Chasing The Solar Eclipse Experience 2017

I'm all about living for new experiences, and when I heard that the United States was going to witness a total solar eclipse in August of 2017, it wasn't going to be an exception.  Where I live in New York City, we were supposed to see somewhere around 72% coverage of the eclipse, but why settle for just 72%?  I had to go see totality, and that meant taking a little trip down south. 

It ended up being my wife's birthday a couple of days after the eclipse so we decided to go to her favorite city, Savannah, Georgia, and take the short 2 hour drive up to Charleston, South Carolina which was the closest major city within the 70 mile range that would see 100% coverage of the eclipse.  We had no real plan.  Just drive to the Charleston, pull over somewhere and watch it happen.  

I was going to do my best to photograph it, of course, and not knowing anything about this type of stuff, I got all of my knowledge from watching YouTube videos and tutorials.  I brought my Sony A7RII, my longest lens (70-300mm), and a solar filter which I purchased just for this event.  Last minute, I also decided to bring a small travel tripod, which in all honesty, I feel I didn't really need.  The stabilization between the sensor on the A7RII and lens are so good that I could've easily hand held this photo. 

You learn a lot from photographing an experience like this, and I only had about 90 seconds to get it right, so I had to do my best. It was super cloudy in Charleston on this day, and it was making it really hard to gauge how the photo would look,  what my settings would be and how to compose the shot.  I had a live stream going on my Instagram page and I was nervous that I would be letting all of my viewers down by not being able to see anything.  Luckily, right before totality, the clouds opened up a bit just enough for us to see the eclipse and for me to get the shot I wanted.   It's generic, but it's mine and it means a lot to me that I was personally able to document this moment in our lifetime. 

Sony A7RII, Sony 70-300mm f/4-5.6 (iso640, f/5.6, 1/100s)

I thought a 300mm lens would be tight enough for a shot, even if I had to crop in, at least I would have 42mp to work with but I was wrong.  If I knew better, I would've rented a much longer lens and a crop sensor camera like a Sony A6500.  This is the original, uncropped image:

Even though the image isn't super tight, you can still make out some subtle details.  This was a separate shot that I captured a few frames after the one I just shared.  However, in this photo you can see solar flares from the sun on the bottom and right side of the moon.  I thought this was super cool that I was able to capture such detail with my camera from 93 million miles away. 

Sony A7RII, Sony 70-300mm f/4-5.6 (iso640, f/5.6, 1/200s)

I read from one of my friends Facebook posts in New York saying, "If you didn't know there was an eclipse going on, you wouldn't have noticed anything".  From my experience, it didn't get really dark out until maybe 98-99% of the way through, and we didn't even know the eclipse was happening until someone just so happened to look up about a half hour before totality and see that it had started to occur.

Being drawn to witnessing totality with my own eyes was something I was already interested in, but I saw a video that National Geographic posted right before my trip and it opened up my eyes to a new reason to be so excited.  There are tons of videos out there explaining why the eclipse happens and why it's so special, but this was the only one I saw that spoke about how it makes you feel, and that feeling is on a whole other level.  It's not just seeing the moon perfectly cover the sun, it really is about the whole experience.  When totality occurs, the air gets colder, street lights turn on, everyone around cheers in celebration and you're so overwhelmed by whats actually going on that you don't know how to soak it all in.  Here is the video that I mentioned before:

I also had a GoPro running a timelapse as it was happening. This kind of gives you an idea of how it was for us.  You can really see how cloudy the sky was during the eclipse.  It's cool seeing the darkness pass through the sky. 

After this experience, I completely see why people chase solar eclipses around the world.  It can easily be addicting and I can't wait for the next one.  In 2024, we're getting another total solar eclipse in the north east of the United States, which is much closer to home and I can't wait to see that one and be more prepared to photograph it knowing what I know now!