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Photographing Solar Eclipse 2017 Totality From Rexburg, Idaho, USA

My MNE Experience- “Powerful non-ordinary experiences with/in nature that are particularly profound, significant, affective and difficult to wholly describe.

 

Admittedly when I first heard about the 2017 eclipse a couple years ago I wasn’t too concerned with viewing it or not.  I never like planning too far ahead as things, life events, and job circumstances can change quickly, so I decided to see what was possible closer to the time it was happening. As the date drew closer I started to  gain more interest in this historic solar event. The last time I was alive for a view able solar eclipse in my area of Calgary, I was under 10 years old and certainly far less aware!

Latitude: 43° 49′ 34″ N Longitude: 111° 47′ 23″ W
Duration of Totality*: 2m 17s Partial phase start: 10:15:42AM (MDT), at “1:00 o’clock” on the sun’s disk
Totality Start*: 11:33:14AM (MDT)
*All times shown are calculated for the lat/long specified above, and are accurate to within a couple of seconds, due mainly to influences of the “edge effects” at the start and end of totality.

I have been working very hard on my hobby and passion of photography especially in the past year having been laid off from my oil and gas IT job. It seemed a perfect time to take this eventful trip with time on my side! Armed with our approved solar glasses and our camera gear, I decided to join my good friend, fellow photographer and storm chaser Shannon Prentice for the trip down to Rexburg, Idaho. Shannon and I met in the Alberta photographic community and have been friends from afar, but this was to be our first road trip and shooting expedition together! Shannon is a seasoned Alberta and USA storm chaser, making annual trips to chase and photograph some of nature’s most ferocious storms.  She has sold some of her footage in the past to National Geographic, and takes beautiful aurora photographs sometimes from the comfort of her country acreage outside of the Red Deer, Alberta area. (Check out Shannons’ amazing work here).

From afar, I was also keeping in contact with another dear friend shooting a state over in Wyoming, Heidi Kirsch Novak (check out her incredible work here Chasing Ghosts Photography) Heidi sent us great instructions on making filters, told us of her viewing plans, and we stayed in contact throughout our shooting adventures just a state over. It was great fun knowing that other photographer friends were in other areas

We chose Rexburg as it’s one of the best places to get to from the Calgary area- about a 10 hour drive each way. Rexburg was along the path of totality, and in fact only miles from one of the top 12 viewing locations in USA as deemed by NASA, affording us a full 2 min, 17 seconds of totality. Rexburg in fact, had been named one of the premier places in the United States to view this historic eclipse, due to Rexburg’s high altitude, high probability of clear skies and location just 7 miles north of the transect line. The morning of the eclipse we awoke to beautiful clear skies, not too much visible smoke from the neighbouring forest fires in other states, and a forecast of around 85 degrees.

(I should mention that while we encountered other eclipse “chasers” who had traveled to the area from all parts of the USA paying upwards of $700 a night in a Motel 6 (2 night minimum!), we were hosted by an amazing family who let us crash in their beautiful trailer they travel around the USA in. Thank you to April,Justin and family! #gltlove)

In the weeks leading up to our departure, we both ordered some solar paper from All-Star Telescope in Didsbury, who have a fantastic selection of all things one needs for viewing the planets, stars, and skies. The #Baader solar paper comes with a template for making your own solar filter, and I was lucky enough to have my own John fashion one for me at home which worked perfectly!  I planned to shoot with my #Nikon #D810 and use my #Sigma 150-500 F2.8 lens, for maximum zoom.

solar eclipse, 2017 eclipse, baader, solar filter, sun                                                                             My fantastic filter for photographing the eclipse- Thanks John x

So much about photographing the eclipse is about precise timing- knowing that when totality falls, it’s time to remove the solar filter and continue snapping, going for such iconic eclipse shots as the Diamond Ring shot, Bailey’s Beads, and of course, Totality.  I was broadcasting the experience of darkness falling live on my Facebook stream, in conjunction with manning my camera on tripod so to say I had my hands full would be somewhat of an understatement! We had just become situated under the buttes in Rexburg, not far from the NASA telescopes we could see behind us on the hill. Viewing from a hill is optimal as you are privy to watching the shadow of the eclipse fall across the land, but we were happy situating ourselves just below the hill along with many other spectators with the same idea. No sooner had we installed our gear, cameras and video streams when the Idaho state troopers came along and asked all of us parked along this quiet residential country road to move our vehicles, not 7 minutes before eclipse was to begin!! We literally threw our gear in the car driving just a few meters up the road to a private driveway. During the eclipse in Idaho, it seems everyone is an entrepreneur as Eclipse 2017 is big business- so we happily paid $20 to park on a gentleman’s driveway, where his enterprising young daughter had already set up a Popsicle and juice stand for thirsty spectators! I focused in on the eclipse and began snapping the phases as coverage began around 10:15.

eclipse idaho 2017 totality photographer

(It first resembled a cookie with the top bitten off)

As time progressed, so naturally did the coverage of the moon over the sun. It was the most fascinating thing, watching all that is nature around us subtlety responding to the falling of sudden darkness in the middle of the morning. I became conscious of a rooster crowing, (probably confused at this seemingly second onset of dawn), and then as it grew darker and darker, crickets began chirping and Shannon’s car lights switched on automatically. A distinct drop in temperature accompanied the rapid darkness, and it went from extremely warm to quite chilly in no time at all. As the sky got darker and darker, we were both quite excited to be witnessing such a cool phenomenon. I saw the shadow cast from the sun blanket evenly across the land we sat on, and could hear the excited cheers of people all around us, for miles! The energy and excitement was entirely palpable, and I found the unity of all the American (and Canadian) spectators really a beautiful experience; for a moment, we all watched our earth transform before our very eyes! For me, photographing space weather, solar events, auroras, have always served as a position of putting things in life in perspective- you simply cannot help but feel insignificant and small when you realize just how vulnerable we are to nature and this powerful force known as our Sun.  Our video feed contained Shannon reacting in great excitement and emotion (I’ll attempt to add a video link here) and I continued marveling at just how bizarre, surreal and incredible the experience was for the many viewers we had watching from around the world.  People could watch as my camera phone tried to adjust to the constantly dimming light, eventually going pixelated and grainy until we had darkness in totality!  It was definitely the fastest 2 minutes and 17 seconds of my life- while I was photographing the phases, once totality set in I forgot momentarily that I had to remove my filter (as I could now safely photograph and view the eclipse without the filter!) and thought I’d lost it in my viewfinder. Quickly realizing my error, I yanked the filter off and zoomed in for my imperfect attempt at the Diamond Ring shot.  Regardless of the technical “fail” of this photo, I still treasure what I captured as it holds a certain beauty to me, and a uniqueness I can always attribute to this experience. The diamond ring shot is the moment the moon moves off of the sun in totality and begins to traverse off. My photo shows some of the colors forming in thin clouds by atmospheric refraction.

diamond ring eclipse 2017 solar Rexburg totality

My Diamond Ring Shot with atmospheric refraction and flare.

There were spots of vivid sunlight leaking through the obvious craters in the moon’s surface, cracking the silvery, sudden dusk that had totally enveloped my surroundings. (As I attmpted to broadcast to a handful of friends watching from various parts of the world!)

Photographing Corona/Prominences

As the period of totality begins, what is known as the crown of the eclipse, the gorgeous corona, now appears in full magnificent view surrounding the sun. Beautiful pearl white feelers stretch out from the darkened disk that is the sun now. The corona, (a term which I am well familiar with watching space weather for coronal mass ejections associated with solar flares that bring about auroras!) reaches millions of miles in it’s light. It’s the intensely hot surface upper atmosphere of the sun and the temperature within this area can reach more than a million degrees F. What’s incredible about seeing this corona with the naked eye during an eclipse (in totality, of course!) is that the sun’s normal brilliance makes it invisible except during an eclipse!  This was an amazing view for me as a solar enthusiast. When looking at my own and other people’s photos, I find the beautiful white feelers very artistic and stunning as they border the sun in the shot. Truly magnificent photographic opportunity and so very much a once-in-a-lifetime viewing of this phenomenon. Tiny pink rubies around the dark disk of the sun during an eclipse are solar prominences, coming from the chromosphere of the sun’s lowest layer. So although I fumbled for my lens, forgot to remove my filter momentarily (after losing sun in the scope!) and missed perfect focus, I did lay my own eyes on all of this and literally gape with amazement for a moment (Also accounting for my distraction and slack!).

The entire land around me still draped in a eery silvery fading light, my friend amplifying the experience with her own delight and emotion. It is really one of those moments where you are at a complete loss for words; you haven’t likely seen anything like this before, you’re hearing a symphony of unfamiliar noises as creatures confuse day with night, and there’s a heightened awareness to even things like plants shrinking into themselves and a startling silence. In that moment, for me, I felt so connected to my earth, to this spectacle, to my people. For this, and this reason alone, I *highly* recommend experiencing this- even if it requires some time and expense. As a person who makes a habit of observing celestial geomagnetic magnificence on a regular basis, this was a complete gamechanger to me.   As I work the photos through Lightroom at home, converting my raw images to photos, even I experienced some deep emotion. I turned to John with some tears coursing down my cheeks in a silent effort to emphasis the impact of what I’d witnessed. It was scary, it was beautiful, it was intensely for me a MNE- meaningful Nature Experience- which I have found perfectly describes that which I cannot : “Powerful non-ordinary experiences with/in nature that are particularly profound, significant, affective and difficult to wholly describe.” ~ Zylstra 2014, adapted from Swan 2010 and Morse 2011. (Read more about MNEs here)

They say when it comes to photographing the eclipse, experience is *everything*. That being said, I certainly now know how I’d do this differently next time. 2 bodies, 1 assistant, a wide and a zoom lens, an alarm to remove filters, and a reminder to stop shooting (and take off my filter!) and remembering, as I did, to stop and stare at the amazing sight I was seeing. If that accounts for a few minor technical imperfections, then I’m so ok with this!  My planning for 2024 has already begun, and I won’t let anyone in a 10 mile radius miss this next time! It honestly was an amazing photographic experience of growth for me, new perspective, strengthened friendships and new sights. A win, no matter you slice it!  #newfoundland2024 #trytillugetitperfect

 

I’d love your thoughts, comments, and feedback! Tags: solar eclipse 2017

solar eclipse 2017 totality 80% sun

 

 

 

Great information about the viewing experience from Calgary here

 

solar eclipse prominence baileys beads totality 2017

 

 

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Christy

An internationally published travel, night sky and lifestyle photographer currently based in Calgary. Christy will be traveling to Bordeaux, France in fall 2018 to photograph a 10-day organic wine harvest as a photographer representing Canadian artists!

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