Idaho Solar Eclipse

23
Aug

Idaho Solar Eclipse

Together with Brad LeBrocque (who hooked me into this gig), Glenn Tamblingson (Landscape Photographer) and Dean Martin's UDesign Tour Group, I observed the 'Great American Eclipse' from South Menan Butte in Idaho. Here's the rundown (but this page is still rapidly evolving)..

Sun Dragon
Takahashi FS-102 with 1.6x extender (1300mm, f13), Canon 5D Mark IV (1/2000 sec, ISO100)
Tracking on an AZ-EQ6 mount, automated camera control via Eclipse Maestro

Sunday 13th August

Eclipse preparations began in Salt Lake City, with the purchase of your typical eclipse essentials: mobile phone SIM cards, camping chairs, new hiking boots and bear spray.

Monday 14th August

We drove to Jackson, Wyoming (the centre of the eclipse universe in this case) and then onto Teton Peaks Lodge and RV, our hastily arranged accommodation for the night which was an hour to the west of the Tetons. We had expected to be staying at Jackson Lake Lodge on the east side of the Tetons and an hour to the north. However, that fell through as did Plan B. So we will be forever grateful to Josh and Misty at Teton Peaks who having had other groups cancel were very supportive and found ways to accommodate us all and helped through the whole week. The location was a little challenging for the tour group as most of their landscape photography plans were on the east side of the Teton ranges in Wyoming (1-2 hours each way) but Idaho worked out great for me.

Tuesday - Thursday

These three days were a blur of preparation and location scouting. On Tuesday I unpacked about a dozen boxes of gear I had freighted, purchased or rented for the eclipse (and all of which I had to pick up from Jackson Lake Lodge two hours away the night before). Among others.. an 18kg AZ-EQ6 equatorial mount from home, a smaller purchased AZ-EQ5 equatorial mount, and four Canon 5D Mark IV DSLRs from Lens Rentals - the boxes included a specific warning notice about damage from the sun during the eclipse NOT being covered by their insurance. I wasn't worried.. I'd done this before :-). 

Sunday 20th August (Eclipse Eve)

On behalf of the group I settlled on South Menan Butte as our eclipse observing location, at an event organised by Crater Adventures. This kept us away from the Tetons, which while photogenic, had a higher risk of creating their own clouds at short notice and also significantly disrupted the clear horizons which allows full experience of the arriving and departing shadow of the Moon and the twilight colours during totality. Although we could not access the rim of the butte until morning, I decided to camp out at the event to avoid any risk of travel issues on the day. I metup with veteran Australian eclipse chaser Terry Cuttle and we both pored over the latest weather model forecasts and convinced ourselves we were in the best spot we could be. 

Monday 21st August - Total Solar Eclipse

A day I'd had in my calendar for about three years. A forecast large band of high cloud had kept us on high alert for several days, but we woke (at 4am after a few hours of very uncomfortable sleep) to quickly clearing skies with the cloud band dissipating and moving south-west, in close alignment with models. (Another) triumph of meteorology and weather forecasting to see cloud predictions realised with such high accuracy. Hazy skies from ongoing wildfires greatly accentuated the view of the approaching shadow, but at the height of the sun in the sky it was beautifully clear with extended corona detail visible to the eye and also in a first look at photos with a 300mm lens.

For solar minimum, and after months of quiet activity, the sun really came to the party too. A large and beautiful sunspot group had appeared a few days earlier and rotated into the middle of the Sun on eclipse day. An hour and a half after totality, when my image capture sequence of the partial phases completed, I was able to have a first look at the images I captured. My jaw dropped when I saw the image above on the back of the camera. I was thrilled to have nailed most of the factors under my control, but I had not dreamed that the Sun would provide this level of activity at this point in the solar cycle.

Borg 77 EDII with 1.08x flattener (550mm, f7) & Canon 5D Mark IV (1/60 sec, ISO100)
Tracking on AZ-EQ5 mount, automated camera control via Eclipse Orchestrator

 

Update: Wednesday 23rd August

While hiking up the Table Mountain trail again yesterday (the day after eclipse), it was great to meet people including David, Sean and Michael who'd been camped out on the mountain and enjoyed the eclipse from the summit with 200 others! That helicopter that buzzed you during the eclipse (with the giant camera on the front) was filming for a new IMAX 3D movie about Einstein's Incredible Universe. While I wasn't on the mountain on eclipse day, my camera was - hidden down below Inspiration Point and set up on a timer in the hope of capturing the eclipse three days after I did the hike for the first time last Friday.

For a few hours on the return trip, I thought my work had been in vain as some day hikers I met had discovered my camera and found it fallen over. My heart sank, but when I got to the summit a few hours later I discovered the camera had only fallen over in the last 24 hours of its stay on the mountain, and not during the three days prior to the eclipse! This image is the result and just one in a sequence of 2000 captured in the few minutes around totality. I'm hoping the animated version might end up in the movie too! Click the image to view the growing album on SmugMug including videos of the camera when it was setup on Friday and my raw emotions and exhaustion when I returned to find it.

Update: Monday 28th August

One of the cameras I had for the eclipse was a new Canon 6D Mark II (on loan from Canon Australia). I was keen to see how the auto-exposing 4K timelapse feature handled the rapidly changing light levels. There is no easy way to capture eclipse timelapse so this was going to be interesting.

The video below is the result and the only processing I applied is to darken the levels during totality (using Levels effect in Premiere Pro). The camera keeps trying to render each frame as approximately similar brightness so this step is a necessary outcome of that. There are three clips - each was recorded very easily on the day in between me operating seven other cameras. I really didn't spend much time either on site or editing to get this quick and effective (4K!) video.

 

More to come..