The Great American Eclipse: August 21, 2017 – Grand Rivers, Kentucky

In the end, it’s all but a memory now…a memory that will be etched in me forever.

I had been anticipating the Great American Solar Eclipse for some time now,  along with a lot of other folks across the country.  I had decided 6 months ago that I wanted to experience the solar eclipse somewhere other than my backyard (looking back now, that was a good move on my part…since it ended up being mostly cloudy back home in Indiana).  I started searching for places where I could potentially view the eclipse where areas of totality would occur, that weren’t too far for me to get to by car.  I considered Gardens of the Gods, in Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, but had read they were expecting extremely long lines to get into the park.  Although it would have been a picturesque spot to view the eclipse, I didn’t want my experience to be stress ridden waiting in long car lines and dealing with large crowds.  Hopkinsville, Kentucky was named “Eclipseville” because they would have the longest totality of the solar eclipse in the country.  They were expecting over 100,000 people, I even heard the count could reach up to 200,000 people, to descend upon this small town during the weekend leading up to the event on Monday.  Therefore, I opted out of attending the event there as well.

In my hiking adventures down to Southern Illinois, Tennessee and Kentucky, I had previously been to the elk and bison prairie at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation area for a photo opt which lead me to come across the town of Grand Rivers, Kentucky.

There is a small sailboat marina in Grand Rivers called Lighthouse Landing right as you enter the town.  I had stopped there in the past to photograph the sailboats, the lake and the sunsets, so I was familiar with this little spot.  I had researched the totality times in different towns and Grand Rivers was also in the path of totality, which would last 2 minutes 30 seconds, not quiet as long as Hopkinsville, but still a long enough time in the direct path of the eclipse’s totality. Something was telling me that this would be the spot for me to view the eclipse.

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Weeks before the event, I started researching to see if I had all the necessary camera equipment to attempt photographing the total eclipse. Here’s a list of the items that were needed:

  1. Solar glasses (check! 5 pair…one can never be too prepared.)
  2. Solar filter for a 95mm lens (check! I ordered a cardboard universal solar lens filter through B&H Photography that cost $24.99. Some of the solar lens filters were going for as much as $180.00. I figured since I probably would only ever use this filter once and then only for a few hours why spend that much.)
  3. Suggested camera to use would be at least a APS-C cropped sensor camera that would have a fast shutter speed (check! I have a Canon 7D Mark II that can shoot up to 10 FPS [frames per second].)
  4. A long lens 400mm or longer (check! I have a Tamron 150-600mm that I use to photograph birds with.)
  5. A Sturdy tripod and tripod head mount that could support the weight of the heavy camera gear and also tilt at a steep angle up toward the sun (check! Sort of! When testing out my camera setup in my backyard, I noticed the camera kept creeping downward ever so slowly and wasn’t staying anchored in place. I knew this was going to be a big problem if I couldn’t get the camera to stay put.  I decided to head over to Gary Camera in town to look for another tripod head.  Since I had bought  my original tripod head from Gary Camera initially, the gentleman at the store suggested I bring it in for him to take a look at it. I ran back home and brought back the entire setup so he could see what was going on.  He determined there was definitely something wrong with the head and told me he would send it in to Manfrotto to have it repaired because their products come with a lifetime warranty. Great news, but, that left me without a tripod head for several weeks and I wouldn’t get mine back  in time for the eclipse event.  I inevitably ended up purchasing another tripod head and a simple remote control camera trigger.  My tripod ended up not being as sturdy as I thought, as the wind would cause the camera to move a bit when a swift breeze would come along.  You don’t want your camera shake in order to get a clear picture. At this point, I was not going to invest hundreds of dollars on another tripod just for this event. So I was going to have to make do with what I had.)
  6. Remote control trigger (check!)
  7. Duct tape to hold the lens in place and prevent it from sliding when it was being pointed at the steep angle. (I didn’t bother to bring any since there didn’t seem to be any slippage when extended out to 600mm.)
  8. Camera Batteries (several…I had 4…fully charged)
  9. Portable charger for my iPhone
  10. Installed Wifi in the Camera (Since my camera is about 3 years old, wifi was not a feature that came built in to the camera, but, it has wifi capabilities.  I had to install a wifi card in the camera in order for this feature to work where I could control the camera with my phone.  It is a neat feature…but I ended up not using it and worked the camera manually instead.)
  11. Weather App (check! needed to stay on top of the weather leading up to the event. If no clear skies, then no eclipse viewing.)
  12. Bayer Back and Body Aspirin (check!)

Below are a few pictures of the setup and my scribbled notes:

Next came hours of reading and watching YouTube videos on how to best photograph a solar eclipse.  I came across a lot of folks saying eclipse are difficult to photograph and to just go out there and enjoy the moment. “Yeah, right!” said this enthusiastic photographer!  I was going to take a crack at it.  I was either going to fail miserably or I was going to win the lottery that day. Either way, I had nothing to lose.  I did come across a YouTube video that used this app called Solar Eclipse Timer where you could practice the timing of photographing an eclipse. I downloaded the app and it would eventually play an important part of the sequence of photographs I would take.

On Saturday, August 19, I gassed up and packed up the car with all the gear I was taking.  On Sunday morning, August 20, I had set my alarm for a 5:30 am wakeup call. I got ready and finished making sandwiches and packed plenty of snacks before I set out for my Great American Solar Eclipse adventure.  But first, coffee!

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Fast forward 6 hours.  I arrived in Paducah, Kentucky where I was staying, however, I got into town hours before check-in, so I decided to take a drive to Grand Rivers to see if they had put up any special previsions for accessing the parking lot at the marina.  By the time I had arrived there, it was around 2pm, (because somehow I managed to drive in one big circle on Rt. 62…you’ll see what I mean later),  the sun had peaked for the day, but at least it gave me a sense of where the sun would be position in the sky when it came time for the solar eclipse the following day around 1:24pm (CT). I surveyed the area and I was pleasantly surprised to find out there weren’t any special signs prohibiting anyone from parking during the eclipse event. There were plenty of spots with picnic tables and I thought perfect!

On Sunday evening I was still researching and learning the correct settings on my camera for photographing a solar eclipse. There aren’t to many chances for actual practice…well actually…there are zero actual chances for practicing photographing a solar eclipse since it rarely happens in these parts. So I was flying by the seat of my yoga pants on this one…I was totally going to wing it.

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Monday, August 21, 2017: Happy Total Eclipse Day! I set my phone alarm for a 5:00am wakeup call on Monday morning, but, I couldn’t sleep and was awake at 3:30am, my brain swimming in Fstops, shutter speeds and ISO settings that I began to clock watch in anticipation of the alarm going off.  I finally got up around 4:30am to get myself ready, pack the car back up, head out by 6 am to stop for coffee and a breakfast sandwich and get to Lighthouse Landing before the little parking lot would fill up. Well, at least that was the plan.  Everything was going according to plan, even the weather looked like it was going to cooperate in time for the eclipse that day, so happily with coffee in hand, I jumped back on the highway.

How does that quote go, “go confidently in the directions of your dreams” or something like that. So I set out confidently in the direction of my dreams and as I’m driving along for about 15 minutes, I spot a sign that said “Metropolis” Oh, oh! (yes, there is actually a town called Metropolis in Illinois with a big Superman statue in the center of town and everything), when I realize I am driving West not East on I-24. Nooooo!!!!! (I actually said my go to curse word…S*@%…but I’ll keep my post curse word free.)  Now you see what I mean about me driving in circles. The next exit wasn’t for several miles in order to turn around and head back East.  Of course now, anxiety starts to build up inside me as I keep driving and driving and no sign of an exit.  Finally, I came to an exit, turned around and headed back in the right direction. I was now 1/2 hour driving in the wrong direction off my plan.

I finally arrived in Grand Rivers around 7:10 am and I was so relieved to find the parking lot was pretty empty. Yay! I was about the 5th car to arrive.  I eyed a picnic table near the edge of the water and I thought it would be a good spot to set up the camera, where folks wouldn’t stand in front of me and the camera as I envisioned hundreds of people to be arriving there.

[One little, but important detail I forgot to scout out on Sunday, was for a restroom.  So I looked around and I spotted them! Port-a-potties!  I know…I know…but as bad as that might seem…you appreciate them when you have to be camped out for hours on end without access to a restroom. That is all I am going to say about that.]

I lugged all my stuff for the day over to the picnic table and it was time to setup the camera and settle in for the next 5 hours before the moon would make it’s 1st point of contact with the sun at 11:54:50 am (CT).   I sat down to finally take in a deep breath, let the peacefulness of the early morning settle into to me as I stared out at the calm lake  in all its shades of blue. What a beautiful day it was going to be for the Great American Solar Eclipse.

As the morning progressed more folks started to arrive, but not in the numbers I envisioned would show up there to see the eclipse. I also envisioned more photographers with all sorts of high tech gadgets to photograph the eclipse, but, I only saw 2 other people with the larger style cameras set ups similar to mine. I thought, “Wow!” But what a pleasant surprise that was and I knew then my instincts where spot on about this place.

I sat there for a while under my umbrella, until Ron the retired, world traveler, explorer, world playground builder and disaster relief chainsaw volunteer (I am serious!) walked over to ask me about my camera.  This very nice gentleman and I struck up a conversation about many things and I listened to his stories about going to Mt. Everest, Antarctica (which he recommended I should do), seeing the Northern lights and  his recent trip to Bosnena …what a way to spend those waiting hours talking to such an interesting man. We ended up keeping each other company most of the morning and during the eclipse. He even helped hold up my umbrella to provide me with a little relief from the hot sun that day.  His company and help was greatly appreciated and the memory of him will forever be tied to my solar eclipse experience.

4W4A0818Same picture as above, but I upped the contrast in Lightroom in order to make the sun spots visible.4W4A0818-2

11:54:50 am (CT) Glasses on! We have 1st contact! The moon has started making its way in front of the sun. It would be almost an hour and 1/2 before we would reach totality.

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12:34 PM (CT)4W4A0853

12:47 PM (CT)4W4A0875

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The 2nd Contact was fast approaching now and I was running into some issues with my tripod. It wasn’t sturdy enough to hold my camera and lens completely still since the breeze was now picking up over the lake. That was causing a little bit of camera shake. That’s not a good thing when you are hoping for a clear, precise photograph.  I also had to keep adjusting the lever to move the camera up and down as the sun kept climbing higher and higher in the sky. There was no set it and forget mode on the camera.  My hands were beginning to sweat, because, it was so hot out and also from the friction tightening the lever constantly and so it became more difficult to manage. (Have I mentioned, I kind of have a bum shoulder to boot.)  I was beginning to feel defeated in my quest for photographing the eclipse, but, I just kept trying and trying, at times over exerting myself a bit in the heat.

Once the eclipse started the time seemed to pass very quickly.  We started noticing many of the those things we had heard about that would happen throughout the eclipse. The air became cooler and the light of day became dimmer and dimmer, the birds started their night time songs and the crickets started stridulating.  Another gentleman poked holes in a price of cardboard in the shape of the state of Kentucky and came over to show us the crescent shapes reflected through the holes.  Pretty cool!

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We’re getting closer to totality!

1:16 PM (CT) 4W4A0923-2

1:16:30 PM (CT)4W4A0929

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1:23:02 PM (CT) 2nd Contact4W4A0974-3

Sun’s Corona and Bailey’s Beads: Notice, there is a tiny bright spot or squiggle in some photographs (due to camera shack when these photographs were taken), on the very upper and lower left hand corner of the photographs, possibility a star or even the planet Mars.)4W4A0974-34W4A09574W4A09654W4A09664W4A09674W4A09684W4A09694W4A09714W4A09724W4A09734W4A09754W4A0957

Woohoo!!! The crowd starts cheering!

1:24:17 PM (CT)  Max Eclipse.  We have totality for 2 minutes :30 seconds!!! Glasses off and filter off the camera!

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360 degree sunset. ( Panoramic photo taken with my iPhone during totality since I was using my camera for photographing the eclipse.)

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1:25:32 PM (CT) 3rd Contact

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Glasses on and filter back on the camera and just like that totality was over. All those folks that came to witness this phenomenon where packing up and leaving! Wait! The 3rd is still going on, it’s not over yet folks! You can’t leave! We still have the 4th and Final Contact to go! (At least, that’s what I was thinking.)

Before Totality and After Totality

Still 3rd Contact

1:26:41 PM (CT4W4A1009

1:27:05 PM (CT)4W4A1013

1:29:03 PM (CT)4W4A1020

1:40:22 PM (CT)4W4A1026

1:42:36 PM (CT)4W4A1038

2:47:53 PM (CT)4W4A1048

2:47:54 PM (CT)4W4A1070-2

2:49:42 PM (CT)4W4A1074-2

4th and Final Contact

2:50:16 PM (CT) (I am amazed I took this picture and the camera captured and recorded it at the exact time of the final contact, 2:50:16 PM, CT.)

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The Great American Solar Eclipse is now a piece of us and Earth’s history.

It has taken me a while to put this all together, from writing and rewriting my thoughts down, going through hundreds of photographs, selecting the ones I thought turned out the best and finally editing some, but not all, to capture more details. So I truly hope you have enjoyed reading my story and looking through the pictures.

I hope all the nice folks that came up to me in Grand Rivers asking me about seeing my photographs and that I handed out my business card to, will read this post one day.  This is dedicated to all of you for making my eclipse adventure in Grand Rivers, Kentucky a memory of a lifetime.

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