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.