Grand Teton Solar Eclipse 2017 Trip Report

By Eric Rock on Oct 11, 2017

Most of the photo trips we embark on have well-defined goals, but our August Grand Teton Solar Eclipse trip had a very specific goal. Our group’s goal was to observe and photographically capture the process of the earth’s sun as it catches up to and disappears behind our moon, only to re-emerge minutes later on the other side. The entire process takes just about two hours and forty plus minutes from first contact to finish. The real photographic challenge culminates in the middle of it all, with just over two minutes of totality when the sun’s normally hidden corona appears to radiate out in all directions against the dark sky. This leaves us just moments to photograph the fleeting event in all its glory. But more on this later.

This year the United States had a wonderful opportunity to experience the path of a total solar eclipse passing from Oregon to South Carolina. So, if the path of the eclipse was going to cross right through the better part of the country, why go to Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park? Well, why not? The Tetons present some of America’s most iconic scenery and wildlife. Summer days there tend to be clear and sunny. Sounds like a great place to be for the eclipse. During the five days of our trip Todd Pierce and I kept our group busy searching out dramatic landscapes and wildlife on which to train our lenses. It seemed that in every direction we went from our lodging at Togwotee Mountain Lodge we found great light and excellent subjects. Our arrival evening was no exception as we photographed alpenglow washing over rocky crags reflected in a clear blue mountain lake, all just a short distance from our lodge.

Grand Tetons National ParkDuring the days leading up to the event we kept busy. Our group enjoyed early mornings out to photograph sunrise at different iconic locations. Our morning photo sites ranged from historic cabins and barns to calm mountain reflections on backwater sloughs of the Snake River. As the morning sun climbed higher we would often search out other subjects—mule deer, pelicans, herons and ducks seemed to be attracted to our group of photo travelers.

Days went by fast but we made time to find a secluded meadow to set up our eclipse photo gear and practice photographing the sun for later in the trip when the critical time came. During these trial runs we went over and worked through the details of our technique for photographing the eclipse but, more importantly, have us ready for that two plus minutes of totality.

Evenings found us chasing the shadow of the Tetons across the Snake River Valley. With the low angle of the sun raking across the jagged range, light dropped off fast into that combination of rich warm orange skies over cool blue shadows of forest and mountain. It was in these later hours of the day we photographed bison grazing and cavorting in the low-angle light and glowing grasses of late summer. On our next to last evening we located a female grizzly bear in a high mountain meadow. From the safety of the road we could photograph the bruin until the light faded and she wandered off into the night. The quiet patience of our group allowed the bear to relax and go on about her business of feeding on clover and forbs, while everyone enjoyed the great photographic experience.

grand-tetons-total-eclipse-2017.jpgEclipse day dawned clear and calm! Cameras, batteries, filters, tripods and lunches were ready to go. Everyone was up early so that we can get a good spot away from the expected crowds. Perhaps even find a spot where we could take in the scenic beauty of our surroundings while the eclipse unfolded. This was the day we had been waiting for! We headed into the northwestern section of the park near String Lake. We wanted to secure a desirable spot where we could set up gear and photograph the entire unfolding of the eclipse from first contact to finish. We all had our hearts set on capturing images of the different stages as our view of the sun was blocked both before and after totality. We had also been preparing to capture the fleeting stages of totality, including the diamond ring, Baily’s beads and the sun’s corona.

At just a little after 10 AM on August 21 every participant was poised and ready for the first tiny bite to be taken out of the sun. We had telephotos and wide-angle lenses at the ready. The sun began to diminish and the excitement continued to increase as everyone photographed the partial stages of the eclipse with protective glasses and solar filters in place. At 11:36 AM the sun slipped behind the moon and totality began. We all took off our solar glasses and filters and began the programed series of exposures—and looked up. I can clearly remember the stunning spectacle of the sun’s disk being blocked, exposing the rays of the corona reaching out in all directions against the darkened sky. The scene unfolded much larger than I had even expected and I took a step back as if to take in a little more of it. I believe everyone in the group pretty much appreciated the same scene. Holding one hand on their cable releases, automatically making the preset exposures, allowed everyone had time to take in the event while photographing it. As the sun began to peek around the other side of the moon the diamond ring signaled the end of totality and it was time to replace our solar glasses and filters to continue to photograph the rest of the partial phase of the eclipse.

group-photo-eclipse-2017.jpgThe time we spent running through our plans and familiarizing ourselves with the gear really paid off. Our whole group came away with stunning images of the entire progress of the eclipse, including the ephemeral stages of totality that would make any astronomer proud.

Photos by Eric Rock and Todd Pierce

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