I like to say, “You can make plans, but you can’t plan the outcome!” Yep. That exactly describes my personal adventure during the Great American Eclipse of 2017.
Not to say things didn’t work out well—the trip to Sweetwater, Tennessee from my new home in Merritt Island, Florida, was flawless. And the companionship of the love of my life, Anita Friend, was exceptional as always.
It was my photography that I flubbed up, even after months of thought and even some trial runs of my equipment. During that two minutes and thirty-seven seconds of totality I quickly had one camera malfunction and another on the wrong settings—and it sent me scrambling.
With globs of sweat dripping off my head, blinding my eyesight and the heat making me a little dizzy, I simply pulled away from the photo gear, stood by Anita, and recorded the total eclipse into my memory as I looked up and then around at the magnificent, Moon shadow landscape that I’ll be lucky to ever see again.
Those memories of the dark eye staring down out of the white streamers surrounding it and the eerie orange light that permeated the horizon and put a waxy sheen over everything are etched in my brain.
Driving after the eclipse in the mother of all traffic jams, I kept replaying that brief two and a half minutes of totality, mulling what went wrong with the camera and why I had the wrong exposure setting on another. I kept ruminating about the flubbed photos I didn’t take. I didn’t think I got any good photos of the totality phase, but I knew I worked hard to get some good partial eclipse images as the Moon gobbled up several groups of beautiful sunspots.
I kept beating myself up. The moment of total eclipse went so fast. When my old Nikon D-100 camera body misfired, whatever it was, I had no time to figure it out. There went the 600 mm telephoto shots of the solar corona that everyone else has. I was warned to not be obsessed with photography, the old axiom from solar eclipse veterans being “Every eclipse lasts 8 seconds.”
Still, I had etched in my mind that beautiful scene I’ve never experienced…the black iris of the Moon and cottony streamers of the Sun’s atmosphere; the planets Jupiter to the left and Venus to the right.
As for my mental impression of the Great American Eclipse: surreal. About five minutes before totality the insects in a nearby cornfield began chirping, the cicadas, crickets and katydids beginning a cacophony that would only end after the total phase was over for another five minutes. And the temperature dropped from the blazing heat at least 10 degrees.
The darkness wasn’t like night, in fact it was easy to see people and the landscape. For me, it was like being inside a circus tent with darkness overhead and the perimeter flaps open to the ground allowing an orange glow of light to enter.
Staring down from the hot, summer afternoon sky was a black hole surrounded by a shimmering pearl mane. For once in my five-decade writing career, I’m nearly lost for the right words to convey the spectacle that is a total eclipse of the Sun.
Incredible. Magnificent. Enchanting. Awesome.
I wasn’t sure about my own photography of the event. But when I got to my vacation destination and downloaded four cameras worth of images from the solar eclipse day, I soon realized that though I didn’t get what I expected, what I did record is okay with me.
In fact, the disaster with my main eclipse camera has turned out to be something unique. It’s an image that could be inspired by the abstract artists Dali, Klee or Warhol. In fact, it is my Picasso of the event, a sort of “Eqlipse.” After beating myself up for screwing up, I’m quite pleased with the unpredictable outcome.
Calling it “Cats Eye Eqlipse,” what my Nikon CCD sensor recorded was at least six images that create a black pupil surrounded by circular ellipses. The fuzzy, white corona is surrounding the abstract solar totality, and on the right side is stringy, red light from an erupting prominence on the solar edge.
Though not what I wanted, I’ll take it! The bizarre “Cat’s Eye Eqlipse” aside, I’m pleased with my images of the partial phases that highlight in close-ups the beautiful sunspots. You can see them on my Facebook at MarQ Camera Art Studio.
The Sun, our favorite star, never disappoints. And when teamed up with the Moon…it’s beyond words. Let the thousands of images of the Great American Eclipse speak to you in a way only you understand. And be in awe of the simple power of nature in our celestial backyard.