No words. There are really no words to describe the experience of a total solar eclipse. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to try. At least I can show a few of the photos I took (nearly 10,000, if you include the GoPro time-lapse images) and describe the events at our house leading up to and during the eclipse. It was a most excellent eclipse party, and the experience is one I wouldn’t have missed for anything.
For us the event started Sunday. Houston and Lynda came up from Georgia and we had a great dinner out on our new back deck. Houston and I jammed on mandolin, guitar, and banjo, switching between various instruments, then we stayed up late talking, as brothers do.
The next morning caught me feeling totally unprepared. Despite all of the talk of what I was going to do in my previous posts, I just hadn’t made it happen. We had food for our party and for the other guests that would be joining us, but I hadn’t put together my playlist and I hadn’t even begun to construct my viewing apparatus, much less practice with it.
As far as music is concerned, my only nod to the event was to play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on my piano. I never made my playlist and the stereos stayed off during the event. Part of that was a conscious choice. Since this was to be one of the most amazing natural events, it seemed only right that it be accompanied by the sounds of nature.
While the others were preparing lunch and getting other things ready for our party, Lynda helped me put together our viewing equipment. The first thing we did was construct a small camera obscura from an Amazon shipping box. The design was pretty cool, but the resulting image was too small to be useful for either photography or viewing. Plus, in the heat and the humidity the plastic electrician’s tape we were using started to peel almost immediately. After the initial test it never made it back outside and was unused during the eclipse.
The best result was from Laura’s father’s old Bausch and Lomb spotting scope.
It took a great deal of practice, trial, and error to get the scope aimed and focused just right so that it would project an image. We constructed a cardboard shield for the scope and aimed the projected image into a darkened box. The resulting image was so clear that we could see sunspots.
I should have used paper with a matte finish rather than glossy, but it’s what I had. There was printing on the back so I couldn’t just flip it over. Lynda would man the telescope during the event, shifting the box and tripod as needed. I clipped one of my GoPro cameras onto the edge of the box to capture images though both time-lapse and video.
Next up was the filter for my big cameras. I had purchased an 8×8 sheet of filter material from one of the NASA-approved vendors.
It was thin and fragile, and came sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard. I carefully removed the filter, leaving the cardboard mostly taped together. Lynda cut a square from the cardboard creating a perfect frame. We reinserted the filter material and it was perfect. I would use this over my Sigma 500mm lens.
Fellow singer Perry Mixter arrived from Charlotte with his wife, Jan, and daughter Jenny. They joined us for lunch, then Perry and I started to get cameras set up. I started out with my old Nikon D50 on the long lens, fearing that I might damage the image sensor on my better camera. However, I soon switched over to my D7000 and put the D50 on my wide-angle lens for totality. I had my iPhone and Panasonic Lumix for atmospheric shots. I was able to resurrect my old GoPro to set up a general time-lapse. I didn’t even use a filter for this. I figured that since the camera was on its last legs if the sensor got fried this was a noble way to go. Between my multiple cameras, telescopes, and Perry’s cameras there was a sea of tripods in our front yard.
Other neighbors were walking down the street and stopped by to see what we were up to. We invited them to join us, as well as our next door neighbors. By the time the eclipse got underway we had quite the party going on. I pulled out chairs, spare eclipse glasses, and set up a table with watermelon, lemonade, and Moon Pies.
Clouds threatened, but it cleared off enough for use to see the eclipse. The weather was perfect…almost. It was blasted hot and humid. I think it would have been much more enjoyable if it had been cooler. As it was, I was glad we had made the decision to stay put rather than go to one of the local venues or a park. We had ready access to refreshments, rest rooms, and, more importantly, air conditioning.
At 1:09 pm we saw the first vestiges of the eclipse. Lynda spotted it first in the projection setup. I started taking photos with the long lens.
As the eclipse progressed the other-worldly darkness started to descend. Sunlight filtering through the leaves took on the crescent shape that I remembered.
Soon enough a thin sliver of the sun was left.
I managed to catch the “diamond ring” effect just before totality.
Then it went dark. Cicadas and other insects had already started chirping. The Canada geese on the lake were making a rackey. We doffed our glasses and watched the blacked-out sun above. I took a couple of photos, but also took time just to step away from the camera and enjoy the view.
Totality was over far too soon. Yet, the brief time I’d stepped away from my camera was still long enough for the sun and moon to move out of position. I didn’t capture the ideal “diamond ring”, but I still like the photos I got.
It seemed to get brighter much faster than it got dark. My friends and neighbors didn’t stay for the rest of the eclipse but made their way back home.
Because we had to keep shifting the box with the telescope, I wasn’t able to get usable imagery for time-lapse. The old GoPro worked well, though. I actually got more images than I can use, so I trimmed it down to a brief clip the descent into totality. Click on the image below to view the time-lapse.
The rest of us went inside to cool down and have a bit of moonshine and Corona beer. I also finally got my Moon Pie.
The hype was right – it was an incredible experience, and I’m glad I was able to share it with friends and family. Now I’ll just have to make sure I’m in position to view the 2024 eclipse.