Solar Eclipse 2017

The full sun is surrounded by bracketed exposures to highlight the wealth of the visual experience during a total solar eclipse.  Nikon D500 with Sigma 120-400 4.5-5.6 APO HSM and Sigma 2x EX teleconverter at 800mm, f/11, ISO 400.  Composite created from original photos and assembled in Adobe Photoshop.

            You know, there are lots of thing on people’s bucket lists.  There’s a whole movie about it.  Some of them are pretty lame, by the way.   You can go to any number of “lists” and see some of the ridiculousness there.  There are others that are truly notable.  Really amazing.  Natural Wonders of the World!  And although we are fond of saying things like “it’s not a competition,” maybe it should be.  Maybe it should be.  Some things are just better than everything else.
One of the items on my mother’s bucket list has been to view a total solar eclipse.  It’s always been there, and by proxy, has also been on mine.  Her father, my grandfather, a physicist, imbued an interest in astronomy in her, which was similarly passed on to me.  Our fascination with the stars doesn’t really need much explanation.  They’re up there.  They are huge.  The distances, temperatures, and organization are truly unimaginable.  I remember as a child staying up late at night to see a little blur – the Andromeda Galaxy.  I was hooked, and remain so today.  So when we realized that an eclipse was crossing the continental USA, it was a no-brainer.  We were going to see an eclipse.  Hell or high water.

Trip Planning
            Recall is an interesting thing.  When we were discussing when we began planning for the Great American Eclipse, or #SolarEclipse2017 as it later became known, I enthusiastically told people that we had been planning this for 2 ½ years.  Turns out, I was almost right.  I checked my email.  The first communication I received back from Neil Bauman at was on May 29, 2015.  That’s right, almost 2 ½ years earlier.  It’s pretty incredible if you think about it.  Who really plans a vacation or anything 2 ½ years ahead of time?  Most of the time, we can’t figure out what we are doing tomorrow. But this was important enough…

Photography as a Hobby?
            Photography has always been a hobby of mine.  I grew up in a photographic household.  My father shot with a Nikon F with a nifty-fifty Nikkor lens.  Every now and again, he would let me expose one of his precious film shots, making sure I understood how to hold the camera, focus the camera, frame the subject, set exposure, and Fire!  My first camera was a Kodak Ektralite 10 - 110 Film. Yup.  I still remember being so excited to have it!  I took so many bad, poorly framed pictures then.  The learning experience was real though.  Each exposure was precious to me too.  Before the days of digital photography, there was no immediate feedback.  You had to finish the roll.  Get it developed.  Hope it didn’t get lost in the mail.  Wait for the 3x5 prints.  And remember what you did wrong (or right 😏). 
            Over the years, my photography interest grew.  For my wedding gift, my sister gave me my first SLR – the Nikon N50. What a treat!  This too had the same process as my original 110.  Take the precious pictures.  Plan on how many rolls of film I needed for a trip.  Plan on the film sensitivity (the real ISO).  What do you do in airport security?  Plan on the shots themselves and how best to maximize the output.  There was no room for post-processing, and I didn’t have my own darkroom.  Planning was everything.  Turns out, I think it still is.  These cameras today grace our fireplace mantle in the living room. 

The Original Trinity? Well, in my photography playbook it is. Taken with my iPhone 6s.

     Over the years, with the advent of the digital age, I purchased a couple of lower end point and shoot cameras.  3MP! 8MP! No real camera control.  Fixed aperture.  Fixed ISO.  I missed it.  So I took the leap.  My first foray into the DSLR age was in 2010, when I bought a Nikon D7000.  With the NikoD7000 I think I did some things really well, and set me up for this event unknowingly.  First, I used a Nikkor 18-200mm lens.  This is not a “photographers” lens by any means, but it is a “walk-around” lens.  It taught me how to use a DSLR.  How to compose shots freely.  How to become comfortable in my style, and to let it evolve into my art.   Second, I invested in Adobe Lightroom 3.

Check it out!  An Installation CD!! Taken with my iPhone 6s.

     Lightroom was, in my opinion, essential to the concept of workflow.   I was not happy with iPhoto (I was primarily a Mac user then) as it didn’t have the organizational features of Lightroom (yes I’m a bit OCD).  As a bonus, the photo editing features of Lightroom opened my eyes to the possibilities of digital processing.  I’m still learning, like everyone else I think 😜.  I started shooting RAW.  I began to understand how to bring out “hidden” information in images.  I learned the principles of High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography.  I upgraded to LightroomCC, which also gave me access to Photoshop.  This remains largely a black box, and one which I just started to open…
            Over the years, I started to print selected photos.  I was inspired by going to art fairs, and seeing photographers on display.  Somewhat conceitedly, I realized that some of my pictures were almost as good as so many on display.  I framed them, signed them, and put them up on the walls of our dining room.  “My studio.”  When we had family and friends over, they would fawn on my work (yes, they were both biased and being polite, but encouragement is encouragement nonetheless).  On more than one occasion, it was suggested that I sell my work.   Now, being the humble person I am, I didn’t think it would go anywhere.  For years, my studio remained isolated in our living room.
            In August of 2016, I started thinking in earnest about trying to sell some photos.  Why not?  A little encouragement, some pictures which I thought were legit, and a convenient little thing called the internet.  I did some online research, and discovered that a watermark was an important part of the process.  With a little knowledge, YouTube, and Photoshop, I made a my watermark:
cutherheartout Photography logo was designed in Adobe Photoshop.

      Naturally, in planning of this sort, timing is everything.  Late last year, my iMac died. It would not start.  In a series of somewhat predicable and disasterous events, I almost lost everything.  Several years earlier, due to the volume of pictures I was taking, I invested in a Netgear RAID system.  1 TB!  Running in RAID 0.  Even had to hot-swap one of the drives a couple of years ago.  All of my RAW images were stored there.  But due to connection speeds, and the way Lightroom accessed the RAID system, I kept my Lightroom catalog on my internal hard drive.  And backed it up on my internal hard drive (GULP!).   You may know what’s coming next…but I wasn’t that dumb! I bought a Time Machine for that drive.  Everything was backed up!  I even tried to restore from the Time Machine, to no avail.  During the crash, the “Geniuses” at the Apple store couldn’t figure anything out.  They insisted that the problem was not in the iMac.  I checked it in with them a couple of times.  That’s right.  My son (thank goodness – that thing is heavy and bad for your back!) carried in my 27 in iMac into the mall twice and back.  They asked me to bring in the Time Machine.  They diagnosed that as the problem.  They told me that they would let me exchange it, but I would lose all my data.  (Now do you see the problem? The hard drive was wiped.  The Time Machine had my catalog and now would be gone.  But I still had my RAW files…).  Not surprisingly, the new Time Machine didn’t work either.  One of my best friends has long advocated that I build my own (Windows) computer.  He touted the advantages, cost, speed, etc.  I had nothing to lose.  I wasn’t going to drop another $3500 in a high end 27 inch iMac, not now.  So we did it (this maybe a whole other story).  We build a high end gaming PC with all the latest processor and graphics card, high speed RAM, SSDs, and a Synology 12TB RAID 10 system, and 2 27in 4K monitors This works like a charm for photo processing! (Incidentally, with the skills I gained in building the new computer, I took apart my iMac and replaced the hard drive.  Works like a charm now.  Darn genius bar!  Guess my wife got a new computer out of it too).

This Gaming PC is driven by an Intel i7-7700K Kaby Lake Processor on a Gigabyte Gaming 7 Motherboard overclocked to 4.8GHz.  It has 32GB DD4 3200MHz RAM, an MSI Geforce 1070 GTX Gaming X GPU with 8GB VRAM, Corsair H100i v2 CPU water-cooling in a Thermaltake Versa N24 Case.  Numerous Corsair maglev fans provide air circulation.  There are also dual LG 27in 4K monitors. Taken with my iPhone 6s.

But now I had to start all over with my RAW files!!!  More than 20,000 of them!!!!  I spent the next month, night after night. Going through all the files.  It was actually somewhat therapeutic.  I had 7 years of Lightroom skills under my belt now. A modicum of Photoshop skills.   I had a workflow in place.  I was able to salvage pictures that I previously had written off.  I even (regrettably) remembered some pictures that I could have saved with my new skills.  I wrote a new Lightroom workflow for the new Gaming PC.   

My Lightroom Workflow.  Works for me...may have a couple of tips for you too.

I reconstructed the pictures I had printed.  I realized that I had other pictures that were every bit as good.  Inspiration!  Now was the time to launch a small business!  I was a long time SmugMug subscriber as a Power User.  I loved their interface, the ability to access my images via the app, and the unlimited picture storage online (albeit jpg).  I upgraded to a Portfolio account to allow me to construct a new website (, create galleries designed to sell pictures, and seamlessly add digital watermarks.  But why stop there?  I already had a Facebook account, so why not a Facebook page to promote the website (@cutyerheartout)?  My kids were hankering for an Instagram account; why not an Instagram account designed to promote the website (@cutyerheartout)?  While I’m at it, Twitter too (#cutyerheartout)!  The SmugMug app allowed me to simultaneously post to all three!  And so, from a hobby, cutyerheartout Photography was born.

Research and Equipment
            Epiphone!  We were going to see the eclipse in August!  I had to photograph it!  I read every article I could find online about it!  Here are a few:

       They all said the same thing.  If this is your first eclipse, do not photograph it.  Just experience it.  What?!  Are you kidding me?  This is my first eclipse!  It may be a once in a lifetime event! I must capture it!  For the sake of my mother, my family, my father and grandfather (now deceased), my “fanbase” (LOL) and of course, for myself!!!  As a photographer, amateur or professional, I fundamentally do not subscribe to the notion “experience it and don’t worry about the photos – leave that to the ‘professionals’ who are getting paid to do it.”  This is my hobby, my interest, my passion!  For those of you who may know me, you know what I did next: I went hog-wild.

How does the moon cut it’s hair?   Eclipse it! (Thanks DK!)

            So which shots do you want to get?  I don’t know.  Since we had set up this trip to view the solar eclipse, I contacted Neil Bauman from Insight Cruises again.  He quickly admitted he didn’t have any advice for me.  BUT.  BUT! Sky and Telescope Magazine ( was the sponsor of the trip! And he put me in touch with their Senior Editor who would be accompanying us on the trip, Kelly Beatty.  And guess what Kelly told me?  If this is your first eclipse, do not photograph it.  Just experience it.  NOOOOOO!!!!!  Is this some kind of sick joke?  Do all the eclipse astronomers and photographers have a collusion in place to prevent everyone else from taking pictures?  I read and re-read Kelly’s email.  And found a clue.  He told me that if I wanted to photograph, it would be very likely that I would get distracted by the camera and miss the Shortest-8-seconds-of-your-life by doing so.
            My Nikon D7000 was now 7 years old.  That’s pretty old in dog years isn’t it?  Truthfully, in the digital age, it is old.  New sensors.  New processors.  New camera features.  The glass doesn’t change.  Not only did I have my Nikkor 18-200, I also had my father’s Nikkor 24mm 2.8 Prime (works like a charm), a Nikkor 10.5mm DX Fisheye, a Sigma 120-400mm Superzoom, and my prized possession, the SigmaArt 35mm 1.4 Prime.  I also had an Induro aluminum tripod with a Sirui ballhead, a MeFoto traveler tripod, and a Slik tabletop tripod.  I should be all set!  How was this all going to fit into my eclipse photography plan?  I wanted every shot.  Every angle.  

“MORE EVERYTHING!” (shout out to MG, VK, R&RG)  

     I wanted a closeup of the eclipse so I could capture Bailey’s Beads, the Diamond Ring, Solar Prominences, details in the corona.  I wanted to capture a timelapse of our experience.  I wanted to shoot video of our reaction.  And with Kelly’s suggestion, I wanted to capture video of the eclipse itself!  What about the crowd?  The advancing shadow?  The birds?  The insects? Are you keeping count?  I was going to need something like 10 rigs!  He was right!  I should focus on the experience and not the photography. I was going to need a plan. 
            And began another series of highly predictable events.  Admittedly, keeping the time sequence on these events is difficult, and many of the events occurred in parallel.  Permit me artistic license in their description 😎.  My Induro tripod wasn’t working.  One of the (small) legs had a tendency to slip.  Online recommendations from many sources revealed the following: if you are buying a new tripod, don’t bother with another $100 dollar set of legs: Go big or go home.  Everything else is a waste of money.  I thought about it for a couple of weeks, checked online retailers, and found that the Gitzo Series 2 Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod was the right mix of portability and stability for my purposes.  I went to B&H Photo online. I took the plunge.  And in the process signed up for their newsletter.  And in the first newsletter that came out, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX lens was there, with a 2x teleconverter included (!).  Whoa!  I need some reach for the eclipse didn’t I?  I have what, a 120-400 lens right?  So that goes to 800mm with a 2x TC right?  And with a crop factor of 1.5, my field of view is a whopping 1200mm equivalent!  Not containing myself, I bought it almost on the spot (good work B&H Photo marketing 😅).  Hold on a second.  I have an old camera body right?  I had been prepping for a new body.  Full frame sensor?  Crop sensor?  Sticking with Nikon for sure.  Came down to the Nikon D750 versus the Nikon D500.  I actually wanted the Nikon D5, but that was just too much (give me some credit for restraint okay?)…teeth gnashing ensued.  Consultations with some of my photography buddies helped a little, but really just made things worse.  I settled on the Nikon D500 for a variety of reasons (remember I wanted to capture 4K video of the eclipse right?).   And better yet!  Nikon had a promotion to include a battery grip plus $200 off!  Can it get any better than this?

Here is one of my first attempts to capture the Sun.  Good tripod and ballhead, great magnification, but no ability to track the Sun! Taken with my Nikon D7000 with Nikkor 18-200mm lens, 1/500 sec at f/3.5, ISO 100, 18mm.

            I went to the backyard with my trusty new tripod with the Gitzo ballhead capable of holding 26 pounds.  I attached the equipment and started shooting (don’t worry, I had a screw in solar filter).  It was impossible to keep the sun in view.  That thing moves fast!!  If I needed to fuss this much to keep the sun in view, then I was going to miss the eclipse for sure.  Solution! 

I need a motorized equatorial mount! 

     Duh!  Birthdays are good for things like this, and quickly (back to B&H Photo) the SkyWatcher Adventurer was placed in my wishlist.  Promptly shared with my mother and sister.  Lo and behold!  By early June, I had an equatorial mount! Thanks Mom and Sis!!  I could track the sun!  I needed a remote trigger (Vello delivers), but I could do it.  (Don’t forget the removal Solar Filters by the way -  they are way more convenient to remove during totality – I used DayStar). Based on multiple recommendations I chose bracketed stills (5 brackets during partial, 9 brackets during totality).  And I shot every moon, partial or full, I could get my lens on using this technique.  It helped me set exposures, choose ISO, and most importantly, set my focus.  On the August 9 full moon, I taped my focus ring on the Sigma 120-400 with the 2x TC.  All set then?  Not even close.  Are you keeping count?  This is one rig.  One!  And it’s shooting stills. What about the timelapse?  What about the other videos I want?  What about the crowd?

Final "primary" setup for the show! Taken with my iPhone 6s.

            Alrighty then.  Time to get to work!  I found an online camera rental place that worked great! would give me a rental of any duration along with shipping to any FedEx office.  Turns out, there was a FedEx office 2 blocks from our hotel in Nashville!  The plan starts to come together.  I rented a D500 body and a second 2X TC!  I  could now use my D7000 with the Nikon 10.5mm Fisheye lens for a timelapse from behind us on the Slik tabletop tripod!  I can use my D500 for the main event with the Skywatcher equitorial mount on the Gitzo tripod!  I can use the rented D500 with my Sigma 35mm during partial phases, switch to the Sigma 70-200mm with 2X TC around totality on the Induro tripod (without extending the bad leg) with a ballhead (the Sun doesn’t move that much in 2 min 40 sec).  Serendipity! My mother has a Nikon Coolpix P900!  It shoots 1080p!  I can put that on the MeFoto tripod in front of us!  Our iPhones can do the rest!  Maybe not 10 rigs, but close.  I’ve somewhat deliberately left out the 3 sets of moderate to high power binoculars we took with us too – you know – for casual viewing J.

Writing a Workflow
And so was born the 2017 Solar Eclipse Workflow.  Obviously, I had some experience doing this for Lightroom, and it’s not dissimilar to many ways I do and teach what I do for a living 😷 (more on that some other time).  This workflow went through many iterations over the summer.  It had jobs for me to complete along the way (such as taping focus rings).  I spent time analyzing and re-analyzing exposures.  I made adjustments and re-adjustments.  We even held a dress-rehearsal of this workflow in our hotel room with my crack support team (that’s right, my whole family was there – My wife and 2 kids, my mother and my sister).  Last minute further tweaks were made (the handwritten notes you see).  We were all set.  All packed.  Ready to go!

I get this is impossible to read...Gives you an idea of the type of organization it took to get this off the ground.  Panorama created in Photoshop.

Astrophysics? On Vacation?
            We’ve never been on one of these types of “scientific” tours before.  Yes we’ve been on vacations with touristy agendas, we’ve been on a cruise, we go skiing every year.  But never something like this.  Admittedly, I’m a geek and so is my mother, and we are both comfortable with that.  We predicted before our arrival that the itinerary would be poorly attended by the rest of our family.  The hotel has a nice pool don’t you know.  Nashville is a fun town don’t you know. 

Yeah, the itinerary was full.  And AWESOME!!

     No, we didn’t know.  We didn’t get to find out.  Turns out, this part of the country, from Alabama stretching into Tennessee, is some kind of Rocket Science factory!  The faculty who presented from Vanderbilt University (Keivan Stassun, David Weintraub) had us spellbound.  We were given some pretty intense talks on astrophysics that were engaging, understandable, and frankly sitting on the edge of our seats.  We also went to Dyer Observatory which was a short jaunt away to see their telescope.  We were able to view Venus in broad daylight!  It was amazing!  
Dyer Observatory Telescope at Vanderbilt University. Taken with my Nikon D500 and Nikkor 24mm lens,  1/60 sec at f/2.8, ISO 100, 24mm.

     We spent a day on the road, and visited the Stones River National Battleground to get a dose of Civil War history. 

Canon at the historic Stones River Battlefield. Taken with my Nikon D500 and SigmaArt 35mm lens,  1/3200 sec at f/1.4, ISO 100, 35mm.

     We then went to the University of Tennessee Space Institute to view their new Solar Observatory (alpha-hydrogen filter), and heard a talk from Dr. Gary Flandro, the man who programmed the Grand Tour of the Voyager spacecraft.  Talk about a Mathlete and an inspiration for us all!
Alpha-Hydrogen telescope at University of Tennessee Space Institute. Taken with my Nikon D500 with SigmaArt 35mm lens, 1/640 sec at f/2.8, ISO 100, 35mm.

A Word on the Attendees
     You will not be surprised to know that this was not a “young” crowd.  We were worried about the kids getting bored...I don’t know the statistics exactly, but there were about 200 people registered for this tour.  I would say less than 5 were younger than 15.  Probably less than 10 under 30.  Less than 20 under 45?  Most were well middle-aged or retired. There were also many there with cameras in tow.  It certainly made me feel good – I wasn’t the only bat-sh**-crazy one on a mission to capture this eclipse!  The kids got into the photography thing too and were eager and able assistants!  Over the course of the first few days, many of us would compare and contrast our strategies, and come up with some new ideas.  In fact, one of the attendees and I discussed how to set up my intervalometer to work with bracketing shots which freed me up immensely!  Thank you Nat!  Similarly, I showed another attendee, Alan, how to set his exposure step for his bracketing plan.  He showed me a better way to secure my gear while walking around. Not surprisingly, Alan and I got to talking and found out we were in the same line of work! It was a fabulous, congenial, constructive, and dedicated group!

Weather Mania
            Now think about this.  We booked this trip nearly 2 ½ years ago to see a solar eclipse.  The itinerary was based in Nashville, TN, but for the eclipse, the plan was to travel to Hopkinsville, KY.  Why there you ask?  It is the position of Maximum Eclipse.  That means the centerpoint of the eclipse path.  It also usually (but not in this case) means the Maximum Duration.  I started looking at weather forecasts in July.  Why?  Clearly not rational.  The weatherman has trouble with tomorrow too J.  But we were going to SEE the eclipse, not just look at dark clouds.  As it day neared, I was looking at forecasts constantly.  Fortunately, both Kelly Beatty and Neil Bauman were all over this.  They had a Plan A.  They had a Plan B.  They had a Plan C.  And for lack of a better phrase, the weather gods were kind to us.

Day of Eclipse

I had to share this text I received from one of my colleagues.  Had me in stitches early in the day!  I didn't have the heart to tell him that we were getting 2 minutes and 41seconds! Thank you for sending this MD!

            What happens to a town with a population of (Hopkinsville pop) and you add 200,000 people?  Seriously it can’t be good.  Neil Bauman and team had started working with Hopkinsville Community College SIX years ago to set up a private area for us with a tent and privileged access to indoor bathrooms and air conditioning.  They were such great hosts!  With an eclipse start of around noon, maximum around 130p, and completion around 3p, we needed to plan.  Hopkinsville is about 70 miles from downtown Nashville.  Should take just over an hour.  Traffic forecasts were brutal.  We saw the news in Oregon which had traffic pileups into rural areas more than 30 miles long.  We were taking no chances.  We were going to see the eclipse.  Neil arranged for our hotel to serve breakfast at 530a so we could leave at 630a just in case of traffic.  Most would complain; our crowd cheered during this announcement!

Hopkinsville, KY.  Just after dawn.  Beautiful farm country and great light in the morning sun! Taken with my Nikon D500 with SigmaArt 35mm lens, 1/1000 sec at f/2.8, ISO 100, 35mm.

            We were on the first bus out.  We in fact were so enthusiastic that we left at 6a!  Not even the kids complained a bit!  As expected, it took us just over an hour to get there.  No traffic at all.  LMAO.  I can tell you this – it was some of the most relaxing time.  I had 4 hours to set up everything! No pressure.  No impending eclipse! Time to read and re-read the workflow!  Check and double check everything. We drank water.  We had lunch at 1030a.  Everything was properly prepped.  Settings were correct.  Covers in place to keep the equipment cool.  Filters secured with tape and string.  White blankets for the shadow ripples (we hoped).  Hole punch for some fun with pinholes.

So peaceful to set all this up with time to spare! Taken with my Nikon D500 and SigmaArt 35mm lens, 1/4000 sec at f/2.8, ISO 100, 35mm.

All Taken with Nikon D500 and SigmaArt 35mm lens.
     The social eclipse was a blast.  There was so much positive energy, excitement, chatter, and anticipation.  We were going to experience a freak of nature together.   This will forever bond this group, whether or not we see each other ever again.  We were with the Sky and Telescope Tour with Insight Cruises in Hopkinsville, KY.  Ground Zero.  Maximum Eclipse.  I think if it was socially acceptable, I would have hugged everyone starting at 6am.  Thought about crying once or twice too.

What a wonderful setting to view the eclipse!  Our group for the week.  Lively bunch! My family is interspersed on the left side near the front.  Photo courtesy of Kelly Beatty.

            And then it dawned on me.  I was the craziest one there.  Sure there were lots of people there with telescopes, zoom lenses, fancy cameras, and the like.  Many were there for only totality.  Only one or two others were audacious enough to have 2 rigs.  Most (who were in fact photographing) had their camera, one long lens, one tripod, and themselves.  If a couple had 2 cameras, then each had one to themselves.  

We used the hole punch to make this "M" in an index card and saw lots of little cresents.  We also saw this effect in filtered light through the trees.  Nikon D500 with SigmaArt 35mm, f/2.8, ISO100.
     We had 4 cameras on tripods, 1 in hand, iPhones everywhere, and 3 sets of binoculars.  Many in our group came up to me to ask about the setup, look through our binoculars, comment on my “dedication” (translation: you are out of your fr***** mind).  I voluntarily admitted this to my family later than night J.  I’m okay with it.  We got some fun shots…

Mind Blown
    I am not nearly poetic enough to describe the eclipse.  I’ll let the images describe it instead.  

All taken with Nikon D500 with Sigma 120-400 and 2X TC, f/11, ISO 400, 800mm.

     I can say with a great deal of certainty that we experienced this eclipse in almost every way we had hoped, with a completeness and totality that could only be achieved with this degree of planning and execution.  We entered the Moon’s Shadow and emerged on the other side.  For about 2 minutes and 40 seconds, we hoped the Moon would lock itself into a geostationary orbit above our site, and we could bask in the glory of the Sun’s corona for eternity (or at least for a few more hours).  

I think I will be processing these photographs for a long time, and then processing them again.  One of my sons has already started to plan a montage video. We did record all the stupid things we said during totality (For example, I said, “look there’s a star!  It’s Venus! Yup that’s Venus for sure!”).   All in all, we captured almost 60GB of material.

      Another thing.  If you've never seen totality, you may not understand.  If you have, then you do.  This is addicting.  This experience is like a drug.  I need to see it again, as soon as possible.  It is nearly occupying my every thought, and everything I do wants to get me back there again.  

Crash and Burn?
            In LiveView, the pictures looked awesome.  I scrolled through almost all of them on the bus ride home.  I was elated.  Awestruck. Energized. Pumped.  Get the picture?  When we got back to the hotel, I quickly backed up all of my cards to my laptop.  No way I was losing this footage!  We went to dinner, celebrated with our new-found friends and family, bragged about our good fortune.  Then we returned to the hotel room to review all the pictures before going to bed.
            FOCUS!  FOCUS!  Focus! I did what they told me to do.  I practiced on the Moon.  I practiced on the Sun.  I taped my focus rings.  I was all set, right?  Right!  I zoomed in to make sure the focus was sharp! I was watching the pictures come through on the screen – they looked perfect!  And when we looked on a bigger screen, it was all revealed.  Some of the pictures, especially in early phase of the eclipse (to put it in perspective, there were more 2000 total; I estimate that about 1000 were affected!) were just a bit out of focus.  When you are using an 800mm lens, it doesn’t take much.  That depth of field is precise!  All that work.  All that preparation.  All that attention to detail.

I couldn't evaluate the focus well enough on LiveView without zooming in.  Rookie mistake!  Fortunately I had so many pictures that I had "enough" 😅. Taken with Nikon D500 with Sigma 120-400 and 2X TC, f/11, ISO 400, 800mm.

     I spent the day with my high performing computer, somewhat sullen, somewhat depressed. My exposures were perfect! I had the framing and the tracking! I understood the photographic processes needed! The automation made it easy!  ARRRRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!  I blew it.  I was convinced.  I went for a run to clear my head.  Talked to myself the whole time.  Mostly self-deprecating.  IT’S THE HEAT STUPID!  I should have disabled my intervalometer to check focus every 30 minutes at least!  You can’t leave a lens like that basking in the heat for several hours and expect to stay in focus!  Where was that on all the blogs?  Photography advice? Come-on people! Help a guy out!  In review of my pictures, I should have nailed it!  And similar to so many other times, my wife brought me back to earth:  We had nailed it.  We had SO much material, so many good shots, videos, timelapses.   We had experienced our FIRST eclipse!  

We are looking up! Not at the camera, but at the sight before our eyes!!

     We didn’t lose our way and fidget with the camera!  And by the way, amassed a huge library of material to work with, now, and in the future.  We had some really good shots too! 

Come on now!  How can anyone be upset about this kind of result!!

     We had to discard a bunch of digital pictures? Who cares? It’s not like we had to send these out to get developed or anything.  There is no real cost!  The beauty of the digital age shines through, right?   The perfectionist in me has conniptions on this part, but the realist in me is still in those moments of totality.  When we feasted with our eyes on this incredible spectacle of nature.  We experienced it together as a multi-generational family.  We had seen the blackness of the Dark Side of the Moon!  
Check it out at  No, not professional, but then, neither am I.  I’m an amateur photographer who just took the ride of his life.

Skills and Lessons
            Along this journey, I thought it was important to get a sense of the breadth and depth of knowledge and skills development, as a photographer, as an astronomer, as a human.  As exhaustive as I can make this, it only really scratches the surface, especially on the humanism piece.  Let’s get started, in no particular order at all (well, maybe some order):

      1.     We saw a total solar eclipse.  With our eyes.  With my family.
      2.     We saw the chromosphere, prominences, and the corona.
      3.     I wept.  Still do at the memory.
      4.     We saw Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter during the day.
      5.     My children experienced this far earlier in life than I did, and will remember it for the rest of their life.
      6.     We developed a bond with a group of people we may never see again, and if we do, we will remember this together fondly.
      7.     We captured (humbly) some fantastic photos and videos!
      8.     Focus more often than you can possibly think.
      9.     Raise up the tripods a bit – that’s why you paid the big bucks for the fancy one – it can save your back.
      10.  I created a usable and practical Lightroom Workflow.
      11.  I created a usable and practical on-the-job Workflow (for the eclipse).
      12.  I learned how to photograph the Moon.
      13.  I learned how to photograph the Sun, and sunspots.
      14.  I learned how to photograph an eclipse.
      15.  I learned how to rent photographic gear.
      16.  I acquired advanced Lightroom skills.
      17.  I acquired rudimentary Photoshop skills, including composite imagery.
      18.  We hand built a high-end, high performance computer.
      19.  I repaired an iMac.
      20.  We learned how to travel with a boatload of gear.
      21.  I acquired rudimentary iMovie skills.
      22.  I learned how to polar align my equatorial mount in the daylight.
      23.  I learned to use LiveView (I think).
      24.  I shot 4K video.
      25.  I created (more than one) timelapse video.
      26.  I wrote a blog. 
      27.  I submitted a photo to APOD (Astronomy Photo of the Day).  I said I submitted…
      28.  I experienced the “Thrill of Victory, and the Agony of Defeat” in the same day.
      29.  We visited 2 states to which we had previously never been.
      30.  We were all meterologists, if only for a brief time.
      31.  We were immersed in astrophysics for a couple of days.
     32.  We viewed the Sun through an alpha-Hydrogen telescope.  You can only understand if you’ve seen it…sorry no pics.
      33.  Although it may have seemed like it, we didn’t take too much stuff.  We used everything we had.
      34.  PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.  The more the better.
      35.  I was the craziest one there.
      36. Now that I'm addicted, it is possible that I will get crazier.

      37.  My family still loves me (I think).

Would I Do It Again?
     So what can I recommend to you?  Eclipse Virgin (now I am not) or not, photographing the eclipse is a dicey thing.  The experience is so visually and emotionally overwhelming that it is not possible to describe.  To add a multi-tasking layer during this event is not for the feint of heart for sure (whether or not I’ve cut it out).  At the same time, you may find yourself able to prepare, practice and plan for an event of this magnitude so that on gameday, you can score.  And realize that anything you bring home is bonus, extra, still a home run.  Never before have I basked in the Moon’s shadow.  Never before have I witnessed the majesty of the Sun’s corona.  For a non-religious person, this was a religious experience.  Just behind the birth of my children and my wedding day.  I get teary-eyed every time I think about it.  Even brought home a few souvenirs.
We did hit a home run.  No.  A Grand-Slam.  You've seen some of the shots.  You decide.  Fist-pumping as we round second base. I would do it again. Every. Single. Time.

            We have to thank all the staff at Insight Cruises and Sky and Telescope to making this a wonderful experience.  Although I am posting this as cutyerheartout Photography, clearly some of the pictures were taken by others (of me, or using my equipment), and my family was an immense help to making this a success.

Disclaimer: I have not received any proceeds for any products or services mentioned (well, not yet). All opinions and photos are mine except as indicated.