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Tag : Photo adventure

19 Jun 2020

Milky Way fun in New Hampshire

I decided to head over to New Hampshire last night for some Milky Way photos. The state is only 15 miles from my house in Vermont and has a very different look than where I live. Finding good places to shoot the Milky Way is tough, I always want to have something interesting in the foreground and not just stars overhead. Getting away from light pollution is very hard and I use a couple of websites and apps to help but you never really know until you’re there on a moonless night. So finding a place with those two main criteria requires a lot of snooping around in daylight and then going back at night to see how it really looks. I went to one pond that I spotted an island on Google maps yesterday but there were houses along the shore and no place to park so I’ll have to go back during the day and make some friends to gain access. I went to another large pond, Goose Pond, to a spot I had scouted before. As soon as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could tell there would be a lot of light pollution to the south east, which is where the Milky Way is located. It was bright enough to light the water and some of the sky to diminish the Milky Way’s colors but the stars reflecting on the water looked cool.

Then I went over to a boat launch on Mascoma Lake, which I guessed would be bright and I was right. I street light in the parking lot lit up the moored boats which ended up looking rather good. Finally I went to a small pond I had scouted and tromped out into a wet field in the darkness. Again there was plenty of light pollution on the horizon which reflected in the pond but the area was open enough to photograph the entire Milky Way’s arch. After processing the photos today I was liking them more than when I shot them. That makes for a good night.

19 May 2020

International Space Station meet Polaris

I love when when great planning comes together to create a good picture. I love even more when dumb planning and incredible luck combine to create a special image. I was out shooting star trails over a pond last night and lined up a cool looking shot. I planned on getting some good reflections from the trees I was lighting with my flashlight in the water. Star trails are essentially very long exposures and the stars blur due to the earth’s rotation. This photo was made in a period of 2 hours and 45 minutes, but rather than being one shot it is about 275 photos that were 30 seconds long each. They are then assembled with software to show the movement of the stars. I add some light to the trees so there is a nice foreground and I knew I’d have a pretty cool shot. As I’m sitting out in the dark the International Space Station flew over. It is always fun to see it streak past but this time it looked like it was going to be in my shot. About 90 minutes later it came by again, this time lower in the sky and not as bright. Hey, I might catch that one too, I thought. Today when I put the photo together I was thrilled to see the ISS flew right in front of Polaris, which is the star the others rotate around. Now that is cool. Plus I have the second ISS pass lower in the shot. Damn I’m good.

15 May 2020

Will Iceland be the safest place this summer?

It looks like Iceland will be one of the safest places to be this summer. As of Tuesday there were only 15 active cases in the whole country with one person in the hospital and no new cases in five days. https://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/news/2020/05/12/fifth_day_of_no_new_covid_19_cases_in_iceland/. The country has been testing people even before the virus was in the country and has been a model for dealing with the virus. Check out this CNN interview with the Prime Minister https://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2020/05/12/katrin-jakobsdottir-amanpour-iceland-coronavirus-testing-tourism.cnn.
 
They also announced they are screening every person arriving in the country starting June 15. When you arrive at the airport you’ll get tested and the results will come back the next day and you’ll be allowed to travel. You can read more about it https://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/news/2020/05/13/new_rules_regarding_quarantine_in_iceland/. They haven’t released details on how they are pulling this off, where people will be quarantined and what happens if you don’t pass the test but it seems like a great plan. 
 
Being small and being on an island has big benefits.
 
 
25 Mar 2020

Photos from Cuba

So much happened in Cuba with the coronavirus hanging over our heads, even there was very little evidence of it in Cuba but there was the constant concern that we may be delayed coming home. But the week was magical and we made some great photos. I didn’t do a great job editing, so here are a bunch of photos I shot. If you click on one it will bring up a larger version and then you can use the arrows on the extreme right and left to scroll through the images.

19 Feb 2020

Loving an Icelandic ice cave

Iceland is full of wonder, maybe one of the most amazing is ice cave in the glaciers. The caves are formed by rivers flowing through the ice in the summer, carving out tunnels during the annual melt. Once winter arrives with colder temperatures, the hollowed out ice becomes a special place. I’ve been in several caves during my Iceland journeys but the one we went to today was a special one. I hired a private guide for our group, which is the only way to get there. We rode 45 minutes in a van with huge oversized tires to traverse the bumpy road to the glacier. We then hiked a little over a mile to get to the cave before the sun rose. The hike was long but pretty easy and the scenery on the way was special. There were other photographers at the cave, it is impossible to go to an empty cave. But the photographers worked together to not get each other in the photos. Once the regular tourists appear, the caves become crowded and making good photos are tough with everyone trying to make selfies. 

The glacier glows a wonderful blue as light makes it way through the ice. I moved to the side of the can and used an extreme wide angle lens as one of the other guides posed with an ice axe. The person in the shot provided a sense of scale and helps the scene make visual sense.

We walked farther back in the cave where there were fewer people and the pictures were equally cool. Again, having a person in the photo made the shot. It was a special day and one I’ll remember forever.

30 Dec 2019

Favorite photos of 2019

I keep getting older and life keeps getting better! Sure, creaky bones and old man stiffness is coming on strong but my brain still thinks I’m in my 20’s. I am fortunate and thankful that I am loved by my wife Robin, have great family and friends and am doing the work that I love.

One of my life dreams, opening a photography gallery, came true this year and I’m traveling to places I could only have imagined not too many years ago. I made trips to Italy twice, exploring the beauty of Tuscany and visiting Venice before it gets sadly destroyed by flooding. Iceland is one of my favorite places and I’m glad I don’t have to decide if I like it better in winter or summer since I go there in both seasons. And I had the thrill of chasing a total solar eclipse in northern Chile. It is one spectacle that I can’t get enough of. 

I spend as much time as I can at my Vermont house, which is a great place to photograph snow in the winter, the Milky Way all summer and the immense beauty of fall foliage in October. This year’s foliage was one of the most colorful in recent years and I’m blessed that my neighbor allows me access to her special property nearby. It is where I made the shot above.

Getting out and working with other photographers during my many workshops is very fulfilling. Whether we are getting together at my gallery or around New Jersey, going into New York City, cruising up the Maine Coast, checking out scenic Bucks County, PA, stomping around Vermont or going international, it is fun to see what other photographers come up with.

Entering a new year and decade is exciting and I look forward to seeing what new adventures await.

Below are some of my favorite photos I made in 2019. Move your mouse over a photo to see where the image was made or click on a photo to see a larger version and then you can click the arrows to move through the pictures.

26 Oct 2019

Streaking at the Brooklyn Bridge

A fun workshop that I do with fellow professional photographer Ron Lake is a tour of New York City’s big bridges. We can’t hit them all in one day but we go to five of the most photogenic. Our first stop is usually the George Washington Bridge and the little known Little Red Lighthouse that sits underneath. I’ve written in my blog about it before but it is still fun to take people to something they didn’t know existed. We then go to one of the prettiest bridges, the Queensborough, then the industrial Williamsburg Bridge. Finally we go over to Brooklyn to shoot the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. Photographing the Brooklyn Bridge at dusk as the lights of lower Manhattan start glowing is always a favorite. A helicopter zipped past tonight as I was doing a long exposure creating a streak of light and dashes from a flashing light. It is a lot of fun and the scene never gets tiring.

29 Sep 2019

Photographing lighthouses in Maine

Maine’s coast is hard to beat for great scenery and when you toss in a bunch of lighthouses it becomes a true visual treat. I hosted a workshop this weekend that started with driving from New Jersey and picking up people along the route to Portland in my 12 passenger Sprinter van. We had people from five states including Florida for the fast three day excursion and we photographed 10 lighthouses.  The weather was ideal giving us brilliant sunrises and colorful sunsets. We went to classic locations that every photographer should see including Portland Head and Nubble and some lesser known ones. 

I rarely take groups to places I haven’t been before but I had a gap and did a ton of research to find us another place to shoot between Portland and our Saturday night location in Rockland. Squirrel Point lighthouse looked good in my research and I knew it would be a fairly long hike but as we were walking out we crossed a small bridge and I noticed the tide was coming in. I tried to see if I could find a high tide line or something to tell if the water came up to the bridge but I couldn’t see anything. Since I hadn’t read about any problems and I couldn’t see anything, we ventured on. We photographed the lighthouse for a while and some of the group was ahead of the rest and a gentleman out running told them to hurry because the rising tide would be a problem. And it was. When we got to the bridge both ends we almost a foot deep in water. Our runner friend came back and asked if there was anything he could do to help. I had some cheap plastic boot covers in the van and he was kind enough to run the 1/4 mile to get them and bring them back. Some of our people had already ventured across before I got there and either took their shoes and socks off or just went ahead and got their feet wet. 

The runner came back, seeming to enjoy running through the water and helping us. I assisted the rest of our group put on the little plastic bag/boots and they made their way dryly through the water. Disaster averted.

For me the best part of the weekend was sunset on Saturday at Marshall Point Lighthouse, which just happened to be where Forrest Gump finished his run. The evening clouds were great and as darkness set in I got out my trusty flashlight and did some light painting of the walkway and the lighthouse. We were given a great show and it was a wonderful weekend.

22 Aug 2019

Hello Reykjavik, goodbye Iceland

The final full day of my Iceland Photography Workshop was spent in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and largest city. Even though there are a little over 200,00 people, two-thirds of all Icelanders live in the Reykjavik area and it has that small city feel. There is plenty happening in Reykjavik, it has a hopping night scene, big art scene and a top-notch performing arts center called Harpa. Iceland isn’t known for it architecture, most buildings are functional and blocky but Harpa is a major exception. The front is made with glass octagons that look vastly different when viewed at angles. 

Close to Harpa is Sun Voyager, a large gleaming steel sculpture that resembles a Viking ship, although that wasn’t the intention of the artist. It was meant to be a dream boat and ode to the sun. It always makes for great photos. Many houses in downtown Reykjavik are painted with unique colors and there is a good deal of street art murals. It makes for a fun stroll with a camera. 

While driving to the hotel I went past a strange cemetery, it was full of eerie looking trees. I’m never one to pass up a good cemetery, so I took the group there late the day to see how it really looked. It was eerie all right, the trees were planted within the cemetery plots, very few were between them leading us to believe they were part of the memorials. Most of the trees had thin, tall trunks with a large canopy which added to the dark feel. It would be great fun to be there on a foggy day. There were a couple of cats roaming around, they were pretty chubby and had collars with bells, so they seemed to be out from home for the afternoon. 

When ended the day hoping to catch a great sunset at a lighthouse. There was some nice color in the sky before sunset but a marine layer of clouds blocked the killer shot of the sun setting behind the lighthouse. The lighthouse is on an island and it is easy to walk over to it on the beach at low tide. But we arrived as high tide was coming in and the only way off is climbing over jagged rocks, which is tough during the day but very hazardous at night. We opted not to venture to the island but made some beautiful images anyway. 

Tomorrow we pack up and head home, the end to another great Icelandic adventure. I look forward to coming back in February!

21 Aug 2019

A little Icelandic wind to keep things interesting

Today we made the journey back to Reykjavik as my Iceland Photography Workshop is nearly the end. One of the highlights of coming to Iceland in August is photographing puffins, those cute, colorful and rather sad looking cuddly birds. They spend about nine months a year floating on the ocean and come ashore to breed and hatch their eggs then head back to the open sea. I found a spot where they roost on a cliff that is easy for photographers to access. I’ve made some great shots there in the past I was hoping everyone on this trip would be able to get some too. When we got up this morning it was raining and blowing hard. I delayed our departure hoping the weather would clear and it did – somewhat. The rain went away but the wind got even stronger. It was a constant 50-60 mph making walking hard and keeping a camera steady even harder. Iceland is the third windiest place on earth and the other two are uninhabited islands.

The puffins were having a tough time too. The cliff where we get a good close view is a bit of an L shape and we stand at the end of the short part of the L. That is where puffins land about 15-20 feet away on a couple rocks with a good coating of puffin poop. That is where I tell my photographers to watch, when they walk on the rocks you get a great shot. But the wind was too strong for them to land on our side of the cliff. Several tried and could only circle and go elsewhere. They spend the morning flying out and fishing and bringing their catch back to their nests in tall grass. Many were landing on the other side of the cliff but it is too far away to get a nice tight shot. It was fun to watch them navigate the wind and find a way to land. Several of were amazed when one puffin flew toward the cliff and spun around at the last moment and flew backwards into its landing spot. They have dealt with the wind before.

Realizing the wind wasn’t going to let up we had to leave and start our journey back north. We had a couple of stops to make along the way, one being at Gullfoss, a very large waterfall that is very impressive. It is one of the main tourist spots in Iceland and there is always a crowd. It is hard to photograph the whole thing, so I concentrated on a small part. We also went nearby to Geysir, where Icelanders claim the original geyser was seen. Geysir itself is now dormant but one a couple hundred feet away spurts every nine minutes at most. It creates a blue bubble seconds before it blows, which is a challenge to catch with a camera. On to Reykavik for one more full day!

20 Aug 2019

Playing around Iceland’s largest glacier

Iceland is known for waterfalls and glaciers, yesterday I took my workshop to the waterfalls, today it was glacier time. I know this little spot where a tongue of Vatnajökull glacier comes down into a lagoon. There is a little dirt road back to it off the highway, it isn’t marked and too small for most people to take a chance to see what is there. Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Europe and covers 8% of Iceland. It is big. 

Driving over from Vic we encountered some rain and wind but all of that stopped when we got out of the van. There were a couple of other people for a while but we mainly had the place to ourselves, which is always fun. In the summer the glacier melts and leaves a layer of dirt in the ice. It is cool to see but not pristine. This is one place that looks better in the winter but it is still fun to see how big this little part of the glacier is and it makes some great photos.

After leaving my little glacial hideaway we drove down to Jökulsárlón where another tongue of the glacier meets the ocean. A large lagoon is there and a short river has formed to drain the lagoon into the ocean. At high tide ocean water surges back into the lagoon and the salty water breaks off large chunks of the glacier. Year round you’ll see large icebergs floating in the lagoon and out the river. When they get to the ocean they break up more and float back onto the black sand beach. As the ice gets smaller it looks like diamonds on the beach when light shins through it. The weather had turned bad and it was raining pretty hard when we arrived. I drove to a couple of spots hoping the rain would ease and it finally did so we went over to Diamond Beach. The light was pretty bad, it was windy and it was spitting rain so shooting wasn’t easy. We still made some fun shots and went back over to the lagoon. Huge pieces of blue ice were floating and breaking apart. It was fun to see and to shoot. The rain came back so we started back toward the hotel.

As we were driving the rain was falling and then the sun came out. It made of one the biggest and brightest rainbows I have ever seen. I pulled the van off the road and we jumped out and shot some pictures while trying to stay dry. It was a lot of fun and great way to end another fabulous day in Iceland.

19 Aug 2019

Peace and waterfalls in Iceland

Toady we made the long drive from Grundarfjörður down to Vic, our Summer Iceland Photography Workshop home for the next two nights. One the way we stopped at three tremendous but different waterfalls. Two of them are well known, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. They are too well known, all the tour buses stop there and there is always a huge crowd unless you go extremely early or late in the day. Since they were on our way to Vic, we went at the same time as everyone else. Seljalandsfoss is a very long drop and you can walk behind it, which make for great photos. If you work it right you can eliminate a lot of people from your photos, but it is tricky.

Skogafoss is much wider but you can’t go behind it without drowning. You can get out in the river below the falls and keep some of the people out of the shot but you need to be prepared. I bought some cheap plastic boot covers and gave them to some of our photographers to try but they fell apart about as fast as it took to put them on. When you get close enough to be in front of most of the people you get a good deal of spray hitting you. So I also brought bright yellow micro fiber towels for each person and showed them how to play peek-a-boo with the towel over the camera lens to keep the front dry.

But the highlight for me and the other photographers is a smaller waterfall that most people don’t know about and that is a good thing so I won’t mention the name. You have to climb over a fence and hike about a 1/2 mile back to it. There are a couple of rather tricky spots where you have to climb up and over rocky humps, which also keeps some people out. But once back there the scene is serene and magical. It may be my favorite place in Iceland, I could spend hours there surrounded by the lush green gorge, flowing river and the only sound being falling water. You can also go behind the falls and look out through the gorge and see only the people you came with. Before you get to the falls you are up on a hill looking down on the stream going through the valley. There isn’t a more peaceful place to be.

Click on an image to see a larger version, then you can scroll through them.

18 Aug 2019

Another Icelandic journey

We started my latest Iceland Photo Workshop by heading north to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, a beautiful area that doesn’t get the big bus loads of tourists. It is well known for a cute little church in Budir that is painted black and for Kurkjufellsfoss a scenic waterfall beside the iconic Kirkjufell mountain. We were based near the little town of Grundarfjörður just across a small bay from Kirkjufell. There is an artist in town who goes by the name of Liston and I have visited him with groups several times. He can usually be found outside his studio carving stone and his artwork is all over town. He greets me with a big smile and firm hand shake and is always willing to talk with everyone. I’d love to have one of his large carvings but getting it back home would be a major event. He did offer one of our folks to come stay with her for a couple of months and carve anything she wants! In the winter when it too cold to be outside carving he is in his studio painting. I bought one of his larger acrylic paintings on paper and can’t wait to hang it.

During our two days around Snæfellsnes we journeyed to Bjarnarhöfn, home to a shark musuem but rather than go inside we photographed another black church and the beautiful country side. We also went up to the little harbor town of Stykkishólmur, which is a classic quaint Icelandic village. We made the fairly easy climb up a small mountain that has a great overview of boats in the harbor and the town built on the hills. It is a great view.

Back in Grundarfjörður we wandered out through fields to a pretty waterfalls. It was more than a mile round trip and the last section to get close to the falls was pretty tricky so only a couple of people made the final hike. On the way out an Icelandic horse wandered over to see what we were up to. Before getting too close she stopped and did some posing for all the photographers. And she was a great poser, striking the right moves with a scenic mountain behind her. When she had enough of that she came over to check the camera of one of our people. She sniffed around but didn’t lick the lens!

Click on an image to see a larger version, then you can scroll through them.

03 Jul 2019

Stunned by the total solar eclipse

I saw my first total solar eclipse while in the Oregon desert in 2017 and decided right then that I would an eclipse chaser. I started planning for the next one as soon as I got home. Well, it was yesterday and pretty much all I can do is say WOW!

I was concerned that maybe the first eclipse would be the best and seeing another would be a let down. It sure wasn’t. The impact of seeing the moon move in front of and totally block the sun isn’t something I can do justice in words or pictures. 

This time I went to the desert of Chile, which is the ground zero for astronomy in South America. I hadn’t been to this part of Chile before and I didn’t have a local guide, which added to the adventure. I was lucky to find a cool cabin for our group to stay Monday night and during the eclipse, so logistics couldn’t have been better. (See blog post)

So yesterday was all about making sure my workshop group was ready. I had made solar filters for each of their cameras along with my own. Each person in the group shot with two cameras, I was using three. I had one with a 70-200mm and a 2X teleconverter giving me a 400mm lens. This one was mounted on a star tracker so it would follow the sun as it moved across the sky. Once totality began, I set it to shoot non-stop during the entire 2.5 minutes. I had another camera with another 70-200mm lens ready to shoot the landscape during totality. Since we knew where the sun would be during totality I set it in a fixed position on a tripod and manually fired it during totality.

My third camera had a 400mm lens with a 1.4X teleconverter giving me a 560mm lens. This was my main camera and I manually tracked the sun during the eclipse and shot all the phases. During the partial phases of the eclipse you have to use a special filter to keep the sun from burning out the camera’s sensor. The same for your eyes. But during totality the filters come off. I had my laptop running an eclipse countdown program that showed when each phase was happening, which is important to know.

Just like in Oregon, the partial phase of the eclipse is cool but not overly compelling. For this eclipse it was an hour and 16 minutes from the start until totality began. People watching are excited for the first few minutes as the black disc of the moon slides over the sun. They people tend to stop looking much and wander around. There were about 40 people in out little compound, all of them family or friends of the owners. For all of them it was their first eclipse. At one point I went over and showed a 10-year-old boy how to hold his hands so the shadow from the partial eclipse would make a very fun design on the ground. He liked it for a few minutes. But I knew the best was yet to come.

About ten minutes before totality things really start to change. We were out in a mountain desert that didn’t have many trees or wildlife. July is winter in Chile but we were so far north that the temperature was in the upper 60’s. As the totality became more imminent the air quickly cooled and suddenly birds started fluttering around. I hadn’t seen any all day but now they were appearing from nowhere. 

One of my favorite things of totality is the light. Being a photographer I appreciate light daily and love sunrise and sunset for the quality of light then. Right before totality the light gets this amazing color. It is dim but it isn’t the same warm color like a sunset. It is incredibly unique and all I could do was smile and spin around looking at the surrounding mountains.  It all happens so fast and lasts such a short time that it is hard to take it all in.

Then totality happens.

My one mistake was having the camera with the tracker too far away from me and I had to run over to it to take off the filter. There are two cool shots to get at the edges of totality. The first is called Bailey’s Beads which looks like little beads at the edge of the sun. The other is Diamond Ring, which is a very short moment when the edge of the sun is just sticking out from behind the moon creating a cool glow. At the start of the eclipse I missed both of them running from camera to camera. But I got them as totality ended!

I had told the other photographers in my group that I was there to help them get the best photos they could but during the 2.5 minutes of totality they were on their own. If there was a problem at that point it wasn’t going to be something I could fix so they should just not worry about the camera and take in the eclipse itself. I also told them to plan on not making pictures during at least half of totality so they feel what was going on around them.

As totality began I looked and the other photographers looked like they were doing ok. I realized there was suddenly a lot of noise. People in the compound and other camps down the mountain were yelling wildly. Their exuberation was contagious and then cheers of “Chile, Chile, Chile” broke out. It was a great scene. I was having a hard time monitoring the cameras and taking it all in.

I wish I could describe in words or pictures the feeling I get during totality. Many times during the planning and worrying about logistics I wondered if it really was worth all that time and effort just to see something for 2.5 minutes. There is no doubt it is worth it. After totality ended and I got the camera filters back on for the rest of the eclipse I just stood out in the Chilean mountain desert and looked around thinking how absolutely fortunate I am. I got quite emotional. This was special. Incredibly special. Amazingly special. 

The next total solar eclipse is in southern Chile and Argentina in Dec. 2020. I scouted the area last year and I can’t imagine missing it.

01 Jul 2019

The perfect place for eclipse viewing


Running around Chile without speaking much Spanish is a bit intimidating but what a great adventure!

This is the first time I’ve done a workshop and hadn’t either been to the location or worked with something who knew the area. I billed the workshop as an exploratory adventure and so far it has been fairly free anxiety or stress. I did a ton of research before going so I had a good idea where the best viewing locations would be but not exact places. I’m on a Facebook group of hard core eclipse chasers and they helped with pre-arrival scouting and logistics. The hardest part was finding hotel rooms around La Serena, they were sold out early but I found accommodations through AirBnB. All I could get was a three bedroom so I only brought three other people with me, Burt and Evelyn, an American couple living in Ecuador and Jane from New York City.

Sunday I took the group an hour east of La Serena to the Eliqui Valley and the town of Vicuña, near several international observatories. It is one of the darkest places in South America and is well known among people who care about that sort of thing. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get into the big observatories but I had read about a smaller one run by volunteers. We drove right up to it, ok, we had to kinda open the gate, but there weren’t many people around. We tried talking to a guy wandering around but he wasn’t a whole lot of help. A woman came over and said she heard English being spoken. She was from Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and working with other universities around the world to film and study the sun during the eclipse. She told me what experiments they were doing but it was way too detailed for my brain to handle. I told what we were up to and while obviously not impressed, she asked if I had heard of Fred Espenak. Yea, he is the king of eclipse photography. She said his group was using one of the three buildings on the site. If Fred is here, then this is the place to be. A while later the observatory’s head guy arrived and told us the place would be full for the eclipse and we couldn’t be here. Drat.

As we were leaving there was a small camp next to the observatory and they had a little sign selling food. There were several small buildings in the complex and it looked like there might be room for our group to hang out on eclipse day. I had driven past it a little bit but we thought it might be a good idea to see if we could come back for the eclipse. I pulled the van into a dusty area near a tent and a couple of very friendly young people in their 20’s came over. They spoke great English, which makes things so much easier. We asked them what the deal was and the guy said they had two cabins for rent. How interesting! He gave us a tour of a newly constructed cabin and it was barely large enough to hold our group. It had two bedrooms and futon in a small common area. I was thinking the others could have the bedrooms and I’d take the futon.

One of my main concerns about any location was going to be traffic from La Serena. For months the government issued warnings about how bad the traffic would be since there was only a two-lane road out to Vicuña and the Elqui Valley and that they would be making much of it a one way road before and after the eclipse to handle all the traffic.

If we could spend Monday night on location and not have to fight traffic in the morning, I’d have no stress at all. The weather forecast was perfect and there wasn’t a better place to view the eclipse. I asked how much for the little three room cabin and he said $900 for a night. Ouch! I let him know that was way too much and I offered $200, pointing out that it was only two days away and $200 was better than nothing. His whole family lived there and he went to talk with his mother and aunt, the “chef” at the “restaurant.” He came back and said $300, telling us how good the food and wine was. Toss in two bottles of wine and we’d do it. We shook hands, I gave him a deposit and I was thrilled to be in such a great spot. It would also allow us to be out in a dark place for the night to shoot the Milky Way and stars. As we were walking out, workers were coming out of the second cabin, they had just completed both of them and we were their first guests.

We came back Monday afternoon in time to see exactly where the sun would be during the eclipse. Totality was at 4:42 p.m. so the sun would be pretty low on the horizon. I had found several maps online that showed where the shadows would fall at that time of day, which wasn’t a place I wanted to be. Interestingly the government had set up 11 official observation locations that had restroom facilities and most of them would be in shadow during totality, which was going to disappoint a lot of people. 

Our compound was near the top of the mountain and it was a windy dirt road to get there. I had noticed there weren’t any utility lines to be seen and asked about the electricity. The camp ran on a generator that they turned off at midnight. Since we wanted to be out photographing stars, I was thrilled the place would be dark. They did have great cell phone service, so all was wonderful in the world!

The brightest and most colorful part of the Milky Way rose above the mountains around 8:00 p.m. so we made sure we were out there. Several camps had sprung up in fields below us and they had generators too. And they created a lot of light. I was hoping for legendary darkness but we could see town down in the valley and light from the other camps. It didn’t bother the Milky Way though, it glowed brightly in the sky. I wanted a photo of the complete Milky Way arch, which is hard to photograph in the Northeastern U.S. I have cell phone apps that show stars’ locations and knew the shot I really wanted was going to be between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. It was a perfectly clear night and I have never seen so many stars.

I used a flashlight to illuminate our cabin as a foreground and made some fun shots. I had also wanted to do some star trails shots. In the old days you left your camera’s shutter open for a couple of hours and hoped the film could handle it, which usually wasn’t the case. Now with digital it is a matter of making a bunch of photos and putting them together in the computer. If you aim the camera at the North Pole or in Chile, the South Pole, the stars rotate around it. Yes, it is actually the earth’s rotation that causes the starts to move. Earlier in the evening I aimed a camera at a mountain to the east and let it shoot for a couple of hours. I did 30 second exposures with a gap of 10 seconds between shots to give the camera time to process. You get a weird effect shooting to the east rather than the pole. Before I went to bed for a few hours I set up another camera behind the cabin aiming south and let it run all night. I set an alarm to get up at sunrise to fetch the camera before somebody else saw it and it was still firing away.

It was the perfect lead up to a total solar eclipse.