Eclipse 2017

Total solar eclipse from Gallatin, Tenn., August 2017

Like millions of other people, I braved the crowds and traffic jams to catch the Great American Eclipse on Monday. I didn’t quite get the shots I wanted, since I don’t have the kind of long lens necessary to magnify the sun and moon’s discs, which have only a half-degree of angular diameter. (That’s the width of a pencil held at arm’s length.) At the wide end of the scale, when I upgraded to my new Canon, I gave away my T-5 Rebel and my 10-22mm wide angle lens, which would have allowed me to get more of a landscape view with people and structures in the foreground. My new lens—which in other ways is orders of magnitude better—couldn’t do what I wanted. Worse, we were viewing the eclipse in the South, which means the sun was high up and at 24mm I didn’t have the span to get anything but leaves and branches. But that’s where I started, bracketing down from 1/4000th down to the mutli-second exposures. I’m happy that I live-view focused properly. Everything was sharp.

After getting ten or so wide-angle shots, I took a break to just enjoy what I was seeing. My son was with me, and we had endured a long drive and many misadventures to find ourselves in this little park in eastern Tennessee. Given all of that, fiddling with a camera the entire time felt wrong. But I only had two and a half minutes to work with, so it was time to get a few more exposures in. I zoomed in to 105mm, but the whole thing was still pretty small. I might have had a shot at getting something interesting along the limb of the sun—Bailey’s Beads, prominences, etc.—but by the time I was shooting zoomed in, my exposures were still too long. I was at 1/100th or something when the moon slid out of the way. There was an unbelievably bright flare in my eyes and on my last image, then a cheer from everyone in the park. The big event was over.

I have taught astronomy, written about it, read about it, obsessed about it. I know how an eclipse works. In fact, it’s rather boring: one thing blocks the light from another thing, coincidentally the first thing is small but the bigger thing is far away, etc. But I was not prepared for how it would feel to see a total solar eclipse with my own eyes. For two and a half minutes, I stood at the toe of some benevolent giant, one who could have stepped on me and everyone at that park and kept on walking. Instead, he looked down at us, gave a friendly wink, and wandered off.


Pulpit Falls

Pulpit Falls, Winchester, N.H., August 2017

I took a couple of chances with my safety to reach this waterfall, which is tucked away in southwest New Hampshire just over the Massachusetts border. The sun was almost down, and it was about a half mile hike up a path that hadn’t been used in a while. All I could think about was the sun going down and not being able to find my way back to the car. About ten seconds into the hike, I lost the signal from my phone’s map program, and I was hiking blind. Fortunately, there are blue ribbons hanging from the trees marking the trail. Without those, I’d have been screwed. But I’m glad I took the risk.

New York City V: The Empire State Building Strikes Back

I’m glad I made the trip to the ol’ ESB. The new(ish?) Observation Deck and museum is really nice, and well worth the $30-$60 you’ll spend for a trip to the top. I went at sunset, and I was not disappointed with the view. And of course, since I can’t take high-ground photos without tilt-shifting everything to death, I was able to process to my heart’s content. I also got to post the Flatiron photo on Facebook and post my standard gag about building a model of it on my table. Two or three of my Facebook friends always fall for it.

I should feel bad when I do that. But I don’t.

New York City IV: A Day at the Museum

I’ve wanted to visit the American Museum of Natural History in New York since I was 8 years old and could name for you not only the dinosaurs, but all of the periods of the Mesozoic Era and probably a few from the Paleozoic, too.

After finally getting to check it out, I learned that 1) an afternoon wasn’t enough, and 2) they need to update the astronomy exhibit. I ditched dinos for space the day after seeing Star Wars for the first time, and I’m a little disappointed that my newer love wasn’t well represented. The dinosaur skeletons were amazing. Meanwhile, the exhibits in the Hayden Planetarium look like they were last updated in the early 1990’s—relativistic jets emerging from quasars, for example, aren’t attributed to supermassive black holes, they way we now know they should be.

That’s right, Neil Degrasse Tyson, I’m calling you out! (I’m kidding! Ha ha! You’re smarter and tougher than I’ll ever be please don’t kill me.)

New York City II: Yankees Win

On my first full day in New York, I Ubered out to the Bronx to catch my first Yankee game. They still alive for a playoff spot, with only a couple of games left. I got to see Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka strike out 15—the most ever by an Asian pitcher in the Majors—and flirt with a perfect game until the fifth inning. The Yanks won 4-0, and even though I’m a Red Sox fan (if I’m anything at all), it was a nice day at the ballpark.

Boston and The Whales

Now that I’m living closer to civilization, I can do stuff like “heading to the beach,” and “whale watching” and “going to Boston without it taking six damn hours.”

I’m still editing much of the stuff I took with the new camera yesterday. Lightroom is really strange about taking up all of your hard drive space, so I need to clear out my laptop.

Seriously, the new Canon is super sharp. I don’t have as much reach as I thought I’d have with the 24-105mm, but even with the whales a quarter mile away, I could crop heavily and still have a nice image or two.

Confidential to the really wonderful couple I met on the boat: 1) I’m still really, really sorry for Americans who have no manners or common decency; 2) I hope you’re feeling better; 3) email me at mrcpblair “at” gmail, and I’ll get you your photos.

New York City I: Nice Day for a Walk


I was 16 the summer of 1986 when I won a trip to the United Nations. At that time, New York City was a different animal. And by animal, I mean animal. As in “feral.” It was every bit the horrible urban hellscape we saw on TV, only worse. Our hosts (the Odd Fellows Lodge) were strict about the rules: Stay in your lines, keep your wallets in your front pockets, and for God’s sake, no matter what you do, don’t talk to anyone.

This was good advice. For the entire week, we marched up one side of stinking Manhattan and down the other, sweating in our sport coats or formal dresses. We stepped over street people sleeping on the sidewalk, tried to ignore the piles of garbage stacked like greasy beanbags outside the restaurants, and flinched at the sound of women screaming and chasing the crack addicts who had stolen their purses. The copy of New York Newsday, left on our bed by the maids on Day One, bore the lovely headline COP SHOOTING. To a kid from Cottage Grove, Ore., population 7,000, New York was terrifying. It assaulted the nose with sewage, fryer grease, and urine. And by the time I left, I was in love with it. I loved the buildings that disappeared into clouds. I loved seeing A Chorus Line at the Schubert Theater. I loved seeing all those important places that I’d always heard about on the news. When the bus pulled away and started the long trip back across the continent, I knew I wanted more. Someday soon, I’d return as a writer or a talk show host or some other sweet gig that would put me right in the middle of that beautiful mess.

Thirty-one years later, I finally made it back. I never got that book contract or that sweet NYT job. But I did have a couple of vacation days, some money in the bank, and my Canon. Mindful of the fact that New York wasn’t entirely tamed, I kept my 74-105mm and 200mm lenses at home and forced myself to get by with my 50mm—or, the “Nifty Fifty” as one blog put it. It sticks out of the camera body about 2 inches. It also forces the intrepid photographer to get close to the action.

I’m a little sad to report that New York … just wasn’t the same. That was mostly good, I guess. I could walk the streets without fear. I was ready for anything, of course. But it just wasn’t necessary. This new version of New York reminded me of when I lived in Portland, with maybe more angry car horn-honking but with fewer street people. (I counted two of them, and they were tucked away off the sidewalk, politely sleeping on boxes.) This time around, only hazard to walking around before dawn was getting inadvertently sprayed with a hose, because apparently they clean the sidewalks now. Servers in restaurants were much less cranky; new accents had replaced the standard dropped-R: Dominican, Eastern European, and others that I couldn’t place. But oh, New York. What happened to you? The fight has left the place. I don’t know if it was the much-maligned Disney-fication of Times Square or whatever, or if the city is still recovering from 9/11. Or maybe the creeping automation and has eliminated the need for people and storefronts to be stacked on top of each other.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked the cleaner, safer Manhattan 2.0. But I wanted some of the old New York. I wanted to be yelled at by a cop or something. Just once.

All in all, though, it was great to go back. And now that I’m only four hours a way, I won’t wait another 31 years to do it.

I’ll post a new batch of photos every day this week:

  • I—Nice Day for a Walk (today): I walk around smiling at stuff like that stupid U2 Vegas video.
  • II—THUUHHHHH Yankees Win: New York beats Toronto, David Judge gets tagged out after overrunning first base, and I pay $12.50 for an IPA.
  • III—Central Park: You could fit downtown Manchester in this thing and still have room for the rest of N.H., too.
  • IV—Day at the Museum: Doesn’t anyone around here know how to dust?
  • V—The Empire State Building Strikes Back … by taking $38 of my money for an elevator ride. Oh, and your tilt-shift cup runneth over.

New York City III: Central Park

What can I say about Central Park? It’s big. It’s a park. If you go looking for it, it’s in the center of Manhattan.

Hence the name, people.

Hence the name.


Portsmouth, N.H., and all along the seacoast





Maine seacoast and west toward New Hampshire.


My adorable telescope, plus the camera adapter minus the camera, but including a bottle of A&W Cream Soda. So I am now a diabetic.


A few years ago, I spent about $100 to be able to mount my Canon DSLR to my telescope. I’ve since discovered that shooting anything other than the moon is pretty much impossible. Focusing on something that small (though bright) through a cheap telescope and 100 km of turbulent atmosphere is not something my camera likes to do. The object is never sharp enough to see in a photo. My telescope doesn’t track, either, so there goes photographing any deep sky stuff.

So, yeah, I’m pretty much stuck with the moon.1

Fortunately, the Canon comes with a video camera option. With Saturn lurking just over the southern horizon, I made this little clip:


1. Yeah, taking pictures of the moon is cool through a telescope, I guess. But the photos aren’t that great. They’re dark and grimy looking no matter what, and even if you’re live-view focusing, they’re never very sharp. You can do just as well with any decent zoom lens and some cropping. If you want to look at the moon, you’re better off just peeking through the eyepiece, where the view is much prettier for some reason—tack sharp and well lit.

Catching Up

It’s certainly been a while. Here are some photos ranging from mid April to just this week.

Special Guest ‘Star’

Constellation Leo, late March, Gorham, NH, with Jupiter a few degrees south. 30 second exposure, ISO 3200.

Leo is “my” constellation. Even though astrology is a bunch hooey and applesauce,  I’m glad to have Leo as “my”sign. The crouching lion is one of the few constellations that actually looks like the thing it represents.

I like Jupiter being there, too. The high clouds smeared its light a bit, making it actually look like the giant planet’s disk is visible. It’ll be interesting to track Jupiter over the next few weeks to see how it moves against the background stars.



The Hunter Retires

Orion, late March, Gorham, NH, 30 second exposure, ISO 3200.

Orion sets a little earlier every night and by April he’ll be gone until the fall. The seeing tonight wasn’t great, with a high, thin layer of clouds. The good news is, the slight smear gave objects a bit more size. Betelgeuse’s reddish hue is easily visible.

My favorite thing about Orion is that most of the bright stars in this photo will someday blow up. The one on the upper right, Bellatrix, won’t, but Betelgeuse, Saiph (lower left), and Rigel (lower right) will definitely go boom within a few million years. The three bright stars in Orion’s belt are all Class O stars, super hot and massive. They definitely aren’t long for this universe.


IMG_9829 (1)
Total lunar eclipse of Sept. 27, 2015, seen from Gorham, NH

I invited some kids from my school out to see the eclipse with me, which put me in teacher mode and not so much in photographer mode. I didn’t get the shots I could have gotten had I been a bit more focused on getting them. That’s probably fine. The world needs more teachers and fewer photographers, anyway.

On my Facebook page, I made a borderline snarky post about the “Supermoon” hype, which I’m thoroughly sick of. There have been at least 10 of these super-close full moons since I first heard of them. The moon doesn’t appear any larger to the naked eye, at least unless someone points it out. Now we had the “Supermoon eclipse.”

But I have to admit, the moon did look bigger, especially when it was low on the horizon. It had the horizon effect—which is an illusion—plus the supermoon thing, which isn’t. Both conspired to create a memorable moonrise this weekend.


Bee in flower, Pinkham Notch, NH
Bee in flower, Pinkham Notch, NH

Great Glen Trails has a lot of flowers planted around their visitors center. With winter coming, most of them are starting to look a little beat up. Most of them had some kind of insect crawling in our around them. But the bugs were glued to the blossoms. They weren’t flying at all. The ones that moved at all did so with a smooth, eerie slowness that didn’t necessary seem sad. It didn’t seem like anything.

It’s not looking good, but I’m rooting for the bugs just the same.