This past Sunday was dedicated to photographing the annular eclipse of May 20th, 2012. I had prepared for it on many levels from what exposure to use to where I would drop my tripod to how I was going to make what I captured unique, and had done so for weeks ahead of time. The one thing that I failed to plan for was equipping my four photo/travel assistants with what they needed to view and keep themselves entertained for its duration. Despite my earlier attempts to find solar viewing glasses I could not find any vendor who was not sold out. In addition, the day before the eclipse I found myself in a discussion with another photographer who was making plans to photograph and produce HDR (high dynamic range) photos of the event showing both the eclipsed sun and landscape as they would normally appear to our eyes. I contested his claim but he was insistent that it could be done. This caused me to waiver in my plans, and coupled with the possibility of a mutiny on my hands with my assistants forced my hand to change my plans nearly entirely. I found myslef the night before, rather than getting a good night’s rest, up late scouring various sites on what was capable while still maintaining a real look to HDR photography. Then I happened to land on a news page about the museum and visitor center at Turtle Bay Exploration Park / Wild Bird Sancturay in Redding, Ca. The article stated that they would be selling solar viewing glasses for $1 and the article was only written that day, the information had to be accurate, right?
In the 11th hour, I changed all my plans. My destination was now Turtle Bay Wild Bird Sanctuary in spite of the fact that there would be hundreds if not thousands of people there. Redding was not that far off the annularity line that it would change what I actually had in mind, and park environment would placate my assistants should the need arise.
We awoke Sunday morning and prepared our supplies for the day’s drive and viewing. We were out the door with plenty of time and the four and a half hour drive started out pleasant, however the further we drove the more tense things became in the car. The tide of pleasant anticipation in my assistants was starting to turn.
We arrived with two and a half hours of buffer before the start of the eclipse. The plan, buy the viewing glasses, eat lunch, find a suitable viewing location and then wait. Disappointment met us from the beginning. First the museum under estimated the response for viewing glasses and was sold out the day before. Not to worry the employee told me, they will have 500 more glasses arriving at 4 pm, and will be available at the annex store by the famous Sundial Bridge. By the time we arrived we found a line of about 100 people standing in the hot sun in 90° weather waiting to get in to the store at 4pm. The roving employee there let us know we were in a part of the line where we might not get any glasses as each person could buy up to 5 glasses, putting us in a risky part of the line. So with great hope we waited. Slowly patience began to wear thin among my crew. One wanted to light a fire just because it was so hot, his incredulous claim was he could do it with just a focused pinhole of light. Another wished he did not leave his water in the car. Then the other wanted to play, and sleep and be carried on my head at the same time. My patience was starting to wane. By 4:45 we were inside and we made our purchase – lady luck smiled on us.
We had less than 15 minutes before the start of the eclipse. I announced that everyone should evacuate bladders and such for once I start the photo sequence there was no stopping. No one heeded my words. I was suspicious. By the time we finished eating and squelching some sibling rivalry fires, the eclipse had started and I missed the initial contact of the moon with the sun and disappointment found its way into my head.
For the next two and a half hours, it was one dispute after another, one distraction after another, one question after another. My mind was not focused at all on what I was doing. My photos were not being timed carefully and I would miss the twenty second mark I had planned for each photo more times than I could keep count of. I was also plagued by clouds, thin nefarious clouds that were just thick enough to keep the light levels jumping all over the place. I could not make a sequence of more than 4 or 5 photos that had the same exposure level that I needed to make a time lapse sequence possible. I also saw in my view finder this very odd haloing and glow around the sun nearly the whole time. Something I did not notice in my practice photos. It brought me great concern that I might find flares in all these photos making them useless in the end. My mind started slipping into thoughts of inadequate equipment syndrome, something that did not torment me in more than a decade.
As the moon continued its encroachment of the sun, the anticipation of my assistants increased. The arguing vanished into amazement, the prevailing thirst quenched with wonderment, and I as well was awe struck by the magnitude of what was occurring before my eyes. Here was the moon, an entity in our sky that could not be seen if not for the light of the sun, moving in front of the source of what makes it existent to our eyes and blocking it out. However, rather than overshadowing the sun it instead forms a ring of heavenly light as the the two wed in the sky for nearly 4 minutes in a display that had no beginning and no end. It was as if time stood still and the world became dim and humbled in the grandeur of their union. Being so close to a multitude of people, even though out of eyesight, we were not cheated out of hearing the cheers that belted out throughout the park as the ring became complete. It was a spine tingling moment not to be soon forgotten.
Nonetheless, being created things that had a beginning so long ago, their nature is to end and they exhibited their primal nature with the moon breaking the ring of light as it continued on its way past the sun and ending totality. Again a second cheer rings out among the crowd. The event everyone came to see had happened. In my exhilaration any thoughts I had about not capturing the eclipse the way I had intended had vanished if not for just a brief time. I continued until the dreaded clouds that obscured the sky and mustered havoc with my exposures obliterated the light of the sun, just 10 minutes before the eclipse concluded. A disappointing end, and one that brought question if I would have any usable photos at all.
After a long drive to Turtle Bay, and sitting square in the sun and heat for nearly five hours, I had to look forward to another long drive home unsatisfied in my work and with no hopes of a return on the investment made. We arrived home just past midnight and my first act was to see and download the photos. At first glance all were useless. Not more than 4 or 5 photos in sequence were exposed at the same settings, making the probability of a time lapse sequence happening slim to none. So I turned off the computer and retired to bed hoping to come up with something in the morning.
The next day I started to process the photos to find almost all of them have a glowing halo around the sun that I could not remove without great difficulty. In my desperation I start to process the photo Broken Light in a manner that I would never normally do to discover that the halo I was seeing was nothing more than the clouds that were obscuring the sun glowing in the light. The use of the solar filter on my lens allowing me to view and photograph the sun had made the clouds so dark that they did not appear as clouds when normally processed against the brightness of the sun. So with my modified processing suddenly the lost photos became as surreal as the momentous eclipse itself. I searched the net for other photos of the eclipse to find that no one had anything like what I had been given.
My disappointment was suddenly transformed into delight. Maybe someday I will have the opportunity to produce a time lapsed sequence of the moon eclipsing the sun. However in hindsight, what I had envisioned would not have been very interesting and what I was given instead has pleased me much more. Funny how things turn out.
Now I am looking 5 years ahead to the next eclipse that will cross over this neighborhood of the Earth, maybe then I will see my original vision come to fruition.
Peace to you All!