Eclipse Over the Tetons

I just returned from a trip to Wyoming where I photographed the August 21st Total Eclipse over the Tetons.

The  total eclipse of Aug 21, 2017 is something I have been thinking about for a few years.  Back in 2012 I had watched and photographed an annular eclipse in New Mexico.  That was only a partial eclipse where the sun set during the event.  It was a magical experience and one that made me start to think about the 2017 event.

I knew it was going to be a total eclipse and I knew it would go over Wyoming.  That got me to thinking of different locations and how I might photograph it.  My first thought was photographing the eclipse over the Tetons as this is an iconic location and truly a once in a lifetime event.  I also looked at going into the Wind River Range and being in the high country.  The more I put into planning the shot, the more I kept coming back to the unique and once in a lifetime aspect of it being over the Tetons.

In the last few years I made a couple of trips to Grand Teton National Park and really took to sunrise at Schwabacher Landing. This is a very famous view of the Tetons over some beaver ponds along the Snake River.  The most photographed location is actually framed between some trees and gets most of the people who watch it on any given sunrise.  I prefer some of the spots on the way to the famous view along the little series of beaver ponds and not the location most people go.  I decided to make this the place I would shoot the eclipse.

Working with the Photographers Ephemeris I knew the eclipse would be in the middle of the day and the sun would be high in the sky.  Now I know most people planning for the eclipse will say that you cannot get both the Tetons and the sun in the image from Schwabacher Landing.  Most people are also thinking using a longer lens.  I like wide angle lenses and wanted to put the eclipse in context.  I went to work thinking how I might get it.

Looking up at Totality
I have a 15mm lens for my full frame Sony A7R.  Last fall I set up some shots when I was in the Tetons and quickly came to realize the 15mm would not be wide enough.  I do have a couple of fisheye lenses I was pretty confident could do the shot.  Since I wanted to use a rectilinear lens if possible, I looked at and rented the Voigtlander 10mm lens for the Sony, hoping this would be wide enough with my fisheye lenses as backups.  I also ordered some of the NASA recommended eclipse glasses so I could look at the sun.

As we got closer to August and the news began to talk more about the eclipse and the how it would be an event watched by millions I began to worry about getting to the park, gas shortages, etc.  I wondered if this was going to be the Super Bowl meets Woodstock with thousands already there ahead of me making it impossible to get around.  Would I even be able to get into Grand Teton National Park or Schwabacher Landing at all?  Would there be a thousand people at Schwabacher Landing all jostling for the same spot?

To make things more difficult, the campgrounds in the Tetons do not take reservations.  I knew showing up just a couple of days before the eclipse I had about zero chance of snagging an open tent site.  So I booked a campsite in Yellowstone.

My plan was to fly to Salt Lake City and drive up to Yellowstone.  I would camp and photograph in Yellowstone for a few days and then get to the Tetons for the eclipse.

It seemed like it would work but I also kept seeing news that they expected Aug 21st to be the busiest day in the history of Grand Teton National Park.  I read the park had a plan for the crowds, they would set up some special viewing areas and would not let people into parking lots and overlooks until 0600 on the 21st.  This made me feel better that my plan just might work.

Finally the trip arrived and I made my way to Yellowstone a few days before the eclipse where I pleased to find it was just a typical busy summer crowd.  Yes, there were people but not an overwhelming crush of people like I feared.  I spent a couple of days photographing in Yellowstone taking in geysers, wildlife and photographing the night sky.

On eclipse Monday I made my way down into the the path of totality getting to the gate at Schwabacher Landing right after it had opened finding I was about the tenth car in.  I was both relieved and ecstatic to be in my spot!!

There were a few clouds in the sky and I went to my spot along the beaver ponds for sunrise.  The clouds made the sunrise weak but that was not the reason to be there this morning.  I found the water a little lower in the area I wanted to use as my foreground and so moved about 20 feet up to the next level of the beaver pond where I had a great reflection.  I also found a moose in the pond!  

It would have been neat for momma moose to stay there through the eclipse, but unfortunately, that did not happen as she left before the eclipse started.  

As the morning went on the clouds cleared, I had my spot, and I had my gear ready.  Now it was just time to wait.

I was surprised to find that not many people were in the area.  The parking lot had filled up but most folks were close to their cars and looking east toward the rising sun.  At my spot by the beaver pond I was looking west and began to set up my cameras.

I brought three tripods and set up three cameras.  
Cameras at the ready

I worked with the rented 10mm Voigtlander but by mid morning knew it was not wide enough.

So I went with a plan like this.

Sony A7R with Samyang 12mm fisheye on my full size Gitzo 1348 tripod set up with a vertical orientation.  With this set up I could get the beaver pond, the Tetons and looking back with its huge view, the sun.

Sony A7S with Voigtlander 15mm lens on my travel Gitzo 1541T set up looking toward the Tetons across the pond.  This would give me a view of the scene in front of me.

Sony NEX6 with the 8mm Samyang fisheye lens on my tiny Sirui 025X.  This is a low tripod and I set it up to look up through the grass by the beaver pond up at the eclipse.

I had all three cameras focused and set for aperture priority so I could just fire off each one.

Totality over the Tetons
As the eclipse started at first contact we started watching the eclipse through the glasses, taking a look every few minutes.  Then take a few images, both normal and also massively under exposed to see if I could get the partial eclipse.  

As we approached totality the light kept getting dimmer and dimmer.  There was a tension and excitement in the air.  I kept snapping images and taking a look as the moon took a bigger and bigger bite out of the sun.  The temperature felt cooler.  

The light looked strange.

Right before totality coyotes started howling!

Then suddenly the moon covered the sun.  It was like a light switch went off.  We were under totality!  The sky is suddenly dark like it is 40 minutes after sunset.  I stand there in awe for a split second.

Nothing can prepare you for that moment!  No written word can fully describe it.  No image can do it justice.  It is something one has to experience.

I began to snap images.

I took off the eclipse glasses (not needed during totality) and looked up to see a black hole in the sky.  It is magical.  The dark sky, the black hole of the eclipse, and the distant light from the edge of the shadow like a far off sunset.
Sunlight on the Tetons moments before totality ended

More images are made.  I looked at the horizon.  I looked up again.  It is amazing, almost unbelievable and I was lucky enough to be there to see it.

The two minutes and a few odd seconds went by like it was maybe ten seconds.

Looking west as I took a few more images, I saw light on the Tetons.  I get one last look around,  In just a second or so later there is suddenly light on us.  Totality has ended.

The full eclipse is over and I continue to take images as the light gets brighter and brighter.

I stay at Schwabacher Landing until after the eclipse has ended.  I check the cameras and see what look like successful images of totality!

Planning and effort paid off with the images I had envisioned. I am elated.  It was everything I hoped for and then some!

What a day this was.  One I will remember for a long time and images I will revisit often for a view I will never see again.

What an amazing experience it was seeing a total eclipse, I had read how people sought them out and how it had profound impact on them but until you experience it, you cannot fully fathom what it is like.  To all of those who saw this one, you understand.  To the rest, do yourself a favor and try to see one in the future if you can.

In seven years we can do this again as an April 2024 eclipse will go from Texas into eastern Canada.  I already have been looking at maps and planning possible images.  You can say I am joining the crowd of eclipse chasers.

One last note, a big kudos to the National Park Service folks at Grand Teton National Park!  The plan they had for location and traffic control worked incredibly well.  Their folks were on site, friendly, helpful and so incredibly professional.  Their efforts made this day a very smooth and well run event.

Lastly, I have prints available of the eclipse on my website:


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