I was one of millions who braved traffic and potential gas shortages to drive to the middle of nowhere to see the total solar eclipse earlier this month. If there were any doubts as to whether the effort was worth it, they vanished the moment the sun disappeared behind the moon.
The two minutes and 10 seconds where the sun’s corona was visible in the midday sky were truly spectacular. But it was also only two minutes and 10 seconds. There were many more photographic opportunities during the 24 hours I spent chasing the eclipse. And I tried to take advantage of as many of them as I could.
Nature photographers are like everyone else: time is scarce. While we may spend hours waiting for perfect light or for wildlife to do something interesting, the reality is that we don’t get to do that anywhere near as often as we would like. So any time I can get the camera out of the bag, I try to make every second count.
The reasons are both financial and creative. It’s always great to capture the image that someone wants to hang on their walls, but a good part of my business comes from producing images that go in books, magazines and calendars. The more images I have in my library, the greater the likelihood that I have something that somebody needs.
Creatively, I like to keep my mind open to wondrous scenes that nature presents to me. My plan for photographing the solar eclipse was developed with the help of topographical maps, a solar position calculator and satellite imagery. When the window of opportunity is short, it’s great to have a plan. But my best images have resulted from immersing myself in nature and exploring what it has to offer, not by imposing my preconceived notions on it. Photographing things that aren’t on my plan open my mind to opportunities I had never considered.
So with that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to share a selection of images that I produced during my eclipse trip to Malheur County, Oregon. You can click or tap on any of the images to enlarge them (or order prints, if you like).
Through my research, I identified two possible locations to photograph the eclipse over an interesting landscape. Driving down, however, I discovered that the road I planned to take to the first was a private, gated road. I had to take a detour, driving farther south than I had planned. Out my window, I loved how the top of the ridge across the river in Idaho was in shadow, while the land below was brightly lit. I pulled into a truck weigh station and captured several variations on this scene.
As a result of the detour, I ended up at my second place of interest first and I discovered the maps I had been using were slightly off. Malheur County has a number of interesting buttes and cinder cones that are situated almost directly under the path of totality. The butte I identified wasn’t quite as visually interesting as it appeared from the topographical map and the road I had planned to take to get far enough back to make it prominent in the frame didn’t actually exist. While trying to determine which parts of my map were truly accurate, I found a pair of ridges that were home to a number of gorgeous rock outcroppings and decided to make that location my eclipse photo point. At sunset, I climbed one of the ridges, using the fiery red cirrostratus clouds to frame a prominent tree.
Whenever I’m far from city lights at night, I try to photograph the Milky Way. It’s a rare treat. Due to tremendous light pollution, few people get to see it. In fact, only about 20 percent of people in North America get to see it on a regular basis. In this image, the leftmost of the three trees on the horizon is the same one that’s in the sunset image.
At sunrise, I decided to photograph the rock formations that I planned to use as the base of my eclipse images. Thin clouds on the eastern horizon diffused the golden light, giving me an almost painterly landscape.
In the image above, the large rock formation on the left was especially popular with birds. A pair of nighthawks roosted at the top of it, but went off before I could get my telephoto lens on the tripod. These rock pigeons were a bit more cooperative.
And as I was getting my cameras into place to capture the eclipse, I discovered this great horned owl hiding in the rocks on the back of the formation.
During the eclipse, I wanted two images. The first is the one that’s at the top of this post. I wanted an image that filled the frame with the solar corona, a hot plasma aura millions of miles long that’s visible to the naked eye only during a total eclipse. To capture it, I had a telephoto lens mounted on one of my cameras.
But I also wanted the eclipse as part of a landscape. I had a wide angle lens mounted to a second camera. I framed the scene so that the large rock formation would essentially point to the eclipse. During totality, I alternated between the two cameras capturing the images I had planned.
As I look back on the busy day, I'm partial to the wide-angle eclipse image, though I'm pleased with the variety of images I was able to produce. I believe the key is to always keep your eyes and mind open. Nature rarely puts on just a single show.