Solar Eclipse with the Mayor

“Ever since the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun. I shall do the next best thing: block it out.”―Mr. Burns

The Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017 was a magical time.  I’m from Portland, OR and my parents still live in the area, so it felt like my home town was getting something special.  Since the last total solar eclipse visible in Portland was in 1979, I guess the 2017 event was technically my second experience.  I have only a vague memory from 1979 (something about a pinhole in a shoebox), so 2017 would be the first really memorable one for me.

Since I currently live in the Seattle area, I figured it would be an easy trip down to Portland, where I could avoid the outrageous prices being charged for accommodations by staying with my parents.  Although not in the direct path of totality, the Portland metro area would enjoy 99.4% occlusion.  I figured that would still be great and decided the Portland metro area was good enough for me to view the total solar eclipse.

To avoid what was being billed as apocalyptic traffic, I drove down on the Saturday before the Monday of the eclipse.  There was no extraordinary traffic the whole way.  I spent the night at my parents’ house and then got up early the next morning to practice.  My dad is a photography enthusiast who also happens to be the Mayor of Fairview, OR.  He’s been shooting longer than me and planned to use an array of equipment to capture the event.

Here’s our setup, just at the end of the driveway in Fairview.

Our Imaging Array

That’s my D810 closest to the camera.  I was using a 200-500mm lens with a 2x teleconverter.  That gave me 1000mm of focal length and a maximum aperture of f/11.  Initially I was concerned about that f/11 max aperture but later discovered it was a pretty good setting.  The filter on the front is just the sheet of film you can buy from Amazon.  Nothing special.  Next, from the left, is my dad’s D600 with the same 200-500mm lens.  He wasn’t using a teleconverter though, so his max aperture was f/5.6.  I don’t know what he ended up using.  For a filter, he has a 10-stop ND plus a polarizer.  Next is an unfiltered D750 that my dad planned to use to capture the corona.  His thinking was that he wouldn’t be able to get his glass filters off fast enough, so he setup a second camera.  Last in line is an inexpensive video camera to capture the entire event.

It’s a good thing we went out the day before to practice.  We looked at where the sun would be the following day and found good shooting positions, but the main thing was getting our settings dialed in.  We would have been way off if not for this pre-trial.  In spite of how hard we tried to prepare, it seemed like everything went out the window as soon as we pointed our cameras directly at the sun.  I already mentioned that I had to shoot at f/11.  I wasn’t expecting that my other settings would be ISO 400 and 1/15 second, but that’s what they ended up at.

Focusing was another story.  Everything I read and watched told me to simply put my camera on manual focus and set it to infinity.  That seemed pretty reasonable with the sun being so far away, but it only produced a huge blob of blurry light for me.  Eventually I was using autofocus to get sharp focus and then switched to manual to lock it in.  I just used the edge of the sun as a focus point, and that worked perfectly.  The most important piece of equipment turned out to be a couple of black towels.  It was so bright out that our rear LCD screens were all by unviewable, so we draped the towels over our heads to see the backs of our cameras.  I’m sure we looked very cool to passersby, but I was with the mayor at the mayor’s house so I didn’t care.

You can see sun spots in these images, so I figure that I really nailed focus.  I’m pretty happy about that and was very excited for the big day and the ultimate moment.  We got up early, spent a couple hours watching the local news about traffic and the weather at various locations, and got even more excited about this total solar eclipse.  A little before 9:00 am, we went outside and setup our photo array at the end of the driveway to capture first contact.

The Mayor of Fairview

The next hour was very exciting.  We listened to the local radio station for updates and interviews from around the state.  We talked and drank coffee and asked each other if we “saw that” and waited for totality.

Friends, I learned an important math lesson that day that you’d think I would have already known.  99.4% does not equal 100%.  At the penultimate moment of totality, we waited breathlessly for the corona to become visible.  The radio played a medley of sun-and-moon-related songs.  It got pretty dark, a weird darkness that was not like twilight.  The temperature dropped noticeably.  We continued to wait.  The songs ended.  Still no corona.  For some reason, people on the radio were cheering.  Seconds went by, and then one of us wondered out loud if the sun was actually getting bigger.  None of us wanted to believe it, but the truth was that the total eclipse had passed, and we didn’t see totality.  Close, but not quite.

So that was a little disappointing.  I thought for a moment about capturing the sun as the moon passed away and then considered another hour in the driveway, knowing I never got to see the greatest moment.  When I packed up my gear quickly, in a huff I said it was because I wanted to avoid traffic on the way back up, but really it was out of resentment toward . . . what?  The sun, for not being totally eclipsed in front of me?  The moon for not trying harder?

At any rate, this is the last picture I took of the Great American Eclipse of 2017.  I hope to be in Indiana in 2024 for the next one.

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A Day at the Beach

It’s been hot here.  Even before the BC wildfires enhazened our skies, it was hot and kind of miserable.  So, we went to the coast.  To get to the Washington coast from Seattle, you have to drive around the Puget Sound, and that takes some time.  Believe it or not, I’ve never done this; I’ve never been to Washington’s coast, except for right on the border with Oregon.  This was not to be the trip to break that trend because we went to the beach of  my childhood – Seaside, Oregon.

First we had to leave The Island.  Since we were going south, we did the Talequah crossing into Tacoma.  There’s a great view of Mt. Rainier on this route, and the skies were clear that day.  Here’s a morning shot of our beloved mountain from the water.

The drive from Seattle to Portland is peaceful, if a bit predictable.  We stayed at my parents’ house in Fairview for the night and headed out early the next morning for the Oregon coast, which is a straight shot.

To my surprise, it was hot on the beach.  In fact, I found myself calling it the beach instead of the coast.  It was actually sunny and hot on the Oregon coast at Seaside.  Which is why this shot of Claire was a little tricky.

It was right around noon, so the light was intense, and the shadows were harsh.  This was one of the few times I used my popup flash for something other than to control other flashes.  Fill flash saved the day here.  Also, Seaside Beach is big and roomy.  There were plenty of people there that day, but we were all spread out pretty good.  This desolate-looking image was made possible by using the widest angle lens I had available.  It makes Claire look like she’s the only person in the world.

One of my primary goals for this quick trip was to introduce Tommy to kite-flying.  As far as I know, he’d never even seen a kite before, much less flown one.  I figured I could buy something anywhere in town, and I was right.  But, man, was that thing ever cheap.  It wouldn’t have lasted another few minutes in the air.  It eventually did disintegrate, but we were able to have a good time long enough before that.  Tommy got to fly a kite for the first time in his life.

He loved it!  He loved the whole experience, and I think he even enjoyed letting go of the string so his mother would have to run and chase it.  The rest of the day included bumper cars, a carousel ride, saltwater taffy, a trip to the Tillamook Creamery and a visit to Cannon Beach.  After a fabulous dinner at Mo’s I really wanted to get out to Ecola State Park to capture the great sunset scenery that is there.  The idea isn’t to capture the sunset itself, but rather the view back on the beach in the sunset light.  A few things went wrong.

One, the best lookout points were closed off due to recent storms and the erosion caused thereby.  The other issue was the cloud-cover.  There’d been no clouds the entire day, but now we had a thick layer right at the horizon that blocked all of that gorgeous sunset light.  By the time I got out to the best lookout I could reach, I’d missed my only chance to get the shot I’d been hoping for.  To twist the knife a little, Gabbie informed me that I’d just missed some great light.  All I got was this crummy shot of Cannon Beach:

You can see areas where the sunset light is trying to get through, but mostly it was flat light.  To make up for my disappointment at missing the really good light, I took one last picture of Claire.

She’ll be one year old next week.

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How to Photograph Fireworks

It’s that day again!  The 4th of July is the one chance I get all year to shoot fireworks.  This year I’m going to a new spot, so fingers-crossed that it is a good one.  You’ll know tomorrow.

Until then, I just published a somewhat verbose tutorial on How to Photograph Fireworks.  I hope you find it helpful or entertaining or at least tolerable.

have fun and be safe tonight!


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Springtime in Kaua’i

The big difference with this trip to Kaua’i was that we sprang for an ocean-facing unit.  The resort industry can be a little dodgy when it comes to descriptions of the view.  “Garden View” means you’ll be looking at the parking lot.  “Ocean View” means that, if you lean out over your deck or out a window and see a little piece of water, you have a “view” of the ocean.  We spent a little extra this time and got an actual view of the ocean.  This is what it looked like from our deck.

Since we’re on the Point at Po’ipu, this is pretty much a view to the south.  The way we were situated gave us some great sunrises each morning.

Of course no trip to Kaua’i would be complete for us if we didn’t walk down to the Grand Hyatt and, once again, discuss when or if we might ever stay there.  I’ve walked passed this place so many times that I actually have favorite rooms, and I’ve never even been inside.  Doesn’t this look relaxing and inviting?

We took another plane tour (see Soaring Over Kaua’i), and it was exactly like the previous flight.  That’s good, though.  There was a couple from New Zealand on our plane who thought it was kind of weird that we would do this same tour more than once.  We told them it was that good, that we enjoyed it that much.

I thought Tommy might enjoy it more this time because he was a little older, but the staff told me not to expect much.  They said that the motion and sound of the plane puts toddlers right to sleep.  Nah, I thought.  This is too exciting to sleep through.

Another attraction this year was supposed to be the whales, those mythical beasts that travel down to Hawai’i for only certain months of the year.  We’d never been to Hawai’i during whale-time, so this was exciting.  And we had our legitimate ocean view.  And I had a super telephoto lens with me – 500mm of whale-viewing goodness.  It was, however, not to be.  We might have seen a tail or something one morning, but it was far out, nothing breached, and it might not have actually been a whale, or even a marine mammal.  So here’s a picture of some people fishing from a cliff, shot at 500mm, in great sunrise light.

I think I was waiting for whales (title of my next album?) when I noticed this little tableau out in the ocean.  There were some waves forming and kind of crashing out in open water.  And the light here is not Photoshop tomfoolery.  This is really what it looked like, and I thought it was kind of cool.  So, here’s another picture of not-a-whale, captured with the super telephoto lens.

But it wasn’t all not taking pictures of whales.  We did wander around Hanalei, eat at some food trucks and drive around as far as we could in both directions on the highway.  It’s just that we really like the Po’ipu area, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures right outside our room.

And that sunrise every morning.  Wow.

There was one out-of-the-ordinary thing we did on this trip.  We spent three nights in a cottage on a plantation in Waimea.  That was definitely different and very cool.  The first evening when we got there was a little rainy, though, but we wondered out anyway and eventually saw this.

I didn’t have my DSLR with me, out in the rain.  That was captured with the camera inside my phone.

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Orlando This Year, Again

Every year my company puts together a conference for a week in some US city.  This year it was in Orlando, FL.  That’s the same Orlando, FL as in 2013.  This is the first repeating city we’ve had, but that’s okay.  Seattle is having the wettest year on record, and it was nice to get to sunny Florida for a while.

We don’t have a tremendous amount of free time during the week, so I try to make my outings count.  The Orlando Eye Ferris wheel was close to our hotel, so we took a quick Uber over there to check out the view.  My first thought was what view?

Disney World?  Universal Studios?  The ocean?  No, that’s the roof and parking lot for Lockheed Martin, with Universal Boulevard in the foreground.  And that’s the view from on top of the Eye.  A particularly loquacious Uber driver later in the evening (not our next driver, but the next-next one) confirmed that the city picked a terrible location for this attraction.  There’s noting to see except the Orlando Eye itself.

After the Eye, we got in another Uber and headed downtown.  Between the disappointment of the Ferris wheel and our discomforting second driver, we weren’t in a very good mood at this point.  All that changed when we arrived at Lake Eola Park right at sunset.  I’ve been told this hasn’t always been a pleasant place for families and those not looking to score drugs, but it was plenty comfortable when I was there.

Man, were there a lot of birds.  Swans (even black ones, which I didn’t know existed), geese of different varieties and ducks.  There was also a pigeon or two . . . million.  That’s one flock of pigeons alighting from a deck raining as I was taking the above shot.  It wasn’t planned.  This group of birds kept settling back onto the railing and then exploding off of it every few minutes.

The band this year was the Beach Boys.  Mike Love and Bruce Johnston gave us a private show that was very nice.  They’re getting up there in age, so there wasn’t a lot of dancing around, but they can definitely still play and sing.

Mike Love . . .

Bruce Johnston . . .

Modern technology gave them the opportunity to have the late Carl Wilson sign lead on one of the songs with the band backing him up live on stage.  I really should have made a note of which song that was, but I was so impressed with the synchronicity that I just stood there watching and listening and not really thinking.

I didn’t mention that the opening talk was given by Story Musgrave.  If you don’t know who that is, please do yourself a favor (really) and look up his life story.  You’d think it would be enough for a man to be a space-walking, Hubble-telescope-repairing astronaut, but he was also a neurosurgeon for over 20 years as well.  And those are only a couple of the interesting things he’s done.  Hearing him speak was inspiring and very motivational.  It’s with him that I took my first celebrity selfie ever.

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