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A Look Back on Totality

September 05, 2017

Ken Sklute

It has been almost one year that Canon and I have been setting out to prepare a knowledge base for first-time eclipse shooters and those veteran eclipse chasers on how to best record the event safely, using the correct equipment to make the experience an easy, enjoyable one.

My team and I arrived in Casper, WY on Thursday 8/17 to begin scouting for a location for the total solar eclipse on Monday 8/21. We were in Casper to provide lectures to the folks attending AstroCon and the Wyoming Camera Outfitters photographic conference.

This image was created to celebrate the accomplishment of the eclipse with the eclipse staff from Canon and some very goods friends together in Casper, Wyoming on a private ranch about 35 miles west of Casper.

Monday morning arrived very early for us. The eclipse would begin at 10:22am so we departed at 6am for the journey out to our location, about 35 miles out of town. There we met up with some good friends (and remarkable photographers in their own right) who had invited us to join them.

We all got busy as soon as we arrived, setting up all of the cameras that we were going to use. Once we were comfortable with the gear set up, we made certain to check all of the settings for both the partial phases as well as the coveted corona. This would allow us to be both ready and confident so that we would also enjoy experiencing the series of events that come along with this solar phenomenon.

Author and Canon Explorer of Light Ken Sklute makes a last minute test of all the equipment used to capture the imagery of the eclipse.

I finished setting up my arsenal of Canon goodies for the morning. I was using the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II along with the EF 200-400mm f/4L IS Extender 1.4x lens atop my ReallyRightStuff tripod. I chose the 200-400 just in case we were visited by overcast skies. If those pesky clouds did come to visit, I could zoom out to potentially make use of the clouds in my composition. We were lucky as only a few high cirrus clouds came by for about 30 minutes during the partial phases. They soon moved on, as the star of the show got ready to make an appearance.

I also had an AZ-EQ5 German Equatorial/Alt-Azimuth mount from Sky-Watcher, keeping my two EOS 5D Mark IVs tracking the sun as it moved, one with an EF 600mm f/4L IS lens and the other with the EF 400mm f/5.6L with a 1.4 converter on it, giving me a focal length of 560mm. I was firing the two 5D Mark IVs simultaneously from a hub that allows one cable release to fire multiple cameras.

Author and Canon Explorer of Light Ken Sklute is making exposures on three cameras simultaneously during the partial phases of the eclipse.

As we witnessed more of the sun being blocked by the moon, we felt a rapid drop in the temperature. I’d estimate the temperature dropped nearly 20 degrees, which had everyone looking for their jackets, and after a very calm morning, a nice breeze was kicked up by the drop in temperature, adding to the chill.

With the diminishing light, we were able to see a distinct change in the quality of the sunlight. It was growing to be a very soft, unique type of light. I have been using the sun for its light for 44 years now and I was in awe of the gorgeous glow that we were experiencing.

The diamond ring phase came and we were all in amazement. It slowly faded away and then, the switch was thrown…  Dark. Magical. Exciting!

The C3 phase of the eclipse captured as the second Diamond Ring reveals itself with the beautiful corona as a background to be seen for the last time before the return of the sun washes out this view.

As the moon blocked 100% of the sun’s rays the Holy Grail arrived, Totality.  As the darkness fell the corona seemed to explode, glowing and growing as our eyes adjusted to the darkness. The corona reached out in a trapezoidal shape, so unique to the past eclipse coronas.

It was surreal. We went from daylight to nighttime in a heartbeat. Planets became visible. We were all busy making bracketed exposures. You could hear the cameras blazing away mixed with the cheering that we could just not contain.

As predicted, there was a gorgeous 360-degree sunset. A quick look around to everything near and far and I was back, glued to the sight of the corona and visible prominences.

All too soon, the Solar Eclipse Timer on my smart device alerted us that we were within thirty seconds of the end of totality. Twenty seconds. Ten seconds. The buzzer sounded and the sun reappeared.

The C3 phase, reappearance of the sun, was extremely different from the C2, the disappearance of the sun. The diamond ring appeared with a starburst as the sun blazed into sight. It was amazing to say the least.

Totality reached during the eclipse with prominences

Although all three cameras were recording the fading of the corona and the building diamond ring of C3, all of the cameras that I was capturing the images with somehow saw things very differently. Although there may have only been a difference of a fraction of a second of time, I captured totally different results of the diamond ring.

Totality was over way too soon.  It was everything that I had hoped it would be, and more!

In shooting the eclipse, my main goal was capturing the corona, as such, so I purposely left a bit of room around the sun by working with these specific lens focal lengths. I did not want to cut off any part of the corona as it reached out further and further away from the sun.

Recording the eclipse was a completely different shooting experience for me — normally I’d be watching the camera and checking exposures, but I simply I could not take my eyes off the beauty in the sky — I had to just let the cameras run their set brackets with each press of the cable release.

We finished collecting the now anti-climactic partial phases to complete the photographic collection.

After returning home following the Casper Eclipse experience, I was able to see some of the different imagery collected by the millions of people who attended this astronomical feast.

There were many who chose not to journey into the path of totality. Some remarked that they didn’t understand what the big deal was and why so many people would flock to see the eclipse. “It’s only the sun. We see it every day,” I read over and over.

As photographers, we yearn to see. I live to see. I see to live.

As a hot air balloon pilot in Phoenix, AZ, when I ascend to an altitude of 10,000 feet above the desert, I can see the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff, over 100 miles away. I find it amazing that I can see something that far away.

With the help of the moon eclipsing the sun, photographing this total solar eclipse provided me the ability to see 93 million miles away, in person, through my Canon cameras, providing me the resolution to see razor sharp glimpses into the center of our universe, as we know it today.

I have seen the sun, its prominences, and one unique, spectacular corona. This is something that I will never forget. Having these images will help maintain this memory, forever.

Lastly, as the day came to an end, I checked a few sources before I headed to bed. The results caused me to jump in the car and head back to the west, very near where I began the day. I was treated to a nightcap of the Aurora Borealis to make this day even more special. Serendipity!

The Aurora Borealis made a guest appearance at about midnight on Monday, August 21, 2017 in Casper, Wyoming. This location is about 4 miles from where we captured our morning eclipse imagery.

Ken Sklute
Ken Sklute

Ken Sklute of Tempe, AZ., has been working with his passions of photographing people and drag racing for over 42 years.

Ken Sklute

Ken Sklute has been honored as one of Canon's Explorers of Light, a designation shared by several top photographers worldwide. Ken has enjoyed a diverse career photographing people, professional sports, architecture, weddings and landscapes. Ken spends much of his time photographing, teaching and lecturing both nationally and internationally.

Ken Sklute began his photographic career capturing 200 mph race cars in New York at an early age. He soon moved into the wedding and portrait industry, working for a volume wedding studio for three years before moving into working for different independently-owned studios. Ken bought his first studio in 1983 in New York, working at the finer locations throughout the New York metropolitan area. He chose to relocate to Phoenix, Arizona in 1996 in order to be out in the landscape of the beautiful desert Southwest and to enjoy the Phoenix wedding market.

During Ken’s 42 year professional photography career, he has accomplished the title of “Photographer of the Year” in 32 out of 38 years in the states of New York, Arizona and California. Ken is a PPA Master of Photography and Photographic Craftman. In addition, Ken has been awarded 14 Kodak Gallery Awards, the Kodak Gallery Elite award, WPPI Grand Award for Weddings and 15 Fuji Masterpiece awards, amongst many other awards.

Some of Ken’s clients have been the National Hot Rod Association, U.S. Army, Sports Illustrated, Oakley, Associated Press, National Dragster, Epson, Kodak, Newsday, as well as most of the photographic industry trade magazines.

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