Braving the traffic, heat, forest fires, and camera body mechanical failures to experience and capture the 2017 Great American Solar Eclipse in Oregon State.
2017's total solar eclipse was anticipated to be a cluster for Oregon. With the small city of Madras (population: 6,729) named the nation's best vantage point for the eclipse due to its high probability of clear skies, Oregon expected to see over a million visitors swarming to the area over a 3-day period. With the Oregon Emergency Services preparing for this event for over two years and the governor activating the national guard in advance, this was sure to be an interesting one.
It seemed like a perfect time to plan an Oregon getaway. I'd rent a cargo van for the week, throw in my camera gear, an air mattress, a Coleman stove, and a bunch of backpacking MRE meals. What could possibly go wrong, amirite?
August 12, 2017 [t-minus 9 days to the solar eclipse]
After creating a finely crafted plan involving field of view calculators, Google Maps, spreadsheets, and a bit of trigonometry, my plan to shoot the eclipse from the base of Mount Jefferson went up in smoke as I discovered that I was planning to shoot in the middle of a forest fire. I decided to go down anyway, play it by ear, and create a new plan via some on-location scouting.
August 17, 2017 [t-minus 4 days to the eclipse]
Seattle -> Mt Saint Helens
First stop: Leaving directly from work, I drove directly to Mount Saint Helens for a night of wide-angle astrophotography.
Before the first shot of my photography vacation I had a tripod malfunction (stupid Arca-Swiss plate variation) and the camera and lens came crashing to the ground . Observe the aftermath:
Well hell. Vacation over. Humbled by defeat, I packed up, drove to a rest stop along I-5, and crashed for the night.
August 18, 2017 [t-minus 3 days to the eclipse]
Portland -> Columbia River Gorge -> Mount Hood
Vacation salvaged! In the morning I found a few camera rental shops in Portland, one of which had a D810 available for the weekend. $150 poorer and a whole lot happier, It was time to head into the Columbia River Gorge to capture a few waterfalls and then off to Mount Hood to capture the sunset and Milky Way.
Fun story about this lake above: after wading into the water up to my ankles to compose this shot near I discovered a sign with a gigantic NO SWIMMING warning stating that this was a waste water outlet (not a lake, as I had originally thought). Awesome. I finished up my shoot and scrubbed the skin off of my ankles and tripod legs with a bunch of sani-wipes.
After packing up at around 1:00am I took 26 down to Warm Springs Reservation and crashed for the night in the first pull-off I could find.
Photos not yet processed from this day: images from Oneonta Gorge and the Milky Way over Mount Hood at Poop Lake.
August 19, 2017 [t-minus 2 days to the eclipse]
Warm Springs Reservation -> Deschutes River -> Madras ->
Proxy Falls Smith Rock State Park
Upon waking up I realized that I spent the night adjacent to this huge drop off into a dried riverbed. Since I didn't inadvertently back up into the ravine, I thought this was kind of cool and considered it a win.
Driving another 30 minutes south south along route 26 brought me into the path of totality along the Deschutes River. I began to scout locations to shoot the eclipse by using the app Photo Pills to estimate where the sun will be at the time of totality:
I saw a few possibles, but nothing that really wowed me. The landscape at Deschutes River is beautiful but it really lends itself to a more telephoto composition (70mm and up). At totality, the sun would be so high that you would have to shoot 35mm or wider to capture both the landscape and sun.
Next stop: Proxy Falls, an iconic Oregon waterfall that was on my bucket list. Or so I thought, anyway; Proxy Falls was closed due to yet another forest fire. Moving on...
Next stop: Smith Rock State Park! Due to the proximity, I decided to drive through this area and hoo boy am I glad I did:
Scouting for a composition to shoot the eclipse also yielded better results:
Having found a composition I decided to stick it out around Smith Rock State Park for fear of getting stuck somewhere due to the forest fires or eclipse induced apocalyptic traffic conditions.
Traffic was still pretty normal. I encountered no unusual congestion until I drove through Madras on the way to
Proxy Falls Smith Rock where some huge tent cities were beginning to populate. Madras was busy, but the traffic was no worse than my every day commute into downtown Seattle for work.
August 20, 2017 [t-minus 1 day to the eclipse]
Smith Rock State Park
Still at Smith Rock. After doing an eclipse test shoot at 10:20 I took a hike up Misery Ridge and discovered Monkey Face, an incredible rock formation teaming with rock climbers. I decided to stay put from 3-8PM to shoot at optimal lighting conditions and to catch the sunset. It's days like this you can be content with coming away with only a single image. This is doubly so after having the opportunity to meet so many great people while waiting for the sun to do it's thing.
About the image: This one includes multiple exposures at different times of day to capture optimal lighting conditions and as much action as possible on the rock face. Click the image to view full-size.
August 21, 2017: Eclipse Day!
Smith Rock State Park
What an amazing (and long) day.
While joining two new friends just before dusk to shoot the sunrise, we met an awesome group of Seattleites who also braved the frigid desert cold and ungodly early hour in hopes of capturing that early morning light. While the shoot went bust after the sky failed to put on a show, all was not lost as our groups merged and an awesome morning was had by all.
Clockwise from upper left: Awaiting totality. Strategizing over a bag of Doritos (the best kind of breakfast). Michelle photobombing Pumba's moment. GoPro selfie. Images courtesy of Jessmin Lau and Mark Tulewicz.
I once experienced a partial solar eclipse as a kid and have never forgot it. Even though the moon only covered about 30% of the sun, I got such a thrill by looking at the sun through a sheet of aluminum foil (yeah, safety standards are a little higher these days). Experiencing a total eclipse was nothing like that.
At 90-99% totality, the quality of the light was just weird. The shadows were still strong and harsh, yet the light was dim and colors were noticeably de-saturated - perhaps because our eyes' rods, the photoreceptors responsible for seeing in the dark, are not as sensitive to color. I was not able to capture this observed lack of color in-camera.
As the moon slipped in front of the sun and the diamond ring effect became visible, there was a very immediate and very stark loss of light and temperature. What had previously looked like a slightly pale version of the sun became this shimmering halo in the form of a diamond ring. The diamond ring effect lasted for 5-10 seconds and then the world around us was lost in pure totality; an experience I struggle to accurately describe.
We did not observe any abnormal animal behavior but the humans around me were definitely losing their shit.
And with that, our group's images of the event:
...and here comes the traffic, which for the first 6 hours was just as interesting/hellish as predicted. Thankfully I was too dehydrated to require a pit stop on the 140-mile 8.5 hour non-stop drive to Portland. At least I had time take a few shots while at a complete standstill:
August 22, 2017 - Post Eclipse Hangover / My Second Eclipse in as Many Days
Back in Portland and showered for the first time since Thursday! Contrary to reports, it turned out that totality was visible in Portland. I give you the Total Solar Eclipse Voodoo Donut:
Aw man I could have saved like 3 days worth of travel by simply enduring the 45 minute wait at Voodoo.
Fin. Next post: How I shot the solar eclipse.