The solar eclipse of 2012 has come and gone. It was a pretty amazing event, and most of the U.S. was able to see at least a partial eclipse. Being an annular eclipse it wasn’t as spectacular as a total eclipse – or so I’ve been told. Since I’ve never seen a total eclipse I have no experience in what it would be like. We have one of those coming in 2017 which will cover a swath through the entire U.S. – here’s a map. I’m already working on potential locations so I can be in a prime location to see it.
The only eclipse I remember seeing any part of was in 1984. I was up Big Cottonwood Canyon with a couple of friends trekking around in snow shoes taking pictures, and I remember the light getting kind of funky. I didn’t have anything to look at the sun directly and tried shooting it with no success. I’ve been looking forward to this eclipse for a while.
Even though this was an annular eclipse, it was close enough to make a little travel worth while to see its’ full effect. I debated quite a bit on where to go, focusing on the “blue line” on the map, anywhere along that line and the moon would briefly be perfectly centered in the sun. After scouting west of Cedar City and not seeing anything of interest for a foreground, I decided anywhere in the area where the moon would be contained within the sun so I could see the ring would work. I ended up choosing Cedar Breaks. Sunday around noon I headed south with my good friend Randy Collier, equipped with about every piece of photographic gear I own and a pair of eclipse glasses full of great expectations.
After arriving I scouted a few locations, and finally decided to set up on the trail part way out to Spectra Point. It was then that I realized this probably wouldn’t be a great location for a landscape image. The sun was just too high, and too bright. Even trying to do a silhouette with a long lens would have been problematic.
After looking at images I’ve seen on the internet, it appears those who were in areas where the sun was setting about the time of the eclipse had the best opportunity. The low sun and dense atmosphere brought the image into a range the camera could handle, whereas those where the sun was high had little chance of an interesting shot.
I was surprised at all the telescopes that were set up at scenic overlooks, since they could see the same thing from the parking lot. In fact the wind blowing up the face of the cliffs against those telescopes certainly caused some vibration. But at over 10,000 feet altitude Cedar Breaks was probably a pretty good spot for them … the air was relatively clear and there were no clouds.
I found a location which I thought offered a reasonable foreground. As the moon first made it’s way in front of the sun I was rather amazed watching it through the $2 eclipse glasses I had, and started testing to see if any exposure and amount of ND filters would allow me to actually capture the dark shape. When it was about half way, I decided all I could do is take a bunch of shots when it reached it’s maximum coverage, and the difference between one that would actually show the moon and one that would show the foreground was in the order of 15 or 20 stops difference.
Needless to say I was a little discouraged … I had envisioned a great landscape with this “other worldly” sun floating above it. No harm in trying something, so I set up a nice composition, added two .9 ND grad filters (6 stops total), and waited for the perfect moment. When the moon hit the middle, I took an entire series of images, making sure I had a good one of the foreground, a good one of the sky, and then several more adding more neutral density to the sky, as well as various settings with shutter speed and f-stops. The light was definitely not normal, as the high sun was still reflecting into the back side of the formations in front of me, yet the intensity was several stops below normal. I’ve never shot into the sun like this and seen foreground objects get illuminated in this way.
Reviewing them on the way home I realized I didn’t have much, but perhaps by stacking 3 different exposures and some pretty serious manual HDR blending in Photoshop I could get at least something representative. So the final product is the result of 3 captures, one of foreground, one of the sky, and one of the little black dot that was the moon.
Regardless of the outcome, it was a fun exercise and certainly worth watching in person.