We started talking about the eclipse last year, but never settled on firm plans to go until about a month ago. The plan was to spend the night in Savannah and then drive north of Charleston into the path of totality. Last week we realized the forecast for the coast was not looking good, so we started considering Santee SC, near Lake Marion.
Saturday night we noticed the forecast was showing a chance for storms in the middle of the day and mostly cloudy skies for Santee on the 21st, so we decided at that point that we were going to take I-95 to I-26 and then drive as far northwest as we had to.
We got on the road to Savannah a little before noon on Sunday. Ashley suggested we stop for lunch in St. Marys GA. I had never been there, but I had heard it was beautiful and it lived up to its reputation. We had Greek food at the Riverside Café.
After a two more stops along the way, we checked into our hotel around 5pm. We decided to check out a few shops and try what was advertised to be “Georgia Peach Sangria”, but we were both disappointed and both drinks wound up in a trashcan after a few sips. By chance we ran into two old friends and wound up meeting them later for drinks in the restaurant where Ashley and I had our first date 12 years ago. We decided to not stay out late since we knew Sunday would be a long day.
The morning of the 21st, we were on the road before 8am. When we were about 30 miles outside Columbia, I stopped to check the map and decide where we were going. We settled on Irmo SC, on the shores of Lake Murray, and got back on the road. I don’t think I mentioned, but there was a lot of traffic. We got off I-26 at Irmo a little after 11am. We stopped to fill up and then headed toward the Lake Murray Dam Public Park.
When we got there, the park entrance seemed to be closed and the parking lot looked full. We decided to make a right and wound up parking on the shoulder of Shuler Rd. There were already about a dozen cars parked there. After a warning from a police officer to make sure the car was completely off the road, we grabbed the camera equipment, our little cooler of water and bag of snacks and hiked back to the lake. We found a spot overlooking the lake and quickly claimed our space. There were lots of other people arriving at the same time, but everyone was friendly and excited. The closer we got to the start time the more people arrived. It was like going to an outdoor music festival with everyone hauling coolers and camp chairs. It was crowded, but I never heard a negative word.
The eclipse started around 1:15pm to cheers from hundreds, maybe thousands, of people. I had my camera set up and ready to go, so I immediately took a few shots. I decided I’d likely fill my memory cards and drain my batteries taking thousands of pictures if I didn’t have a system, so I started out shooting at 6-minute intervals, so there was clear movement between groups of shots. I had read that it was a good idea to bracket your shots, so I decided to capture 6 images each time I shot. I started by taking two shots at the shutter speed that looked like the best exposure. Then I took two shots each from one stop up and one stop down from that. Ashley was my time keeper. Between shooting intervals, I was using the glasses we’d purchased to view the progress with my own eyes.
When the moon had covered what I guessed to be about 80% of the sun, I shortened the interval to 4 minutes. When the sun was looking like a sliver, I gave up the interval method and just kept shooting. I was nervous about what I might miss when the totality started because I would have to remove my filters, but I needn’t have worried. When totality arrived, it was met with cheers from the crowd and removing the filters gave me an opportunity to look up and see it for myself.
It was incredible! I knew what to expect, but words can’t express how amazing it is to witness it for yourself. I’d heard about the 360-degree sunset affect, but we had great clouds around us, so it was spectacular. The level of darkness was about the same as maybe 45 minutes after sunset. There was still lots of color in the sky, but it was definitely dark.
I continued shooting through totality. I got a last shot of the “diamond ring” and then put my filters back on and prepared to continue shooting the progress. As soon as the daylight came back everyone around us started packing up and leaving. We stayed for about another hour so that I could get shots of the moon moving off the sun. It turned out to be a good idea, because most of the traffic near the lake had cleared by the time we headed home. Traffic was at a crawl on the interstate, so we wound up taking back-roads all the way to Hardeeville where we got back on the interstate and continued home. We made it back to Jacksonville a few minutes after 10pm.
We really enjoyed the experience of being “Eclipse Chasers”. My only regret is that I didn’t take another camera and tripod set up so that I could get some wide-angle shots showing the 360-degree sunset over the lake. There were also a few clouds we had to wait out, one during totality, that reduced the number of shots I got.
The shots I’m sharing show some stages of the moon covering the sun. The first one shows we had some clouds. If you look closely at the first and last images, you can see sun spots. The three in the middle are obviously during totality. I chose to make the middle one bigger, so you can clearly see the solar flares on the surface of the sun. I also had to include a shot of the diamond ring affect that appeared just before the end of totality.
If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this long story, Thanks! I hope you will continue to follow my adventures on my blog. You can also check me out on Instagram or twitter. Just search for @shanealanartimages and @shane_pics respectively. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or if there is a topic you’d like me to write about. Send me your email address through the “contact me” link on my website if you’d like to receive my blog as a weekly newsletter.
Thanks again and remember to savor those moments!