Throwback Thursday – Solar Eclipse, South Australia


All this run up to the solar eclipse on August 21st makes me hark back to when I traveled to South Australia back in December 2002 to photograph a total eclipse there. At the time, I was photographing landscapes for my book Edge of the Earth, Corner of the Sky and I thought this would be an amazing opportunity. I’d seen many technically excellent photographs of total eclipses over the years, but quite honestly they all looked pretty much alike. My objective became capturing the eclipse in relation to the Earth.

The solar eclipse that occurred on December 4, 2002, was noteworthy when viewed in South Australia for a couple of reasons. First, the eclipse was unusually brief at 25 seconds. Also, it occurred less than 40 minutes before sunset, so the likelihood of an obscured view was greatly increased because clouds generally stack up along the horizon at that time of day. To maximize my chance of success, I decided to find the precise position from which to film the eclipse by experimenting exactly 24 hours before the eclipse. I also decided to try two cameras for two very different perspectives, so I used both a wide-angle and a 70–200mm lens, enabling me to take full advantage of the eclipse’s late hour by incorporating the landscape.

Most eclipses occur earlier in the day when the sun is much higher in the sky. For this book, I wanted to establish the connection of the eclipse with the Earth. I wanted the viewer to witness the eclipse as if they were standing there next to me under the gum trees. Since I could not determine exposure until totality began, I decided to use matrix metering on an automatic aperture priority setting. When totality began, I would simply engage the shutter using locking cable releases, hoping that the entire roll of film would run continuously through the camera. This would have happened had I not made one final decision: to auto-bracket my exposures. I discovered, too late, that the camera would not continuously advance while on the auto-bracket setting. After just three exposures, both cameras stopped advancing. By the time I figured out what was happening, totality ended. Fortunately, I did get proper exposures for both compositions. After the critical moment of the full eclipse, I continued to photograph as the eclipse continued, switching to other lenses and film.

To create these images I used two Canon cameras, an EOS-1N and an EOS-1N/RS, EF70-200mm and EF 16-35mm lenses, Fujichrome Provia 400 film, and a Gitzo tripods. For the images of the setting eclipse on the horizon, I used an EF500mm IS lens and Fujichrome Velvia film.

For viewing the eclipse next week, make sure to protect your eyes properly, I cannot stress this enough! B&H has a bunch of articles up on their Explora blog on how to protect yourself and how to photograph the event. If you can’t see it in person, the best view will be via NASA livestream.

One Response to “Throwback Thursday – Solar Eclipse, South Australia”

  1. Victor Elias says:

    Hi Art,

    Interesting article and funny enough we concur on the amazing event that is to show the eclipse in relation to our planet.

    I was fresh starting my photographic career back in 1991 when I witness and photographed my first total eclipse in Mexico, it was awesome and an incredible experience, the images I got on film (Fuji Velvia) are amazing. The “Diamond Ring” is perfect, however and it was a big mistake, I didn’t bring a second camera so I missed photographically what happened around me and I believe that is the most important experience of a total eclipse. I remember the animals going crazy, there were goats on the mountain where I was and during the eclipse they came to us and were so confused, the birds flying to their nests…

    So this time I am making sure to bring 3 bodies, 3 tripods and focus on the surroundings.

    I live in Portland with my wife and we found an amazing spot for this event. I’ll let you know how it goes.. Happy shooting and thanks for sharing your knowledge!

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