Story Behind the Photo

Written and Photographed

by Mark Gocke

I think I first heard about the coming total solar eclipse in early 2016, and from that point the hype machine just kept amping up until August 21, 2017. People exclaimed we would be overrun with people, Jackson would be one big traffic jam, cell phones wouldn’t work, and it would be complete chaos. Frankly, I had a hard time buying all that. Plus, I’m not all that crazy about astronomy, certainly not as crazy as some, so I wasn’t really getting all hyped up. I was happy my hometown was going to be in the path of totality and all, but I knew we had to be in Salt Lake City that same evening to fly our daughter off to college, so we weren’t going to be traveling to some special place to get a clear view. We were either gonna see it or we weren’t. Plus, with the anticipated throngs of people, it was all hands on deck for the Game & Fish Department on eclipse day, and the days leading up to it. Given all that, I had decided I wasn’t going to photograph it. I would just enjoy the fleeting two minutes of totality and we’d hit the road for Salt Lake. Then, in the hours leading up to the eclipse, the photographer voice in my head said, “Hey, you like to photograph things. You have some nice equipment. You should probably at least snap a few frames, whether they turn out or not.” I decided to heed the voice and hastily googled “How to photograph a total solar eclipse.” Most articles were way more information than I was looking for, but one had some suggested exposure settings as a place to start and then said to bracket a bunch, meaning it’s a bit of a crap shoot and just try a bunch of different exposure settings in the two minutes you have to shoot. Hmm, I wasn’t feeling very confident and definitely wasn’t going to spend the whole two minutes with my eye in a viewfinder. I wanted to experience it first and maybe get a few images as a bonus. So, I went ahead and set up the camera and just before the countdown to totality I looked through the viewfinder, dialed in the focus, and started clicking a few frames. And then darkness fell upon us, the temperature dropped, and I, like everyone else, couldn’t help but simply stand in amazement. I looked around and saw an orange sunset horizon directly south, a direction I had never seen it before. It was such an overwhelming phenomenon, mind-blowing really. It was way cooler than I was expecting. Then I remembered I should click a few more frames, to try and document the occasion. After it was all over, after all the high fives and recounting of what had just happened, I scrolled through the images and was pleased to see some pretty cool shots. I’ve definitely seen more dramatic images from other photographers, but I’m just glad I decided to click a few frames and came away with some decent images from what was probably my most memorable two minutes on this planet. Because isn’t that the best part of photography, having images of some of our most memorable experiences?

Mark Gocke is a wildlife biologist who struggles with a serious addiction to photography. He has learned to cope by having an occasional craft brew and now, at times, has found he can have fun without necessarily snapping photos. Mark also happens to serve as the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Information and Education Specialist for the Jackson and Pinedale regions.