On August 21st, 2017 I was lucky enough to get to witness the total eclipse. I dragged a couple buddies, Lee & Jeff, on at 1500 mile road trip that landed us in Hopkinsville, Kentucky for the event. Scott of Scott’s Astro Page had picked out the location at a church that was renting their parking lot for $20 per person. The weather cooperated and we had a clear view of the sky.
In preparation for the trip I bought a solar filter for my zoom lens from B&H Photo – a respected camera sales company. This filter consists mainly of a piece of film in a cardboard foldable cylinder. I also bought a sheet of solar film to be cut out for other cameras. Lee was able to cut this film out into small disks to protect my video camera and binoculars. The filter came in earlier in the month. I tested it out in the back yard by taking pictures of the sun. I was able to get a clear shot showing details like sunspots. I tried a few tripods but failed to find one that was easy to use to track the movement of the sun. I settled on one that would let me lock in the frame just above my target and it would settle down a few degrees. The problem was that the center of gravity for the camera was too far forward.
Early Sunday morning we piled in the car and drove to Memphis. When we finally got there, it was time for a little tourist action. This included barbecue and visits to Graceland, Bass Pro Shop Pyramid, and The Withers Collection Museum and Gallery.
Our original plans included a trip to NASA in Huntsville. About a week before the eclipse, Scott advised us that the weather forecast made Kansas a much better option. We scrapped our plans and targeted Hiawatha, Kansas. As the week went on, it was clear that Kansas City would be under thunderstorms come Monday. We pivoted back to Tennessee and eventually west of Nashville in Kentucky. With all this change of plans came a change to hotel reservations. At some point with all the cancellations and rebooking, my credit card decided that something was foul and started declining my transactions. This caused our Sunday night hotel reservation to get cancelled. I got this notification via email on the road that morning. I tried to rebook the same motel but it was now sold out. I did manage to find another hotel just up the road in Jackson, Tennessee for the luxurious price of $38 per night. Once we got there we found that they may have over charged for the facilities. You know its a quality establishment when they have South Park blaring in the lobby. After some obligatory snafu with the reservations we were set for the night.
The next morning we hit the road due north. Traffic was light although we would not know what normal Monday traffic in Kentucky would be anyway. We started seeing road-side vendors selling t-shirts. Even Chick-fil-A was getting into the act with their own “Solr Eclipz” shirt. We made it to All Nations Church about 11am with plenty of time to setup and get ready.
Scott had been there since the night before. He had his telescopes already celestially oriented. He also had a big solar scope that became a favorite attraction. As I expected, tracking the sun with my tripod was proving to be a hassle until I had the bright idea to use the mount point on the camera body instead of on the lens. Normally this is a bad idea because the lens weighs twice what the camera does, if not more. But with the lens pointing almost straight up, the center of gravity was now over the tripod and it became much easier to position the camera to track the sun.
This was my first total eclipse. Back in 1991 there was a partial eclipse. I remember being in the back yard of my rental house with my Canon EOS 10s and a 300mm zoom lens. To protect my investment, I used a black Glad trash bag. The setup worked pretty well. It was hard to focus without looking through the view finder. I used a piece of paper to project through the lens to do my focusing. I mistakenly choose infinity as the focal point. I now know that to be wrong. I would have to wait for my 35mm film to get processed before I could see the results.
For this trip, I was a little more prepared. Scott set up a video camera to record the scene at ground level. His video shows the shadow coming from the west and contrails of jets flying overhead. I brought my drone and did a couple of circuits of the the field and then set it up to hover over us looking down. The idea was to get the view from the sun. It did not turn out as well as I’d hoped. I also shot some video of the eclipse itself but since the filter was taped on, it was not of any use once the totality started. I fortunately remembered to remove the filter from my camera to catch the totality. I was not sure what settings to use. I set the aperture at F8 and spun the shutter speed dial up an down to get a range of exposures. I trusted the autofocus to do better than my own eyes and it worked out well.
After the totality the parking lot started to empty like half time of a one-sided football game. We stuck around for a little bit but then packed up to hit the road. We ended up having to avoid Memphis altogether because of the traffic and construction would have added two ours to our trip. Siri routed us to Missouri to become the fifth state on our tour.
What about next time? Now that I had a chance to reflect on the trip, the one thing I would do different is to be at a location with scenery, preferably at higher latitude. The video from the northwest part of the eclipse route show the event juxtaposed with terrain where our view was almost directly overhead.
Video of Eclipse from Drone.
Video looking west during eclipse.