We have both experienced partial solar eclipses a few times when they happened to occur where we lived. This year we decided to “chase” an eclipse, and traveled to Vicuña, Chile to experience our first Total Solar Eclipse. To do so, we joined an exploratory trip being set up by Loren Fisher — the tour leader we used to show us the Fall Colors of New England last year. The long range forecast was for 60% chance of cloudy skies during the winter in this location. We got lucky though, and had 100% clear skies that day.
The sequence above is a composite of images we captured during this event, from normal sun on the right, through occlusion by the moon, until totality is almost reached and the “diamond ring” effect appears for a brief moment. Totality is then reached, where only the outer corona is visible — a period that lasted 2-1/2 minutes at ground zero, where we were. In the middle of totality, I shot 15 images with a 30 f-stop exposure range, from which I created the detailed coronal image in the center (and shown again in more detail at the end of this post). As the moon passed, the entire process was repeated until we had the full sun again. (Actually, that last image is a bit of a cheat, since the sun had actually set behind the hills at that point, so I substituted an earlier full sun to complete the sequence.)
There are many technical aspects to photographing an eclipse. First you have to find the proper location to see the entire sequence from C1 to C5. Special filters must be made to protect the camera sensors, and another set to protect your eyes. Then you must learn the correct speed and aperture settings for the proper exposures. The 30-stop HDR is particularly tricky. Timing is difficult to capture Baily’s beads (third from center on entering and leaving totality above). The filter must also be removed from the camera at just the right time, and then replaced at a specific time too. Finally, there is a lot of specific task-learning to process the sequence in Photoshop (which took three days to complete).
It is not just a simple process of aiming a camera lens and shooting.
We arrived early in the region of the eclipse, so that we would have time to scout around for a good location to set up the cameras and relax a bit. We were staying in La Serena (where Loren had booked a condo a year earlier in anticipation of the Eclipse), and decided to photograph the lighthouse one evening before dinner. When we arrived, we discovered there was major re-construction going on, with heavy machinery around the base. Walking around, we found angles that would hide the equipment (lower-left and lower-center).
A bit more exploring found some dilapidated walls nearby that had interesting graffiti and murals on them. As we watched the sun lower, we also realized there were plenty of photographic opportunities in the beach sunset.
We continued to explore the area the next day, and visited the “Third Millennium Cross” (upper-left quadrant), which is a cross that was built to commemorate year 2000, which declared the beginning of the third millennium since the birth of Jesus. This location provided a panoramic view of the city, although it was covered in plexiglass, making for poor photography.
We then decided to go down to the wharf in Coquimbo to have lunch. This is a colorful small-town fish market, where three of the vendors are captured above. The vendors enjoyed posing for photographs, and our waitress in the restaurant was singing and dancing with the local musicians while we ate a delicious meal.
We had ideally wanted to shoot the eclipse from the Mamalluca Observatory. Discussion on Facebook had indicated that it would be available on a first-come, first-served basis, so we headed there early the day before the actual eclipse. We found an array of scientists and graduate science students set up with advanced equipment on the grounds. We were told that the entire observatory property had been reserved for such scientists, and that we would not be allowed there on eclipse day. Bummer…
As we drove down from the observatory, we passed a small campground with a sandwich board showing food for sale, just yards from the entrance to the observatory. There were no signs indicating it had any available parking spaces nor rooms for rent. What the heck? What have we got to lose? We drove in and asked.
It turned out to be the perfect location for an unobstructed view of the entire Totality phases. Not only did they have parking spaces available for rent, but they had just finished a new cabin that day and had not rented it out, not being sure if it would be ready in time! They started asking $900 for the night… Yeah, a bit steep. Hum, Hah, Well… and the price dropped to $300 with two bottles of wine tossed in. OK. Deal was struck! We would not be camping and using the nearest cactus for a restroom. Instead, we would be in the lap of luxury (well… in a two bedroom basic cabin for four anyway) with lounge chairs, Chilean meals from their restaurant, a refrigerator for cold Coke Zero and beer, plus a flush toilet. We were blessed, and were within a stone’s throw of the observatory we had first wanted.
On the night before the eclipse, we went outside our cabin and attempted to capture the Milky Way. We rarely get a chance to shoot the night sky in a cloud-free dark-sky environment, so we stayed up most of the night photographing what we could. Our cabin can be seen as foreground props in the photos on the bottom row.
Eclipse Day Came! Everyone had two cameras running. I can be seen controlling the long lens camera that created the composite on both top and bottom of this post from the comfort of our cabin (top-middle). Loren is seen setting up one automated camera (lower-left) and manually controlling another (center). Others who gathered at our location to see the event are seen lower-center (taking group photo) and lower-right (using a solar glass to photograph with his point-and-shoot camera).
Some people report “life changing experiences” during solar eclipse totality, though I can’t honestly say I felt that. During the period of totality, the birds did begin acting strangely and the color the sky was quite eerie, not like the colors you see at sunrise nor sunset. It is easy to understand why so many people chase eclipses around the world. We met people who have seen totality nine times, and one couple that has already lined up their hotels for the next five total solar eclipses around the world.
I did take the brief time during totality to do a 15-exposure, 30-stop photographic image of the total eclipse. That was later processed in Photoshop to create this image of the corona of the sun — a scene not normally possible to see because of the extreme brightness of the full sun.