• Friday , 22 September 2017

How I Shot Donald Trump and the Solar Eclipse in One Photograph Without Photoshop

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When I first found out a full solar eclipse was passing through Charleston, South Carolina, I marked my calendar hoping I would be able to photograph it. Today the eclipse passed through the final stretch of America, and even with a full year of forewarning, I was not prepared to photograph it at all. With only two hours before totality, I decided to take a huge gamble and aim for two unique photographs that would be done 100 percent straight out of camera. The results are pretty interesting.

A Charleston Eclipse

For the first photograph I wanted to capture something that was unique to Charleston. Unfortunately, our city is very short; like the tallest buildings are five stories short. This meant that it would be near impossible to shoot up towards the eclipsing sun and capture anything of interest. I did a few test shots you can see below that are very abstract, but ultimately I decided to photograph the most iconic landmark in all of Charleston. The Arthur Ravenel Bridge is, for better or worse, probably the most photographed thing in the city, but I knew I wanted to create an image that was unique to this special day.

I thought it would be interesting to use an old double exposure trick that many photographers used back in the days of film. Luckily my Nikon D750 has a double exposure mode that lets you take two photos back to back and it combines them into one single file. The process isn’t as easy as it sounds though because you need to make sure your base image isn’t too bright or else it will bleed into your second exposure. Another thing you have to consider is your composition before starting the process. If I wanted to have the eclipse on the top right of the frame, I would have to memorize exactly where the bridge began and ended so I would not overlap the eclipse directly on top of the silhouetted structure. Also, in order to make the eclipse register at all on a DSLR camera, I had to use a super telephoto zoom lens. For this shoot I mounted the new Tamron 18-400mm lens which is for cropped cameras but that actually gave me even more flexibility when it came time to aim my camera towards the sun.

Below are some preliminary tests I did as I waited for the first contact of the moon against the sun. The results are pretty interesting, but ultimately I figured many of these were too graphic and I decided to focus solely on the entire bridge.

I wound up shooting frame after frame during different phases of the eclipse and tweaking the white balance. If you were to combine these photos in Photoshop you could easily adjust the white balance of the two images individually and then combine them. With the in-camera double exposure feature, everything becomes burned into the frame with little to no adjustments. Overall I am really pleased with the final photos I captured, and I have posted two of my favorites below. For those who might question the authenticity of these photos, I have uploaded one and two raw files you can download to play with yourself.

The Donald Trump Eclipse

I heard a quote from one of my favorite photographers that goes something like “always take the biggest risk on your biggest shoots because if it pays off, it will pay off big.” Chances are I will only experience one total solar eclipse in my life. The safe approach would be just to shoot a telephoto shot of the event. For totality I decided to create perhaps the most polarizing photograph of my career: the Trump Eclipse.

The idea was pretty simple. I thought, what type of photograph would Donald Trump retweet and how could I make that? I wasn’t out to create a pro-Trump or anti-Trump photograph, but I did want to create something that he might like. I also knew if I crafted the photo well, maybe those who oppose Trump would also enjoy it because it could have two completely different meanings. Obviously Donald Trump is a highly polarizing figure, so I guess I’m about to find out firsthand just how far the pendulum swings with this weird photograph.

To create this photo I wanted to use a black or white silhouette of the red-haired one that I could use a template around the frame of my photograph. The idea was to shoot through the cutout and capture the solar eclipse. I did one test where I used the sun to illuminate the pure white cutout which looked really cool, but I knew once totality occurred, it would be near impossible to create a blown out pure white template (without also relying on flash photography). Instead I settled on the dark bordered version you can see below.

This photograph was even harder to frame up compared to the previous bridge shot. Not only did I have to get a dark — but not too dark — exposure of the silhouette, I also had to make sure the template wasn’t blowing in the wind. Looking back, if I had more time I would have cut out the template on poster board. Once the template was shot, I also had to make sure every photo I took of the eclipse was perfectly centered into the opening of his head. I have a bunch of images but the one above is the only one where the eclipse lined up high enough in the frame for my liking.

Once the event was over and I reviewed my images, I was extremely excited that I was able to pull off such a challenging photo, completely in camera, all while shooting a 60-second event that will never happen in my city again. The weather in Charleston was partially cloudy with lightning storms around during the eclipse which I think made for an even more dramatic event. As you can see in the video above, the time-lapses and photos my friends captured were much more interesting in my opinion than those of a perfectly clear sky. That being said, it did get so cloudy during the final 15 seconds of totality that you could not see the sun at all until the full eclipse was already over. I did snap a couple of normal eclipse photos but they weren’t nearly as exciting as the real event.

Will this photograph of Trump get shared by the president or will it turn into a bunch of anti-Trump memes? I don’t know. What I do know from the response I have already gotten from it on Instagram is that this is perhaps the most controversial image I have ever created while at the same time being pretty simple and lacking explicit content.


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