Thursday, September 14, 2017

2017 Solar Eclipse - What it Really Looked Like

What does an eclipse REALLY look like? 

The camera sees things differently than the naked eye. In some cases the camera doesn't do it justice, and in other cases the camera, and photoshop can enhance the image to make it more brilliant than real life
You've seen many beautiful images from the eclipse this summer.  I've been holding back on showing mine. I wanted to document the changes in light, and the feeling as the eclipse came through totality. I wanted to show what it actually looked like to my eye, not what stunning photographs portray it as. The photos you've probably seen show a pitch black sky with a dark circle surrounded by a bright white light. I even saw a stunning image of a rock climber in the foreground and the sunbeams poking out from behind the moon. I'm not knocking these images, I love them, they are great. My goal is to show my true experience to those who did not make the trip into the path of totality.   
These images were taken within seconds of each other during eclipse totality. The only thing different is exposure settings.
Most photos you've seen of the eclipse look like Image B. This allows the camera to get the most crisp, most detailed image without over exposing the sunlight bursting around the edges. In reality your eye will see more like Image A. The sky is bluish grey and looks like a partly overcast day. And even though it goes against every grain in your body to look at the sun, it is safe for the short time it is completely obscured by the moon.

The Great American Eclipse of 2017 was something close enough to home I couldn't miss it. I've been studying astronomy since I was 12 and had to make the effort to see this rare event in an easily accessible area. At first I thought I would drive to North Carolina, about a 9 hr drive from my house in  Maryland. As the day drew closer the weather was expected to be cloudy and chance of rain, I teamed up with a friend who was also looking to head into the path of totality, and we hopped on a plane to Montana, drove to Idaho, and found a spot in the mountains in the direct center of the full eclipse path. This gave us over 2 minutes of total eclipse viewing experience.  To guarantee parking at the trail head we arrived at sunrise to our chosen spot.
We arrived at our viewing spot at sunrise, so I snapped a few photos of the nice golden light as it hit the mountains

My expectations were to see total darkness during the period of totality. This was not the case. The colors became very muted and the look of twilight all around. There was a sunset like glow along the horizon in every direction. But it never got dark dark.

We watched the eclipse in Stanley, Idaho, a little out of the way mountain town in the Sawtooth National Forest several hours from any city. We arrived to our located at sunrise to claim our spot and make sure we could find parking at the trailhead. As the moon's shadow passed over the surface of the earth we could hear whoops and hollers echoing through the valley from the next mountain over and the lake just down from where we set up. The experience was powerful. It was instant excitement from every one around. I went to work snapping photos while still staying present and enjoying this once in a life time moment. The spot we were at had a totality of about 2min 10sec. It started at approximately11:28:19, and ended around 11:30:29. The following photos are my best representation of what the event actually looked like. I did some minor tweaks in Photoshop, but only to try to match as close to reality as I could. Light is a tricky thing, and cameras can often be deceiving.

We met an astrophysicist at our semi remote viewing spot. He demonstrated how you can track the progress of the moon through any kind of a round hole. This would normally produce a round image, but during an eclipse will produce a crescent image as the moon takes a chunk out of the sun.

11:15:33 - As the eclipse entered far into its partial stage the sky began to darken

11:27:59 - As it neared full eclipse it felt like the whole world was being de-saturated of color, the way I would do in Photoshop to an image I wanted to be nearly black and white

11:29:17 - We are now fully in the moon's shadow. It produces this evening glow all around the horizon. This image doesn't show it well, but to our eye we can still see the ground and each other just fine.

11:29:41 This is about what the sky looked like to the naked eye during totality.
11:31:08 - It doesn't last long, the light is already starting to brighten as the sun shines light on the mountains

11:31:10 - There were only a few people on the hill we chose as our viewing spot. We were lucky to be far from the crowds and have such a nice view

11:31:16 - The glow was back on the mountains, the kind of glow you see at sunrise and sunset that makes you want to take a million photos and post them to Instagram right away

11:32:27 - The twilight glow is already faded and we are back to that muted color/desaturated look. It was the quickest sunset/sunrise I've ever seen.

11:33:05 - Totality ended just 2 and a half minutes ago, and already the world is looking like day again

The light changed so quickly every time I took a photo the mountains looked completely different. It was the fastest sunset/sunrise kind of experience I'd ever seen. The feeling of the sun going (mostly) dark was unreal. The experience in the mountains with just a few other dedicated viewers added to the experience.

The physical feeling in my body was also interesting to observe. As the moon covered more and more of the sun I felt a sense of draining energy from my body, like my arms and legs were becoming weak. It was also really exciting. The feeling of experiencing something for the first time, and knowing that you are right in the middle of the path of this phenomena was enough to make you giddy in your shoes. And then when the hills around you erupted in cheers and hollers there was a sense of relief from the anticipation. All in all it was an experience of a lifetime, of course I hope to experience it again when it comes back across the U.S. in 2024, and again in 2045. You can find out where the paths of the next eclipses are on this article by the Washington Post.