The Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017

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One Gigantic Northbound Voyage – “Totality Awesome!”

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

For the last six months, I have been studying and researching all available information regarding the total solar eclipse that was scheduled to cross the United States on Monday, August 21st 2017. My original plan was to make the drive to Salem, Oregon, but when I realized just how hellishly crowded that location would be, so I started looking elsewhere. I noticed the totality zone would be moving over the Grand Tetons and I looked for a place to lodge in Jackson, Wyoming, but everything was either booked up or prices were being gouged heavily for the event. I eventually set my sights on Eastern Idaho and particularly, the Teton Valley region. This would put me near the mountains, but on the side that would see less traffic congestion. Jackson, Wyoming was going to be a hub for the worst traffic ever, so I made sure that I wouldn’t stay there too long if I decided to visit briefly.

“Welcome to the Spud State, Idaho!”

After having spent the last two days on the road, I had finally arrived in Teton Valley, Idaho. There were many small towns along that stretch of Route 33 which were the best spots in the totality zone for the upcoming eclipse. Fox Creek was dead center for said eclipse, but overnight parking there was somewhere in the vicinity of $85 – $100 bucks for the night. At that rate, I felt that I was better off continuing my search, even if I had to find an empty field without trespassing.

“There were digital signs like this all over Utah and Idaho.”

Clawson, Idaho

GPS Coordinates: 43.7979735° N, 111.119532° W

After cruising up and down the Teton Valley and treking for a moment into Wyoming, I had spotted a place in the small town of Clawson, Idaho about 10 miles north of Fox Creek which was a much better and more organized operation which offered overnight camping for a mere $50 bucks. They had a live band, food, beverages and beer from three different local brewers, not to mention the availability of very clean porta pottys. Spaces were even assigned by posted signs so I knew these guys had their act together.

“There was already a small group of campers lined up along the assigned spaces.”

The band was really good, they played all sorts of classics from Tom Petty to the Rolling Stones and many more. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and so was I. The sun was setting and I was rushing to get my sleeping quarters set up for the night in the Starship. My biggest concern was a warm night, because the interior of my cab gets pretty warm even with the windows down, but the temperature was really dropping that night. This was good news as I cannot sleep at all in a warm environment.

I knew that the closest place for food was 10 miles away and I didn’t want to drive out again, so rather than kick up more dust, I just shelled out ten bucks for a bratwurst hot dog with chips and a gatorade. I met a few chaps from around the country and as I got a good look around, it seemed that most of the folks here were 40 like myself and older. All seemed like really good people.

“Jamming out some tunes from the Georgia Satellites with a touch of harmonica.”

“They were serving up burgers and hotdogs at stadium prices, but it was worth it.”

“It was time to put the camera down and get some shut eye for the following day.”

The Great American Eclipse – “Here it comes!”

Monday, August 21st, 2017

After enduring a very long night of screaming, drunken couples fighting, and loud car stereos blaring at all hours of the early morning, I somehow managed to wake up before sunrise. Perhaps it was the 40ºF (4.4ºC) chill of the air around me. Either way, I got up and put on two jackets. My hands were feeling rather frozen, so I started making my bed and getting organized for the day’s event.

Once I was getting a bit more warmed up, I snagged a breakfast burrito at the food tent and took a walk with my camera. The typical view of the Grand Tetons is always from the east side, but the view from the west was proving to be quite a sight as well.

“The morning sun casts it’s light through the peaks and valleys of the Grand Tetons.”

When I got back after the morning walk, I spoke with one of the grounds keepers about ditching my spot and setting up all the way in the back of the property. He said it was no problem as long as I didn’t leave anything behind on my assigned spot. All the guys that were working the campground were super cool and friendly.

The solar eclipse was going to take place rather high in the sky and I didn’t want any power lines getting in my shot, so parking in the back of the property made it a lot easier to set up a shot. Also, it was much more peaceful. I was on Mountain Time and nested in the Teton Valley, so the start of the eclipse in this region was scheduled to begin at 10:16 AM with totality reaching it’s maximum at 11:35 AM and ending at 12:59 PM. A total duration of 2 hour, 43 minutes from beginning to end with a period of totality lasting a mere 2 minutes, 19 seconds.

“The sun was heating up that cold morning air which brought out the grasshoppers and other critters.”

I met so many folks from all over the country. I met the charming Kris Rose who drove all the way from Seattle, Washington with her friend who is an enthusiastic science teacher. I met Donnie and Leonard from Denver, Colorado. I even met a guy named Kerry from San Luis Obispo where I used to work. The real surprise was a fellow I met from Japan named Ohashi. This guy flew into Salt Lake City with his wife and young daughter, then proceeded to drive a rental all the way up to Teton Valley, Idaho where they would camp out for this event… “What an adventurous spirit I thought!”

“There were folks from all over the country here, these ladies drove from Arizona.”

“This guy had a seriously impressive setup! I cannot even imagine what he was seeing with that beast.”

“I had a humble setup made of aging equipment, but I would give it my best shot or shots!”

Camera Setup #01

I had spent the last two weeks before the trip stressing about wether I should go deeper into debt and upgrade my eight year old Canon 5D Mark II with a 5D Mark IV as well as upgrade my ten year old Canon 100-400mm telephoto lens with the newer Mark II version of that lens so I can buy and use the 1.4x teleconverter Mark III. I’m glad I did not do that because there is just no way in hell that I could ever justify blowing over $6,400 in money I don’t have on new gear!

With that said, I just told myself “Dude!, just do the best you can with the gear you’ve got and most important of all, enjoy yourself!” After that, I felt more at ease and just absorbed this awesome venture for what it was.

Now, about that aging gear, I know I can make some magic happen, but if I was going to do this right, I would need to be quick about my settings should I require any rapid changes in exposure. Fortunately I was equipped with a Lee filter kit which I can pluck right off the front of my camera without disrupting the position like a threaded filter would.

I combined the ultimate in camera stability with the use of a heavy duty Manfrotto video tripod and a really slick 503HDV Fluid Head in a 100mm swivel bowl which gave me the best in movement and ensured simple adjustment capability.

I had also invested in a metallic, hot shoe mountable iPhone holder so I could track the position of where the sun will be in the sky. I used the augmented reality feature of an app called Sun Surveyor ($9.99 to access the live view feature) which I highly recommend for any photographer. You can totally plan your sun and moon shots long before your shoot.

“Rocking the full set up here and ready to capture my first ever total solar eclipse!”

The first images were a series of shots that displayed the course of the moon as it began to conceal the sun. It was a great opportunity to get my settings adjusted since this would be happening for over an hour. Of course once totality hits, it becomes a completely different ball game as the filters must come off and I have to race to get in as many exposures as possible.

Below are six images of the eclipse in action that display what my settings were and the times that they were taken at. The ND filters gave the sun a bit of the cool blue color treatment. If you noticed those black dots on the images, note that they are not dust particles on my sensor, but actual sun spots.

Canon EOS 5D MKII (Full Frame)
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L USM Telephoto Lens
Shot at 400mm, f/16 – 1/8000 sec – ISO 100 (No Filter)

Camera Setup #02

Since I was going to be constantly adjusting the big lens on Camera Setup #01, I wanted a smaller set up to attempt a timelapse of the entire event. To do this, I used the only other capable DSLR that I had in my inventory, my trusty, old Canon 20D. I mounted it to my large Manfrotto three section carbon fiber tripod w/pistol grip head and used the Canon TC 80N3 remote and set it to fire off at twenty second intervals.

This should be enough to cover the entire solar eclipse from start to finish (2 hours 43 minutes). Naturally this would really put my old camera’s battery consumption performance to the test so to be on the safe side, I attached the battery grip to double the battery life. I didn’t need to capture this in RAW format so I set the camera to capture large jpeg files for this experiment.

The timelapse would be a shot in the dark for me, but I wanted to see what I could learn from this set up. There were a total of 373 photos taken which I later combined in After Effects to produce the video you see here below. Stats and info of my set up are listed here as well.

Canon EOS 20D (APS-C Sensor / Creates a 1.6x Crop Factor on Non Digital Lenses)
Canon 14mm f/2.8L USM II Super Wideangle Lens (Equivalent to 22.5mm due to the cropped sensor)
Shot at 14mm, f/9 – 1/4000 sec – ISO 200 (No Filter)
20 second intervals for a total of 373 images.

“A brief timelapse video of the entire eclipse from start to finish.”

Images of Totality from Camera Setup #01

When totality came around, I had 2 minutes and 19 seconds to get all my camera settings in order. I had spent months researching and generating hypothesis around potential exposure and aperture settings. This helped put me in the range of where I needed to be and it paid off. To get the sharpest images possible during this event, I engaged my 5D’s “Mirror Lock Up” function and used a remote to fire off the most “vibration free” shots that I possibly could.

Canon EOS 5D MKII (Full Frame)
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L USM Telephoto Lens
Shot at 400mm, f/16 – 1/400 sec – ISO 100 (No Filter)
*Image has been scaled to 200%relative to the frame for better viewing.

Canon EOS 5D MKII (Full Frame)
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L USM Telephoto Lens
Shot at 400mm, f/11 – 1/60 sec – ISO 100 (No Filter)
*Image has been scaled to 200%relative to the frame for better viewing.

Canon EOS 5D MKII (Full Frame)
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L USM Telephoto Lens
Shot at 400mm, f/11 – 1/13 sec – ISO 100 (No Filter)
*Image has been scaled to 200% relative to the frame for better viewing.

Canon EOS 5D MKII (Full Frame)
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L USM Telephoto Lens
Shot at 400mm, f/11 – 0.4 sec – ISO 100 (No Filter)
*Image has been scaled to 200%relative to the frame for better viewing.

Canon EOS 5D MKII (Full Frame)
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L USM Telephoto Lens
Shot at 400mm, f/11 – 1/10 sec – ISO 100 (No Filter)
*Image has been scaled to 200%relative to the frame for better viewing.

Besides being so focused on the photography aspect of the event, I had taken notice of my surroundings and saw that the lighting effects or lack thereof were equal to a full moon night. There were other things happening, a red tailed hawk was suddenly becoming very vocal with the diminishing light and I even saw a barn owl swoop down nearby a few times. Gnats and mosquitoes were starting to occupy the airspace around me and I even saw a very confused bumble bee crash clumsily into the Starship’s hood several times…lol!

Actual Size of Totality through a 400mm / Full Frame combo.

Now keep in mind that the images above are not the actual size of totality as it was viewed through the 400mm on a full frame sensor. Those images are roughly twice the size of the original image and how it sat in the frame. The true size of what totality looks like when taken through a 400mm focal length on a full frame sensor looks like this:

Canon EOS 5D MKII (Full Frame)
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L USM Telephoto Lens
Shot at 400mm, f/11 – 1/13 sec – ISO 100 (No Filter)
*Image 100% in relation to a full frame sensor size.

What an enigmatic experience this was and how fortunate to be alive at this time to experience this rare event over North America. I had gazed upon totality with my bare eyes, but for the life of me could not focus on it. It was like I was seeing double. I don’t have a problem with my eyesight as I have 20/20 vision with distant objects.

At one point I thought, “Perhaps this is just what happens and it’s normal.” Later that day,I asked another participant if they had trouble focusing on totality and they said yes, and saw double as well. Maybe their eyes are screwed up too in some strange way?…lol, I should have asked more people.

“When totality occurred, the scene around me was like a bright full moon night.”

I was happy that my images were not affected by the same optical problems that I was having, but it did make me wonder if it had something to do with the fact that I was exactly 10 miles north of the precise dead center of the moon’s path. If that were true, it should have caused my cameras to capture the same effect. This is definitely something that I will have to research and examine for awhile.

About twenty minutes after totality passed, I stopped shooting with the the 400mm and my 5D MKII, but I allowed the 20D to complete it’s timelapse sequence until 12:59 PM. In the meantime, I was getting my other gear sorted out and loaded into the Starship because I knew I was going to have to get out of Dodge real soon and fast if I was planning to evade traffic.

“Once the timelapse completed, I jumped into the Starship and made tracks!”

“Traffic was swift getting out of Teton Valley, but when I hit Rexburg, Idaho, it was all over!”

“North of Salt Lake City in the same traffic going on day two of Carmageddon!”


I spent more than two days getting stuck in southbound traffic and no matter how frustrating it was, I have to admit that it was totally worth it! I stayed the course and thought about the solar eclipse the entire time and already started planning for Texas on April 8th 2024 when the solar eclipse returns to the eastern half of the United States.

Solar eclipses are not all that rare as they happen on average every two years somewhere on the planet, but having them occur so close to home is when they become rare. What made this solar eclipse so special was the fact that it could be seen by all 48 contiguous states to some degree, an event who’s equal has not occurred since June 8, 1918.

“Traffic free and flying down the I-15, homeward bound.”

I am now officially a fan of solar eclipses and I plan on chasing the next one in 2024, hopefully with newer and more powerful equipment. If you have never experienced moment of totality during a solar eclipse, It is one of those things that you have to do before you expire, it’s worth it! Anyhow, I eventually surpassed the “carmageddon” and enjoyed the rest of the peaceful drive home.

This was my biggest venture on record, spanning from California to Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming over the course of six days and 2,130 miles (3,428 km) total. I’m not sure how I’m going to top this one, but I bet I can think of something while I wait on the next solar eclipse =D

Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”



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