My Photographic Adventure With the 2024 Solar Eclipse

Mark / Road Trips / / 0 Comments

In 2017 when the solar eclipse crossed into the St.Louis region, I was stuck working downtown at Purina that day, but we all were able to take a break, go out into the parking lot, and witness the beautiful event. Unfortunately, we were just outside the path of totality and I did not have a chance to capture the event with my camera. On April 8th, 2024 things were very different.

Like many, my preparations began months in advance. I bought a filter for my camera, watched a lot of Youtube videos on the subject, took notes, and did a practice run with the filter by photographing the sun. Everything appeared to be ready, but this being my first time to photograph a solar eclipse, you never know.

I left my home about 8:30a heading south with a two and a half hour trip in front of me, aiming for the Block Hole Access Conservation Area. It is a secluded area west of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Since I knew the traffic would be incredible for the viewing of this event, I left early and tried to find a place in the middle of nowhere away from as much of the crowds as possible. Turns out my idea was not as unique as I thought. We ended up with a crowd of as many as 20 vehicles, which was a great deal smaller than most had to navigate to and from their viewing locations.

I made great time. I tagged Interstate 55 South for a bit but turn off onto county roads long before getting close to Cape Girardeau. I am sure that helped as I arrived in less time than expected. The highway traffic was heavy but flowing at a decent speed for me, but I did not have the nightmare of traffic leaving the Greater St.Louis area. I heard numerous radio reports that even as far south as Herculaneum, MO was experiencing increasing traffic issues. I arrived to the conservation area about an hour before the partial eclipse was to begin.

Since this was my first attempt to photograph a solar eclipse, I tried to go through again and again my plan during the 4 and half minutes of totality for the eclipse. The numerous advise I found suggested to pick an aperture/F-stop setting and an ISO/film speed and just adjust the shutter speed between photographing WITH the solar filter and WITHOUT the filter during the eclipse’s totality. I chose ISO 100 and f/11 with a shutter speed of 1/25 with the filter ON during the partial eclipse. When totality occurred I switched my shutter speed to 1/5000 and then bracketed my photographs down gradually to 1/2 shutter speed.

Before and after the totality I set a 5 minute timer on my watch and every time the alarm went off I took a photograph in order to capture the stages of the partial eclipse. I also set alarms for when the partial eclipse began, when totality began, when totality ended, and when partial eclipse ended. I did this so I would know exactly when to remove the solar filter and when to put it back on so as to not damage my camera. This seemed to work out pretty well.

Once the partial eclipse was over 50%, the light was noticeably changing.

I am sure there are better, more efficient ways to capture photographs during this tight window, but I was new to this and did not have any of the fancy equipment some do. I must confess I was nervous leading up to and during the moment of totality as the next one won’t visit the U.S. until 2044 or 2045. This might be my one and only chance to get a right. All and all I am pretty happy with the results.

The moment of totality was very surreal, like in 2017, but better and longer. The four minutes went quick, of course, but a memory like that is priceless. Its even better if you can capture it in a photograph. I have always said that photographs are like bookmarks in time and space, and this amazing celestial event was no exception.

In leading up to this event I did learn a few terms like “Baily’s beads” and the “diamond ring.” I tried to capture those. I’m not sure if this photograph is considered “Baily’s beads” or not, but I was unable to capture the diamond ring.

I was able to capture a couple of solar flares firing at the time of totality. Regardless, it was a great photographic adventure. A big part of that adventure for many was just the challenge in trying to get home. For those who thought the worst part of the trip was getting to their viewing location, sadly many were wrong. The traffic leaving their eclipse viewing locations was even worse.

I pulled up the Waze app as I did for the trip down, and at the time it did not show any big difference in time for their 3 suggested routes. However, when I reached Interstate 55 in Perryville, MO from the country roads, the interstate was literally a parking lot. I immediately dodged the entrance ramp, found a place to pull over where I could easily get out, and hauled out my old Randle-McNally road atlas…no vehicle should be without.

I plotted a route with county roads again only to discover that even the secondary and tertiary routes also were heavy with traffic but nothing like the interstate. For the most part those county highways had a good flow of traffic.

I actually love road trips so I didn’t mind the scenic view of parts of Missouri I would not have normally traveled. I seriously lucked out as my detours only added another hour to my return home. However, many along Interstate 55 were experiencing heavy traffic well into the night. The reports I heard stated that no one had any regrets about the trip despite the massive traffic challenges in getting home. With such an awesome experience, its tough to see the downside.

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