the 100-300mm lens.
As the moon crossed the sun I was shooting on a tripod and popped out the Sony LCD do I didn't have to crank my neck to look through the viewfinder. Awesome option there. I was shooting at ISO 100, 400mm, f/5.6 and 1/1000 shutter speed. I decided to bracket my shots every 5 minutes by adjusting the shutter speed only, so I would take 1 at 1/1000, 1 at 1/750, 1 at 1/500 and 1 at 1/1500. I ended up liking the 1/1000 the best.
As the time to totality decreased, I'd say things go really interesting at the point where the sun was a smaller crescent than you would see from the moon. Things were really close then. I now moved on to getting a shot every 15 seconds, and was using my self timer on the Sony to make sure there was no camera shake. I should have any as my shutter speeds were high enough, but I knew that to get the diamond ring I needed to take off the solar filter and then the shutter speeds was going to have to come down significantly. Needed to be prepared.
Unfortunately as you read this, I can tell you all day long about how amazing totality is, but you will never truly get it unless you see it. It's different than anything you've ever seen before, and watching it online is NOTHING compared to the real thing.
I'm busy snapping away as the moon begins to get to the last bit of the sun. The energy in the field where we were was growing exponentially. I looked up at the sun and even though a small amount was showing you still could not look at it without turning away. Amazing. At this point I decided it was time to take the solar filter off because I wanted that diamond ring. As soon as I took the filter off I had to speed up the camera as now it was getting a TON of light. My shutter speeds quickly went to 1/3000 to compensate. This is another benefit of the Sony a6300. Being able to adjust your settings and actually see what you are going to get before you snap the photo is so valuable. Especially when seconds count, as I would soon find out.
I was sitting at 1/3000 because I was still getting the last curvature of the sun and these shots were part of the composite. I watched closely in the LCD as I shot waiting for the moment to drop my shutter speed for the diamond ring. Why would I do that? Well the diamond ring is the last little sliver of light from the sun and you are starting to see the corona around the moon. So if you have your exposure spot on then you will get a ring of corona and a superbright shot of that last sliver of the sun. Looks like a diamond ring.
When I felt like the time was right I dropped the shutter speed down to 1/1500 and snapped as quickly as I could. It worked. Shot 1 of three that I was going for was accomplished.
Now totality was seconds away. The energy in the field was crazy. It was getting very dark outside. Street lights were coming on, and then it happened. The sun was finally fully covered and the entire crowd all gasped at one time as the corona light up like someone hit a switch from around the moon. There was yelling and cheering, crickets were chirping. My wife and daughter could not believe their eyes, and neither could I.
Once totality started I had planned on going back and forth between my Sony with the 100-400 and the Sony a5000 on my Meade telescope. Well that didn't happen. I made the judgement call to stick with the 100-400 through the entire thing as it was happening fast and this was working just fine. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I pulled back on the lens some so I could get more field of view. I didn't know how much corona I'd get, and I knew there were a few stars showing up nearby that I'd love to get in a shot or two. I pulled back from 400mm to 260mm and dropped the shutter speed down to 1/90. YES, that is right. I went from 1/1500 with just a speck of the sun showing to 1/90 in about 2 seconds. It got that dark. When I did, what I saw in the LCD made me emotional. There it was, a 100% total eclipse and the corona was glowing around it. Shot 2 is now accomplished.
People were still yelling and cheering, my wife was smiling and just amazed, my daughter jumped on her phone and started taking a Youtube-ish selfie video of herself in the experience, I'll see if I can add that that to this blog. She did really well with it.
I'm now shooting totality and still varying my shutter speeds some to get different aspects of the event. Shots with 1/90 shutter speed were not showing the brightness of the corona as much, and this allowed me to actually seen in the LCD, and the photos, the red on the surface of the sun showing around the moon. It was like fire. AMAZING. When I wanted to bright corona to return I'd drop the shutter speed down to 1/15 and kept varying through to make sure I took a gammit of shots. I can tell you right now that 2min and 33seconds isn't long at all. LOL
So about mid way through I stopped shooting. I looked up instead of at my LCD. Why? Simple. I have taken a ton of event photos and this one I was not going to pass up experiencing it as well as photographing it. It felt amazing. I was awe inspiring. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my life. It was so strong, so powerful. It put life into a bit more perspective, and showed how small we really are. I was EXTREMELY emotional, and seeing the reactions of my wife and daughter made it even more so.
But now it was time to get back to business as I knew the sun would be showing back up in a few seconds. If didn't let me down as suddenly the world got lighter again. I basically got the other diamond ring shot then put the filter back on the camera and followed my exact sequence into totality but in reverse order.
As people packed up and headed out, we waited the next hour and a half to get those shots every 5 minutes for my composite. Finally it was time and the last little bit of the moon was about to move off of the sun. I should have the shots to make Shot 3 an accomplishment. I've got 300 photos on the card and will transfer them to my laptop (so I will have the photos in 2 places) as soon as I am back.
We left, turned on Waze to head back to Owensboro, and drove the next hour and 20 minutes back talking about the experience the entire time. Oh, yes, the interstate was a parking lot, but its why I use Waze. It kept routing us around the traffic and we were back in no time. No traffic for us :)
That evening we had a great dinner, and packed up for our trip home the next morning.
This trip was absolutely amazing. In my 45 years I had never seen a live total eclipse, and I kick myself for not making that happen. We are now hooked, and are planning on hitting as many as possible. Not just for photos, but more for the experience, the joy, the adrenaline, the emotion, the ENERGY. Please do yourself a favor, make the opportunity to see one with people you love. Don't skimp out and not see a 100% total. There is another one in 7 years here in the US. See it. I guarantee you we will.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. The photos you see here, and others, will be released as an Eclipse17 collection in the Fine Art this weekend. I'll be running a special on the entire collection for that first weekend. I hope you like what you see.