Over 200 million Americans watched the total solar eclipse in August 2017, but no one had a better view than photographer Jon Carmichael.
SUN’S EMBRACE An observer in Colorado stands framed by a partial solar eclipse in a picture taken last week and submitted to National Geographic’s My Shot. Solar eclipses happen when the moon lines up between Earth and the sun. But in the most recent case, known as an annular eclipse, the dark moon’s apparent diameter was smaller than the visible disk of the sun, so that it left a ring—or annulus—of fiery light around the edges. The event was the first annular eclipse seen from the mainland United States since 1994. PHOTOGRAPH BY COLLEEN PINSKI, MY SHOT
He spent years plotting how he could capture the total eclipse in a unique way, eventually combining his passions for photography, astronomy, and flight.
“I wondered, if I got up high enough, could I actually see the moon’s shadow move across the Earth’s surface at 2,000 mph? That’s what I really wanted to see,” Carmichael tells My Modern Met. “And as a photographer, I wondered, can I actually capture this beautiful fleeting moment in our country from a unique perspective? This was the most photographed moment in history, so as a professional photographer that’s a lot of pressure.”
By studying the eclipse path carefully, the photographer realized that Southwest Airlines runs a flight from Portland to St. Louis that would put him in the perfect position to view the event.
Taking a once in a lifetime chance, Carmichael purchased a ticket and hoped that he’d get a window seat. Since Southwest doesn’t have pre-assigned seats, he’d even prepared himself to bribe someone to give up their window position if necessary.
Luckily, it didn’t come to that. When he explained his mission to the Southwest flight crew, not only did they ensure he’d get a great seat, but the captain actually went outside the plane to clean the window for a crystal clear shot. During the flight itself, the pilots circled a few times to provide all passengers with a spectacular view.
When it came time for the moment of totality, Carmichael was ready. He shot over 1,200 photos in two minutes and managed to perfectly capture the total eclipse over Snake River. It’s an image that Inc. calls “history’s most amazing photo.” A 10-foot laser-crystal c-print of 108 now hangs in Twitter’s New York offices.
So how did it feel to take the photo of his dreams? “In photography, it’s very rare for something you envision to manifest itself, let alone to turn out even better than you had hoped. I had visualized this moment for years, risked a lot flying across the country on the off-chance this could work out, and hadn’t slept in days leading up to this moment. So after I looked through all the photographs, I put my camera away, took a deep breath, and celebrated by ordering a drink and had a giant smile for the rest of the flight. I had never felt more relieved, grateful, and excited in my life. Against all odds, it came together. It felt meant to be—and literally changed my life.”
Carmichael spent one year processing the images into a giant photographic-mosaic titled 108. Limited edition prints are now available for purchase via the photographer’s website.