(Editor’s note: Read Marie’s depiction of what led them to photograph the eclipse from two different places.)
My eclipse day went like this: Greg, Sarah and I were up in the dark at 4:30 am, aiming to be out the door and on the road at 5 am. Already a few cars were leaving the parking lot. We were on our way by 5:10 am and headed south on Teton Park Road. Although there were more cars on the road than usual for that hour, we hit no traffic and pulled into the parking lot at the Rockefeller Preserve at 5:45 am, where a ranger was already stationed and waving cars in. The lot was already half full. I mused aloud: Was this analogous to the LA Olympics (people so fearful of traffic that everyone stayed home, resulting in no traffic)?
By 6:10 am, we were on the Woodland Trail and 3.5 easy and mostly level miles later, after a pit stop, a stop to shoot the early light on the lake and another to shoot a juvenile bald eagle overhead, we were among the first to arrive at the beach, with hours to spare to set up.
It was a relief to be there. Both Greg and I were ladened like pack animals, carrying two complete camera set-ups each. My Gura Gear backpack was completely full and further weighted down with water in the Camelbak attachment. In one side mesh pocket was a Nalgene bottle of water, and a collapsible chair filled the other. I was balanced by a tripod in each hand.
There was plenty of room to spread out and a foreground object of interest presented itself immediately, a downed tree on the beach, its roots projecting in a sculptural way into the air.
I intended to set up a wide-angle time lapse, which I had rehearsed but somehow later messed up. I’m guessing I should have reset it after removing the camera from the tripod to take a few shots of people on the beach in their eclipse glasses. Nevertheless, in a classic case of “better lucky than good”, I still managed to obtain a wide angle scenic, including the totally eclipsed sun, with which I am really happy.
Our soundtrack was the Solar Eclipse Timer app, which uses your GPS coordinates to provide prompts, such as the start of the partial eclipse (first contact), etc. Its jangling in my pocket was occasionally a little unnerving. I’d fish it out of my pocket only to receive a pronouncement on the order of: “Observe ambient temperature” or “Observe animal behavior”.
Meanwhile, Steve intended to return our rental car down in Jackson, then catch the shuttle back to the airport and hunker down there to photograph the eclipse. We had heard that access to the airport would be limited on eclipse morning to those with boarding passes. The rental car agency opened at 6 am. Although he started out early intending to be there at their opening, he hit a stopped line of cars heading south on Hwy 89/26/191. It was stopped for 1.5 hours. Surprisingly, when he finally made it into Jackson, it was empty. It seemed everyone was moving toward the centerline north of Jackson.
At the airport, he searched for a suitable foreground subject. He was the only one to focus on an iconic sculpture of a cowboy on a bucking bronco, called “Battle of Wills” by Bart Walter. It was fenced off, but he rolled up our large suitcase to use as a table, assembled his collapsible chair, and camped out.
He had 2 cameras, but only one tripod, and fearing he might mess up his eclipse close-ups, elected to shoot the wide-angle view handheld.
Meanwhile, back at the lake, our little beach gradually became more populated, but never crowded. It was just what I had hoped for, enough company for conviviality, but not so much as to induce fear for the tripod set-ups.
When we arrived, the sun had not yet ascended over the ridge or cleared the trees. There was a rim of low clouds. It was pleasantly cool. Once the sun did clear the trees, the partial eclipse began at 10:16 am. It was remarkable how cool it stayed…the usual warming one would expect at mid-morning coincided with the progressing partial eclipse. Toward totality, the startling drop in ambient temperature prompted Greg to replace his jacket.
With the Solar Eclipse Timer app counting down to totality, the partial eclipse became slimmer and slimmer, until it was an impossibly slight sliver, our signal to pull off the solar filters. After practicing at home screwing and unscrewing our solar filters, we had realized how much precious time could be lost fumbling with filters and had invested in Manfrotto XUME magnetic filter holder systems, which worked brilliantly.
Gasps, cheers and choruses of “Oh my god!” broke out on the beach as the the crowd gaped in wonder at the celestial splendor of the fully eclipsed sun.
All too soon, it was time to snap the solar filters back on when the sudden brightening in the sky signified the second diamond ring.
We decided to begin our 1-hour hike out before the partial eclipse concluded.
Steve, still holding down the fort at the airport, anticipated this and shot the entire sequence, enabling us to produce this composite image.
Back at the parking lot, we were only a few miles from the airport, which was basically due east. My luck held. We ran into virtually no traffic. I arrived with ample time to spare, enough time for us to leisurely repack and reorganize our gear at the airport and even post a few sample images to Facebook as well as having a pulled pork sandwich and coleslaw lunch all the while basking in the eclipse after-glow.
Already my thoughts turn to what I would do next time. I shot at 400 mm, on a 1.5 crop factor camera, 600 mm equivalent. Next time, I might use the 1.4X teleconverter. I would pay more attention to critical focus, taking more time with fewer images. I used continuous high during the diamond ring sequences, which may have caused my focus to drift a bit. I was really happy with my choice of the wide-angle scene. I was lucky because I programmed my other unattended camera to take the lake scene during totality. Instead of my intended wide angle time lapse sequence, I ended up with exactly 3 shots, 5 minutes before and after totality, and one during. Better lucky than good, but I’ll take it.
Overall, for being our first real attempt at shooting an eclipse, we are thrilled with our results and with the experience and can’t wait to repeat it. One of the next terrestrial opportunities will be in Argentina on July 2, 2019-I can’t think of a better way to commemorate our 30th wedding anniversary than with a celestial diamond ring!