So a couple years ago, I got the bright idea to try to take as many photos possible with as many cameras as possible of the Great American Eclipse of 2017 from a U-2 orbiting in the path of the shadow.  Somehow, despite all my efforts to completely screw up almost every aspect of capturing the actual total eclipse, I managed to pull out a composite photo that went on to win an award at Air and Space Magazine in 2018.  Shortly after, the magazine asked if I would give them a little glimpse into what went into making that photo.  Before we go any further, go ahead and click the article at Air and Space Magazine:

Now interestingly enough, winning the eclipse photo award was all happening right about the time that I was going on my next great adventure, flying through the Northern Lights.  I had landed in England about noon after flying for 12 hours and was planning to go out to dinner that evening.  My body, completely crashing at about 3 pm, signaled other intentions.

So I'm now wide awake at midnight after a full 9 hours of sleep and I see the email asking about writing up a short story about the eclipse.  So I banged out this article, almost exactly how it ended up, on my iPhone 6S in just over 2 hours.  I'm a little bit giddy during this time because I knew that in the over 1500 (that's not a typo) photos I had just taken of the Northern Lights, there had to be at least 10 good ones.  I had just experienced some photography fails on that flight as well but that story will be for a different time.  Writing about my eclipse failures and salvaging good from the mostly bad was sort of cathartic.  It also made me really reflect on how awesome these experiences had actually been.

all of the photo and video gear ready to go fly into the Great American Eclipse
Whoever thought it would be a good idea to bring all of this with me in a U-2? This guy apparently.
sun is beginning to be eclipsed as the area takes on a noticeably more orangish tone
Though still bright, the sun is now partially eclipsed. The surroundings increasingly start taking on a more yellow orange tone.
the shadow approaches from the Pacific ocean
Looking west, the eclipse shadow hits the coast of Oregon traveling at over 1000 mph.
diamond ring for the solar eclipse
The sun peaks out with the last gasp of light before I'm completely shrouded in darkness.
cockpit 360 eclipse picture
The 360 camera captures a totally dark cockpit. During the eclipse, I was not prepared for the contrast between a totally dark cockpit and completely lit areas all around me. Like the opposite of a spotlight.

Take control of the camera with this compilation of 360 VR video taken during the eclipse

(Note: Watch in Youtube for camera control)

fisheye view of my camera taking a picture of the eclipse
The 360 camera catches my feeble attempt at using the zoom lens while I'm in the heart of the shadow.
ricoh theta s captures the U-2 cockpit and eclispe shadow on the ground
The shadow moves swiftly under the jet, covering a 70 mile wide area of nearly complete darkness.

I don't have any regrets that I maybe set my aspirations too high for what all I wanted to accomplish on the eclipse flight.  I did have dreams of getting that incredible shot of the corona using the zoom lens and capturing a picture perfect wide angle panoramic photo.  It honestly all happened much faster than I was expecting.

I learned that day that setting expectations around what you would like to happen can bite you in the ass.  But I also learned that you can often turn a bad situation around if you look hard enough.  The plan still worked, I had captured just about everything I wanted, though not quite the stunning individual shots I wanted.  And when you put it all together, the final picture helps us to understand a side of our universe rarely seen.

composite of 13 eclipse images organized from beginning to end of eclipse
After finding 13 usable images of the eclipse from beginning to end, I laid them out in an arc.

Photoshop and Lightroom really saved my butt and allowed me to salvage an award winning photo from a seeming failure.  If you have any interest in photography, you owe it to yourself to get these and learn them.  Your photographs will thank you.

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This is a video that quickly takes you through the eclipse from the ground into the air

great american eclipse taken from a u-2 spyplane

One Comment

  1. Such an amazing way to experience the eclipse! Looking at the final photo, I never would have guessed that your initial plans for the shot didn’t work out…thanks for sharing this awe inspiring experience with us!

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