Covering The Eclipse

Published On May 21, 2012 | By Mike Carroll | Daily Diary, KCRA-TV, Shooting News

Photo taken by a truck driver who was watching the eclipse with me for a while.

News is not a regularly scheduled thing. Sometimes things happen on your days off and a call for volunteers is put out. I’ve always been fascinated by astronomy, the planets and alignments — so eclipses are something I’ve never experienced first hand. So when the station, KCRA, announced plans for extended live coverage of the solar eclipse and a call was put out for an extra shooter to man a camera that would be trained on the sun for the duration of the eclipse, that sounded unique.

The best place to cover the eclipse in California was in Redding, about three hours north of Sacramento — and beyond our microwave truck range. I was simply asked to load into a live truck and head north on I-5 for about an hour, find a spot with a clear view of the western sky, line up a signal, and be ready to be live for two solid hours.


My classy TV location -- the far end of a dusty parking lot. But no trees, phone poles or power lines!

My classy TV location -- the far end of a dusty parking lot. But no trees, phone poles or power lines!

I got to Dunnigan and spied a nice spot just off of the highway — a gas station with a large parking area for truck drivers to pull over for the night. It was pretty much empty at this time of day. So I pulled to the bar end and lined up a shot. I arranged the position of the camera right next to the truck so I could keep an eye on the monitor in the truck, and because I would be running the camera on AC power from the truck’s generator and not from the camera batteries. I didn’t want to have to deal with changing batteries back and forth. I just wanted to turn on the camera once and leave it on.

Then I had to make the solar eclipse filter. A digital camera can’t just point at the sun during the solar eclipse.

Some gels had been left at the station for me. I took a sheet of neutral density gel — N.D. — and folded it over several times, making it harder and harder to see through. Then I gaffer taped that over the front of my camera lens.

Sony XDCAM with "Eclipse Filter" -- neutral density gel folded over several times. Poor man's ND filter. You could pay a couple hundred bucks for a filter like this. This was done with a secondhand $4 gel.

I then framed up on the sun. A solar eclipse emits much more intense — and damaging — light than normal. Also, the camera would be pointed directly at the sun for the entire two hours of the eclipse. I put the camera on its darkest filter. Put the zoom lens on 2x extender, to get even tighter on the sun and to eliminate one F-stop. Then I racked the shutter speed up from 1/60 of a second to 1/2,000 of a second.

KCRA's "Eclipse Cam"

Yet even with the camera and lens and ND gel, I was still on F-11. This was a bright, bright, object.

KCRA’s live coverage started at 5 o’clock. The news began with anchorman Chris Riva introducing my live telephoto close shot of the sun saying, “This is a look at KCRA’s eclipse camera, set up in Dunnigan where photographer Mike Carroll is.”

The news opens — and I hear my name off the top!”

Throughout the news Chris was constantly referring to the live shot and “photographer Mike Carroll in Dunnigan.”

After a little while, cars started pulling into the lot. People started getting out of their cars to look at the eclipse. A few people were near to the truck and I started talking to them.

The Ramseys from Woodland, who saw the coverage on KCRA and drove up to watch it here. Mrs. Ramsey is holding up some extra ND gel from the truck over the front of her iPhone camera lens to get a shot of the eclipse.

“So you came out to see the eclipse?” I’d ask.

“Yeah, it’s something, isn’t it!”

“So tell me, what made you decide to come here?”

“Because we were watching the news on KCRA and they were saying that you were up here, so we decided to go and watch it with KCRA.”

I couldn’t believe this. Yet so many people were telling me that they were watching KCRA and decided to drive to Dunnigan and watch it with the “KCRA eclipse camera.”

View on the truck's monitor of the "KCRA eclips camera."

People were having trouble watching the eclipse with their eyes or through gels or other things. I invited them to the truck and had the doors open so they could watch the eclipse on the monitor.

On person who was one of the first to pull up was Ron from Sacrament0, a Vietnam Vet, who drove up to be a part of the event. Ron has some health issues, so I encouraged him to pull his car up alongside the truck so he could sit in his car and watch the eclipse on the big color monitor.

Ron, who kept me company during most of the solar eclipse.

One thing that surprised me was how fast the sun was moving across the sky, steadily descending at the end of the day.

At some point during the coverage I was told that NBC was using our shot and feeding it out to its affiliates across the country. Also, that CNN was taking the shot.

It was long, and hot, and intensely bright, and very, very dusty. But it was a cook event to be a part of. And very cool that so many people saw the coverage at home on their TVs and got into their cars and drove up to find me and the KCRA live truck to be a part of this as well.

Many thanks to everyone who made the effort. Hope you enjoyed the eclipse. It was an experience.




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About The Author

Mike Carroll joined the digital revolution in 1999 with a Sony TRV900 camcorder and Final Cut Pro, when it was only Final Cut Pro and not version 2, 4 or a Suite.

2 Responses to Covering The Eclipse

  1. jorge says:

    Your brilliant Mike !

  2. Pingback: Eclipse Update – Video Highlights | Naked Filmmaking

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