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On May 20, 2012 three celestial orbs of varying size,density and composition aligned briefly to create a spectacular vision of a ring of fire in the sky commonly referred to as an “Annular Eclipse” this is where the moon is too small to completely cover the Sun and instead leaves a ring of light visible around the dark silhouette of the moon. These are rare enough that thousands of people traveled great distances just to see the brief event (~4minutes long at it’s maximum coverage for this particular eclipse.)

Unfortunately I was not one of those people!

I wanted to be believe me, the best views were only a 6 hour drive away in the red rock splendor of southern Utah. However the eclipse wouldn’t end until after 8 pm, add another 6 hour drive to that and it being a school night and my wife having to work in the morning, it just wasn’t going to happen. So the other option was to remain in Salt Lake, view the partial eclipse (89% coverage) and not see a ring but instead a thin crescent, and then be back home in time for some ice cream before bedtime… call it a consolation prize.

We headed to what I was hoping would be a scenic backdrop to the 2 hour long event and would hopefully give me a place to make a nice composite sequence of the eclipse. Donner Trail Park is located above Hogle Zoo on the east bench of Salt Lake City at the mouth of Emigration Canyon the historic place where Mormon Pioneers (including ancestors of mine) first entered the Salt Lake Valley after their grueling westward trek from Nauvoo, Illinois to escape persecution and bias in 1847.

Here’s the view we had from our hill top perch at the park just before the eclipse began.

Salt Lake City from Donner Park, moments before the eclipse started – 11 pic HDR

Yeah those clouds are real! And they were moving slowly from right to left the whole time!! So much for a grand view huh? Well you’d be surprised what you can see with a telescope and even with a 70-300mm lens with solar filters attached, the Sun is pretty darn bright and can be seen even through some clouds, although it does soften the view and lower the contrast it’s still visible (as long as the clouds aren’t too thick) So I started clicking away with the D7000 on a tripod with the 70-300mm lens + solar filter, I had wanted to get some closer views through my ETX-90EC telescope but I was having a hard time getting it balanced for the camera so instead I decided to use it for visual observing and let the growing crowd at the park use it for better views than their little pinhole projectors would give them. I also let them use some of my eclipse glasses for some great (safe) naked eye views

Some of the visitors who used my telescope to look at the eclipse. My D7000 is visible with the 70-300mm lens and solar filter, my Canon Powershot A720is is in the foreground taking a solar filtered time lapse of the whole thing.

I suggested that they try to do some afocal photography with their phones, everyone had a blast trying to get some pictures at the eyepiece. You can see the woman in the background using a pinhole projector made with a shoebox. It works but the view from the telescope is better! 🙂

I made a quick and dirty afocal shot at maximum eclipse with my wife’s little point and shoot camera.

We caught a break as the best seeing of the entire eclipse occurred during the time  of maximum coverage. It was fun to see everyone’s reaction as the light levels dropped noticeably to that of sunset although we still had one hour before actual sunset. We also started playing with the shadows showing that any “pinhole” made by leaves or fingers laced together would project an image of the eclipsed Sun.

Here I’m demonstrating the laced finger technique, check out how my fingers were also curved into crescents.

At 7:30pm the eclipse reached its local maximum, here’s the view of it from the 70-300mm @ 300mm. My Baader solar filter actually creates a blueish tint, but I adjusted this image to show it in a more natural hue.

You can clearly see that the moon’s diameter isn’t large enough to cover the entire Sun, at this point some people left as the “best part’ was over but we still had one hour of the eclipse in reverse to go. I stuck around to shoot more and then the clouds thickened up again.

A wide view of the sky moments after maximum eclipse. You can see the sucker hole we had to the left of the Sun just moments before- 11 shot HDR

Here’s a composite I made of the entire eclipse sequence as seen through the 70-300mm. as I mentioned before the filter gives a blueish tint, however you’ll notice that the last image is orange(ish), this was a natural tint achieved as the setting Sun approached the horizon, even the solar filter couldn’t alter “Golden Hour” light!

The entire Partial Eclipse sequence starting from left to right. Notice how the moon slides up and around as the Sun slid downwards before setting. You may be able to barely see some sunspots in the large version.

My favorite single image of the eclipse is that last orange shot I had during a final lucky thinning of the clouds.

The end of the eclipse mere moments before sunset. 70-300mm @ 300mm Those black specks aren’t dust spots but are earth sized sunspots.

Here is what the sky looked like right after I took that close up of the end of the eclipse. – 11 shot HDR

Yeah the clouds were a pain for the eclipse but made for a great sunset!

And now a shot I thought I was never going to get due to all those clouds, but after a few dozen tries in photoshop and a small “Ah Ha!” moment of inspiration/revelation about processing techniques I was able to get this:

The entire Eclipse sequence from start to finish.

I made that image using two 11 exposure HDR’s of the pre eclipse and sunset scenes blended together and overlayed that composite with 16 individual eclipse shots from the 70-300mm.

Here’s the view we left at the park as we headed home thrilled to have been able to witness such an amazing scene and demonstration of universal wonder.

A beautiful end to an exciting day! – 11 shot HDR

Thanks again for coming along for the ride, I hope you enjoyed it!

Happy Shooting!

Howard

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