David McColm
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My 1st Total Solar Eclipse

 

My 1st Total Solar Eclipse

 

At the beginning of 2017 I started thinking about & planning where & how to shoot the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse.  The initial quandary was whether to shoot a partial eclipse in Whistler or to head to Oregon (per Figure 1 below) to capture the eclipse during totality.  Long story short, after my friends John & Carole Nemy (who’ve experienced a few total eclipses) imprinted on my mind that seeing a total eclipse is “light years” more impressive than a partial eclipse, it was decided to make the drive south.  It also didn’t hurt that I was inspired by the Salomon Freeski TV “Eclipse” film.  You can follow Reuben Krabbe’s vision (with Switchback Entertainment) & journey to capture an iconic photo of a skier in front of the eclipse here: youtube.com/watch?v=edlJ2_924tU  It’s well worth the watch!

  Figure 1:  Map showing the path of the eclipse through Oregon

Figure 1:  Map showing the path of the eclipse through Oregon

In terms of planning, there are a few items I ordered early on, two solar filters for the camera lens’ and a few pairs of solar eclipse viewing glasses.  In terms of accommodation, I had waited far too long and there simply wasn’t anything available even 6 months out.  

Now where to shoot it?  This decision involved tens of hours of pouring over Google Earth & various online maps before finally deciding on a few areas in Willamette National Forest in Oregon.  However, as we got closer to the eclipse, the forest fire situation in the area would throw a wrench into our plans.  Basically, much of the National Forest was closed (see Figure 2 below), although not enough for me to scrap the plan to shoot somewhere in the area.  It was time to get in the car, drive there and figure things out once we arrived.

  Figure 2: Map showing the fire situation 12 days out - it didn’t change much from this scenario right up to the day of the eclipse

Figure 2: Map showing the fire situation 12 days out - it didn’t change much from this scenario right up to the day of the eclipse

My wife Sandra (of just 6 days) and I left Whistler two days prior to the eclipse with the goal of arriving in the Detroit, Oregon area prior to sunset and 13 hrs later we were there!  However, it was getting dark so after limited location scouting we hunkered down for the night, meaning we parked on the side of a forest road and, w/o a place to pitch the tent, slept in the back of the CR-V.  BTW this is the moment the trip ceased being a honeymoon, at least in Sandra’s eyes :)  

The next day, with the forest fire situation still extremely dire, we began our search along the open forest roads looking for potential eclipse viewing locations.  Learning that Dome Rock could provide a primo viewing spot, we hiked up and, yes, it would work just fine (see photo below).  Yes, it was a killer location!  Note that the peak in the centre is Mt. Jefferson and all of that haze is a smoke from the forest fires.

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We spent the rest of the day meeting and talking to other “eclipse hunters" and found out from frequent visitors to the area that this was the busiest they’d every seen the forest roads.  While they would normally run into 1 or 2 cars during the day, that day there were closer to 100 vehicles, all there for the same celestial reason.  With an early to rise day ahead, it was off to sleep ‘cozily’ in the back of the CR-V once again (while there were no designated camping spots, you were permitted to set up your tent by the side of the road).  

After a restless night, we woke up at 4 a.m. and started the 1 hour hike to Dome Rock, arriving as dawn began to set in but with stars still visible (see photo below).  It was simply a perfect morning and more so with the smoke staying low enough so as not to impede our view of what was to come.  Over the course of the next few hours another 40 to 50 people joined us … the anticipation and buzz were palpable!  

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Then it happened, right on cue, the moon started its pass in front of the sun!  While I began shooting a time lapse of the partial eclipse, others (and me frequently) dawned their solar glasses.   This photo is of Sandra showing the partial eclipse, nearing totality, through her glasses.  As we approached totality, I could feel a cool breeze waft over us, the light dimmed and there was a feeling that something surreal, amazing was happening!

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Then, bam, the sun went ‘black’!  Totality!  It’s impossible to put into words how I felt at that instant but it was a feeling I’ve never experienced before - it was easily the most intense, mind-blowing, emotional experience I’ve ever had (yes, except for the birth of my kids & having Sandra in my life).  And I wasn’t alone!  Everyone were gasping, hoot’n & hollering! 

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Within seconds, trying to regain my composure, I took the solar filter off my 200-500 f/5.6 lens, refocussed and started shooting.  And then, just 120 seconds later, it was over … the fastest two minutes of my life!  But, wow, what an experience and one that I would recommend everyone try to experience at least once in your lifetime.  

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As the partial eclipse continued and the moon slowly revealed more of the sun, I kept shooting time lapses.  The time lapses would be used in my short film "The 2017 Solar Eclipse" which can be seen below.

As well, using photos from the time lapses, I was able to create the following composite image which is represents the various pages of the eclipse as seen from Dome Rock.  Note that the tent was serendipitously placed there by others prior to totality.

 
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Once the eclipse was over, we headed back to the car and began the long journey home.  As you may have heard, the traffic in the vicinity of the eclipse (which spanned from U.S. coast to coast), was insane!  While our intention was to head straight home and maybe arrive in Whistler by midnight or 1 a.m., after 7 hours of basically bumper to bumper traffic, we pulled into a small town to sleep and restart the journey home the next day. However, this was but a small inconvenience for having had the incredible opportunity to experience our 1st total solar eclipse.  

So, learning from this eclipse, we’ve already booked our hotel for the July 2, 2019 total eclipse in Chile.  And with this eclipse happening as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean, I am already envisioning possibilities ….  Hope to see you out there!


WATCH: MY VIDEO ON THE 2017 SOLAR ECLIPSE:

 
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