To Eclipse Or Not To Eclipse

A Chronological View Into Eclipse Insanity

BP-RAM-0819201701-I002 - Solar Eclipse Spectral Aura

BP-RAM-0819201701-I002 – Solar Eclipse Spectral Aura

Ninety-nine years ago, that’s the last time a total solar eclipse has passed from the West coast of the United States, to the East coast. An event, that thankfully, I was not alive to see. Not that I wouldn’t want to have seen it, I just don’t relish the thought of being over one hundred years old, hell I am not doing that well with the thought of being over fifty years old. Never the less, it’s a fun factoid to share, when teaching an eclipse photography workshop. Soft Lite Studios and Midwest Photo Exchange partnered up and we in fact offered two Solar Eclipse Photography workshops, in advance of the August 21st, 2017 eclipse. And for those folks, who are local to the Columbus area, we are also offering a Post Eclipse Processing Workshop, dates and times can be found here: MPEX Learning Studio – Post Processing Workshop

BP-RAM-0819201701-I006 - Sequence Composite

BP-RAM-0819201701-I006 – Sequence Composite

As a part of preparing for my eclipse workshops, I paid careful attention to the path of “totality” and noted what were considered to be ideal local (or at least as close as possible) viewing locations. As I was considering the path in its entirety, I couldn’t help but notice, it would pass directly over Grand Teton National Park, now that was a location that I could totally relate to. A little more digging and the centerline of totality is showing almost directly over Mormon Row and the famous, often photographed Moulton Barn. Didn’t take long for an idea to lodge itself into my brain. Immediately I was envisioning a whole series of eclipse images from Mormon Row, backed with the Grand Teton Range to the rear.

BP-RAM-0819201701-I005 - Totality Path

BP-RAM-0819201701-I005 – Totality Path

This blog article and the ones to follow are going to chronicle the forming of the idea, the preparations undertaken, the road trip that ensued, the shooting of the eclipse, and last but not least a collection of resulting images and the processing steps performed. For those that didn’t make the Great American Eclipse of 2017, hopefully this will serve as an apt stand-in for the event, for those that did, it will no doubt provide a few chuckles of recollection of our shared experiences. Long story short, welcome to “The Great American Eclipse Road Trip of 2017.”

The catalyst for the entire road trip, comes down to the images that I see in my head, of both the eclipse itself and the surrounding scenery. Likely one of the most compelling barn pictures floating around in the ethos today, is that of Moulton Barn, on Mormon Row, sitting right in front of the Grand Teton mountain range. The shot is idyllic and the composition of the scene almost comes “pre-baked”, if you will. Below is a picture of Moulton Barn, that I took in the Fall of 2016, it is one of my personal favorites, in my portfolio.

BP-RAM-0819201701-I007 - Moulton Barn (2016)

BP-RAM-0819201701-I007 – Moulton Barn (2016)

So with the above picture in mind, the following are scene ideas, stock images that I have as targets for this little adventure:

  • Moulton Barn as a foreground element for a “totality” shot of the eclipse. I will attempt a single frame image of the scene, but more than likely, the best image is going to be a composite of the barn scene, with an eclipse shot added in.
  • Single Frame Eclipse Totality image, featuring just the sun. This would ideally be shoot with a longer telephoto lens, likely something in the 600mm – 800mm range. I could elect to go with a longer focal length, but I don’t want to tight of a crop, just in case I get really unique auras during totality.
  • An Eclipse Sequence shot, would feature a progression of images of the sun, arcing across the sky, showing the build up prior to totality, totality itself, and then the gradual reappearance of the sun in its entirety. Again this is likely going to be a composite shot, with multiple individual images being captured to make up the composite.
  • Last, but not least, a milky way shot (as luck would have it, the night prior to the eclipse is going to be a crescent moon, with 2% visibility and the night of the eclipse (after the eclipse itself), 0% visibility). Wow you talk about all the stars aligning…listen if you are not laughing now, you might as well finish your drink and leave, it doesn’t get any better than this.

A quick inventory of the shot ideas above, also leads to a quick inventory of gear that would be need to pull off each and all of the above listed images. Not flying out to this shoot, talk about some major luggage fees. This one looks like a cross country drive.

It’s amazing the reaction you get, when you tell someone it’s only a 28 hour drive to where the shoot is going to be. Gets real quiet on the other end of the phone. It took some explaining (okay begging), and a few incentives (okay bribes), but eventually my business partner and fellow workshop guide, Lorie McQuirt agreed to come along. Lorie clearly thinks I have mental issues, but she seems to like going on photo shoots with me, so what does that say about her. Well we’ll leave the psychoanalysis behind and just say it seems to work out. Idea firmly planted, let the planning begin.

The gear list is staggering:

  • Canon 800mm f/5.6 Lens
  • Canon 600mm f/4.0 Lens
  • Canon 400mm f/2.8 Lens
  • Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 Lens
  • Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Lens
  • Canon 11-24mm f/4.0 Lens
  • Canon 8-15mm Fisheye Lens
  • Canon 5D Mark IV Body X4
  • Canon 5DSR Body
  • Multiple Really Right Stuff L-Brackets
  • Multiple Really Right Stuff Tripods
  • Multiple Really Right Stuff Ballheads
  • Multiple Really Right Stuff Rails
  • Really Right Stuff Pano-Gimbal Head
  • Multiple Timer Releases
  • Lee Foundation Filter Holders
  • Singh-Ray Circular / Warming Polarizer
  • NiSi Ultra-Wide Filters Holders
  • NiSi Circular Polarizer
  • More batteries, memory cards and other accessories than one can possibly list

As you can see, quite a collection of equipment, which correspondingly allows quite a variety of shots to be attempted. Definitely trying to maximize the return on trip distance and time, by coming back with a great collection, of great images.

The drive is a long one, with the way out coming in at a minimum of 29 hours. I say minimum because detours, traffic, and distractions along the way, will undoubtedly have an impact on overall travel time. The plan calls for us to leave on Wednesday evening, immediately after I finish teaching a Mastering Exposure course at Midwest Learning Studio. The overall plan calls for the following route:

BP-RAM-0819201701-I003 - Route Map - Great American Eclipse Road Trip 2017

BP-RAM-0819201701-I003 – Route Map – Great American Eclipse Road Trip 2017

The drive is long, at a minimum of 28 hours of road time. I say minimum because detours, traffic, and distractions along the way, will undoubtedly have an impact on overall travel time. The plan calls for us to leave on Wednesday evening, immediately after I finish teaching at Mastering Exposure course at Midwest Learning Studio. The overall plan calls for the following route:

  • Columbus, OH to Indianapolis, IN
  • Indianapolis, IN to St. Louis, MO
  • St. Louis, MO to Kansas City, MO
  • Kansas City, MO to Denver, CO
  • Denver, CO to Estes Park, CO
  • Estes Park, CO to Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Rocky Mountain National Park to Granby, CO
  • Granby, CO to Jackson Hole, WY
  • Jackson Hole, WY to Yellowstone National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park to Lamar Valley, WY
  • Lamar Valley, WY to Beartooth Pass, WY
  • And a final route through North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio

The route selected is a combination of ideal routing and some strategic shooting distractions thrown in along the way. Going into Denver is a longer route than is strictly necessary, but it allows for a day of shooting in Rocky Mountain National Park, something I always try to fit into the schedule when I am out West. I have a long term love affair with this park and return visits rank highly on my list.

The decision was made to use a towed camper for this trip. As has become the norm, with a lot of these types of events, hotel prices had clearly gone up dramatically, that is if you could find empty ones at all. Using the camper would save the cost of hotels, reduce the cost of dining (can cook all meals at the camper, when and where we want), and time on the daily schedule (much easier to camp next to where the sunrise or sunset shoot are going to be).

BP-RAM-0819201701-I004 - Living Quarters

BP-RAM-0819201701-I004 – Living Quarters

Ironically, even if everything else, planned above, goes perfectly, we are still at the whim of Mother Nature. If she decides it’s going to be an overcast or cloudy day, then all of this planning, logistics and speculation, is exactly that speculation that we are going to get some great shots of the Great American Eclipse of 2017. We’ll keep our fingers crossed and hopefully you will too, that the Great American Eclipse Road Trip of 2017 goes as planned.

See you out there on the road!