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Capturing My First Total Solar Eclipse


Everyone says for your first total solar eclipse, don’t photograph it.  Just enjoy it.  Which makes sense to me.  It’s a huge phenomena that may come once or twice in your lifetime if you’re lucky.  So why bother futzing with your camera equipment, bracketing exposures and everything?  Just look up in the sky and enjoy the solar eclipse.  That makes sense to me. And yet…

For my first total solar eclipse…I’m going to try and photograph it.

It’s March 2024 and the next North American Total Solar Eclipse is months away.

Being based in NYC, I contemplated venturing upstate to Buffalo or Rochester for a better vantage point. However, april’s unpredictable weather and the looming threat of cloud cover gave me pause.

Then, as fate would have it, an unexpected opportunity presented itself: my girlfriend’s mother lives in Hot Springs, AR, which is right in the path of totality.   So, I guess I know where I’m going.

It’s the day before the eclipse. Here’s my setup:
1. Two Seestar S50s aptly named Voyager 1 & Voyager 2 with solar filters on.  
2. Canon EOS RP with Sigma 600mm telephoto with homemade solar filter.  
3. Portable workstation table and chair.
4. Windows Lenovo laptop with SetNC Eclipse software connected to Canon RP
5. iPad controlling Voyager 1 (Seestar) shooting timelapse video
6. iPhone controlling Voyager 2 (Seestar) shooting still photos (not pictured)

After leveling my Seestars and pointing them to the Sun, opening up SetnC and creating an exposure table, I think we’re in good shape.  Hope the weather cooperates and we get a good view tomorrow of the big show.

Let’s talk about weather for a second.  For about two weeks straight leading up to today it seems like that’s what everyone was talking about.  The weather.  And how awful it would be for most of the United States.  Travel plans changed en masse and for a while it was not looking great for the lower 48, especially Texas and Arkansas.  

Let’s back up for a second.  In 2017 I witnessed my first partial solar eclipse in New York City.  I wasn’t even an astrophotographer yet. Just someone interested in space.  I remember that day my makeshift solar viewer was a bust.  Luckily a nice stranger gave me some solar glasses and I got to view a partial eclipse through it.

It was at that moment, gazing at the crescent shaped sun, that I knew capturing a total solar eclipse would become an obsession.  And it did.  

So much so that I’ve been planning for the last six months for this day.  I actually flew all my equipment to Houston because I was there for work up until a week before today.  I prepped and did practice runs of the SetnC software to make sure I had everything. I made a checklist and checked it more than twice.  I was the most prepared I’ve ever been for astrophotography.  And the only thing risking ruining this day was…the weather.  But these are the things you just have to hope will work out in the end.  

CONCLUSION

And just like that, it was all over.  But the memories remain. Seared viscerally into my head.  

Memories of crescent shaped shadows projected onto the ground.  

And the shadow snakes which I just happened to see right before totality.  

And totality itself.  The moon is so black, hypnotic even.   It pulls you in, demanding to be seen.  

The corona emanates from behind with pink colored prominences flickering off the sun’s surface.  I could see it all. Not just with a telescope.  But with my own eyes.  

And I remembered to look all around.  There’s Jupiter and Venus hanging out with the sun and moon.  

Totality with Jupiter (Upper Left) and Venus (Lower Right)

The temperature. During totality it wasn’t hot or cold for me. It was almost like there was no temperature.  Everyone talks about the light being eerie.  And that’s true.  It’s reminiscent of the way light changes during a thunderstorm.  But this light felt even more alien than that.  

There’s something undeniably magical about standing in the shadow of the moon, It’s a moment of pure connection with the cosmos, a reminder of our place in the vastness of space. I get it now.  I get why people chase eclipses all over the world.  I feel changed.  Not sure sure how but I do.  

When it comes to total solar eclipses, the allure is irresistible, and the experience I can is truly out of this world.

Totality – 10 RAW images stacked in Affinity Photo using HDR Merge