WIRR 2017, August Week 3

I noticed it first. I had put on my glasses to look at the sun. “It’s starting! It’s not round!” I shouted. I had tried the glasses earlier in the morning to see how they worked, so I could tell that there was now a small chunk taken out of the upper right corner of the sun. Strange, but mostly a curiosity. It didn’t feel real.

We had traveled to the Laramie Mountains in Wyoming to see The Great American Eclipse. I had searched my Hiking Wyoming guidebook for a backpack near the path of totality and found a place called LaBonte Canyon. Our original plan was to go backpacking there, but once we hooked up with our old friend Tim Brooks we opted for roadside car camping instead.

Coming from the south, LaBonte was 64 miles of dirt road north of Medicine Bow, Wyoming. The drive was through open short-grass prairie that slowly, very slowly, transitioned into sage brush, and then, quickly, very quickly, transitioned into forest. The canyon was pleasant, and we had a nice hike there on Sunday, but it lacked the grandeur and magnificence of the southern Colorado Rocky Mountains where had just spent the last two weeks.

But we weren’t there for the mountains, we were there to see the sun get swallowed by a giant wolf eclipsed by the moon. We had scouted out areas the day before, and found a stretch of 15-20 miles of wide open prairie not far from where we were camped. We asked the rangers about the legality of parking roadside, and when we found out it was fine, we realized that the entire population of Wyoming could fit along this road to watch the eclipse. Even though we were 64 miles from the closest town (and I am stretching the definition to call Medicine Bow a town), our camping area was packed with people. Everywhere there was room for a tent there were people camped out. We saw more than a few tents pitched on the shoulders of the road itself. On eclipse day, though, the wide open spaces made it easy to spread out and it never felt crowded. We ended with a spot on a hill with views to the horizon in all directions.

As the eclipse progressed, different things became noticeable. “Is it my imagination or is it getting cooler out?” It wasn’t my imagination. It did get significantly cooler- enough for all of us to put on extra jackets. It also got dimmer. The sun just wasn’t as bright. I didn’t need my sunglasses from the glare. The woman from Laramie who was watching with us rattled off the different shutter speeds she was using. Her camera dropped from 1/160 to 1/60 in a ten-minute span.

And then, things got interesting. 

Some friends of mine didn’t travel to the area of totality; they thought that since Fort Collins reached 95% totality, there was no need. Having experienced this, I’d say the difference between 99% and 100% is far greater than the difference between 0% and 99%. The ten minutes before and after, plus the two-minutes plus of totality itself, was the real show.

First, the light got flat- like skiing in the late afternoon. Or maybe like someone put a gray filter on the sun. The colors were all wrong. It was hazy, like a sunset in a forest fire. As the shadows dimmed to nothing, the quick sparkle of the diamond ring appeared on the sun, as the last vestiges disappeared. Totality was upon us.

A 360-degree sunset (sunrise?). Not a spectacular one, but a reddish glow all around. I tried to capture this with a panorama, but in the excitement I forgot that the ISO of my camera was still set for daylight, not twilight.

A sky of deep twilight, not pitch black, but enough to see planets and a few bright stars.

Yells and cries from people around us viewing the eclipse.

In retrospect, I spent too much time admiring the twilight, and the light around me, and not enough on the sun itself. I think training myself all morning not to look at the sun without the glasses made me reluctant somehow. Or maybe it was a primal fear? Who wants to look at a black hole where the sun was supposed to be?

That’s my best description of what it looked like- a black hole in the sky, wrapped in the ethereal glow of the corona.

I cannot imagine how terrifying this event must have been to primitive cultures. I knew all the scientific facts about it, and could have calculated to the second when the sun was coming back. But my hair still stood on end, and a part of me was deeply, deeply freaked out.

I was trying to take another picture when someone yelled- “we have shadows!” I looked down to my right, to confirm this, and back up to glare. Totality was over.

A part of me inside relaxed and I breathed out deeply. There was definitely a sense of loss when totality was over- it’s over! – but also a lizard-brain sense of relief that the sun was back.

I turned to my phone and hit play. Here Comes the Sun

Photographically, I had two cameras going during the eclipse. My usual Fujifilm X-T2 for taking area shots, and then my older Canon 7D mounted on a sturdy tripod. I had a long 100-300 zoom lens attached to the Canon, and I used this to take my favorite image of the week.

Total Eclipse

Canon 7D, EF 100-300 F/4.5-5.6 USM at 300mm, f/5.6 at 1/50, ISO 1600.

Digital Darkroom. Not much to do here. I took a variety of exposures, and managed to nail it with this one. The sun and moon (with a guest appearance by the star Arcturus) provided all the contrast and drama that I needed. The only real edit needed was to maximize the the chromatic aberration slider to remove the purple fringe around the sun. A high-quality lens wouldn’t have needed this, but the 100-300 is not a high-quality lens.

 

Some more images:

Vantage PointSetting up the camerasThe obligatory shot of everyone wearing goofy eclipse glasses

WIRR stands for Weekly Image Rich Ruh. This regular feature on Das Has von Ruh will show and describe my favorite photo created during this weekly period. My weeks start on Mondays, as does the WIRR. I’m hoping to include commentary on the story, the setting, the specs, or the sentiments, depending on the circumstances.