The Story Behind an Image, Part 9

Ever since 2004, I’ve had a passionate love affair with photography. And come to discover that I have a fondness for photos that come with a story. Over the years, I have shot a few of them. Here’s the next installment in “The Story Behind an Image” series.

Part 9: “Chasing the ‘Ring of Fire’: My Texas Solar Eclipse Adventure”

While unwinding after work on Thursday, I hopped online to see if there were any updates to the Wings over Houston airshow. Which I was going to attend on the upcoming weekend. According to the show’s website, the USAF A-10 demo team will not be there, fortunately the F-35 team will take its place. I went over to the show’s Facebook page to confirm the demo switch. And their latest post confirms the switch. The F-35 is going to look great in the light down in Houston. While am here, let’s scroll down to see what else is new. I came across a post stating that at the show they would be handing out solar glasses. Instantly thought, “Why the hell are they handing out solar glasses?” Upon further reading, they announce that on Saturday there will be an annual solar eclipse during the show. I immediately opened a new tab, and Googled “Solar eclipse in Texas”. With the exciting results, I shouted to my monitor “No fucking way!” There was going to be an annual solar eclipse and the path of totality over Houston was going to be 80% coverage. But three hours west in Corpus Christi it was going to be 100%. I’ve always wanted to photograph an eclipse from beginning to end. And not wanting to let this unique opportunity pass me by, I felt it was worth missing the Saturday airshow to head to Corpus Christi.

This led me down an informative rabbit hole, learned about the two types of eclipses and how they happen. This one is going to be an annular eclipse. This happens when the Moon is closer to Earth and doesn’t completely cover the Sun and produces a “Ring of Fire” around the Moon. After 30 minutes of watching various quality YouTube videos, I found that I’ll need a specialized solar filter to protect my camera sensor from the sun’s blinding light. That meant I could not look through the viewfinder with the solar filter in place. And I would have to use manual focus and shoot in “Live view” on the LCD screen. This is where you use the LCD screen to display what the camera’s sensor is seeing in real-time.

Now how in the hell am I going to get a solar filter before Saturday morning? At the time it was too late to contact any camera shops here in Detroit as well as in Houston. Come Friday morning, I feverishly called all the local camera shops to no avail. Then I found Houston Camera Exchange and they had exactly what I needed. I explained my time-sensitive situation to the salesperson. That I was going to be landing there around 6 pm, but I had to pick up my rental car, and then drive there to pick it up. He quickly replied, “With Friday afternoon traffic, that’s not going to happen.” I even asked if they could mail it overnight to my hotel but even that couldn’t guarantee it showing up in time. Running out of ideas, I googled “Pick up service in Houston” and came across TaskRabbit. According to their website, A same-day service platform instantly connects you with skilled Taskers to help with cleaning, furniture assembly, home repairs, running errands, and more. There I easily found a local “Tasker”, and Venmo him his hourly rate along with the amount to buy the solar filter from Houston Camera Exchange. Then drop it off at the front desk of my hotel so the staff could hold it for me until I check in later that evening.

With that done, I would need a tripod to steady the lens and camera body during shooting. The one I have is over 10 years old, not in the best of condition as well as it is not very sturdy. I knew there was a Best Buy near the hotel in Houston. And I could easily drive over and pick one up. With everything packed and ready, I headed down to DTW, boarded my flight, and arrived a little after 6 p.m. I got my checked bag from baggage claim then it was a quick bus ride over to the rental car center. Got CarPlay running in the rental and made my way to my hotel. With the snail-paced afternoon traffic, I got to my hotel in Pearland at about 8:25 pm and Best Buy closed at 9. I quickly dropped off my bags and gear in the room, then headed over before they closed along with finding some quick and easy dinner.

Entering with a hurried pace, I headed over to the photography section to browse their selection of tripods. The only one they had was a delicate-looking vlogging tripod for $150. And I heard myself say, “You got to be kidding me?” It was this or nothing. At this point, it was the last piece of gear needed for this epic solar event and Best Buy was my only option at the time of day. After picking up some grilled teriyaki chicken from Panda Express, I headed back to my hotel. Once there, it was time to eat along with figuring out what time to leave to get to Corpus Christi half an hour before the eclipse began so that it would give me some time to set up. I also had to find a location to shoot the eclipse from. Since I’m a sucker for flowers, the South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center just outside of Corpus Christi would be a perfect place to photograph the eclipse. With that set and after such a long and frantic day, it was time for bed.

Woke up the next morning excited for the day’s solar event. Before heading out, I wanted to pick up some snacks and water for the road trip ahead. But first I showered, began getting dressed, and exclaimed out loud, “Where the fuck are my socks!” I was so sidetracked by all the events leading up to this as well as being excited about the eclipse, that I had forgotten to pack them. So, guess what else I added to my list of provisions before starting the trek to Corpus Christi.

Finally on the road with some new snazzy socks, enjoying the sunrise while the suburb slowly transitioned into vast Texan fields. Guided by the “Road Bitch” (the voice of Google Maps) I began to settle into the drive, set the cruise control, and kept a lookout for somewhere to stop for breakfast. Was thinking of a Burger King, McDonald’s, or heck even a larger gas station. But mile after mile, there was nothing. Worst case scenario, I would just get something in or around Corpus Christi. I’ll munch on some snacks to hold me over until then. At least the weather was looking good for the eclipse. There were one or two small clouds here and there but nothing that could foul up shooting.

Two hours in and according to Google Maps, I was about 80 miles away from Corpus Christi. As I came over a hill in the road, I was unexpectedly greeted with a solid wall of clouds all the way to the horizon. My sense of urgency to stop rapidly increased. With no exits in sight, I frantically hit the hazards, stomped on the brakes, and pulled off to the side of the road. I instantly pulled up the weather forecast for Corpus Christi on my phone and saw it was currently overcast but was supposed to clear up around 2 p.m. Which sucks because the timing of the eclipse was from 10:30 to 12:30. And I started to beat myself up for not checking it before hitting the road this morning. I quickly shut that train of thought down and focused on what’s my next move.

Was starting to feel the onset of hangry. It would be good to get a bite to eat, slow down, and reassess my current dilemma. I remember seeing a gas station a few miles back on the opposite side of the highway. So, I “Whipped a Shitty” and headed to the station. I thought about driving back and just shooting the eclipse somewhere in the Houston area. Unfortunately, by the time I would get back, the eclipse would’ve been done and over with. And trying to make the best lemonade I could with my newly picked batch of lemons, I figured I’d shoot the eclipse from here, wherever here was. It wouldn’t be 100% coverage, but it would be higher than in Houston and the sky wasn’t overcast here.

After arriving at the gas station, I picked up a quick bite to eat and googled “Parks near me”. And the only one for miles was quiet little Jaycee Park less than 4 miles away. Also, I picked up some solar glasses there for my protection while viewing the eclipse. With my level of excitement going back up, I made my way over to the small quiet park. Once there, as I was getting out of the car, I quickly realized that it was windy as shit! Which is not good for trying to stabilize any size telephoto lens on a smallish vlogging tripod. I brought my 2x teleconverter to attach to my 100-400mm Mk 2, to increase my reach and making my focal length 800mm

To decrease the wind from shaking the shit out of my lens/body combo, I decided to use the car as much of a wind barrier as possible. Which meant shooting from the passenger side with the front door open. After about 15 minutes of struggling with the wind and 800mm of focal length mounted on the frail tripod, finding and manually focusing in on the Sun in Live View, I came up with a pretty janky system to keep the Sun and moon in the center of the frame. And to add to the silliness, the Live viewing kept cutting off after about 20 seconds due to no autofocus. Fun times! Just as I got everything figured out, the eclipse started. While taking a closer look at the view screen, I thought there were some dust spots on the screen itself or something on the solar filter. I first checked the filter, and it was free from dust. With a microfiber cloth, I tried cleaning the screen itself, but they were not coming off. Slightly embarrassing to admit but that’s when I knew the lens was in focus and those were sunspots.

Knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to capture the “Ring of Fire” from my location, I still wanted to catch as much of the eclipse sequence as possible. So, I took two or three shots every few minutes. The whole time moving and adjusting the tripod to keep the Sun and the moon centered. From the beginning to the end of the eclipse, their movements were surprisingly quite noticeable. All the while keeping an eye on the shutter speeds. Again, I was surprised that I was getting such high shutter speeds shooting through the solar filter. Which if you haven’t seen one, it looks like a super thin piece of aluminum foil that only the power of the Sun can shine through.

Then as the maximum coverage approached, Mother Nature had to start throwing some shade on the celestial event. She pushed a high thin cloud bank in front of the eclipse. I only noticed it because the shutter speeds were dropping while sitting on one of the car’s floor mats as a cushion from the asphalt parking lot. I tried my best to shoot in between the patchy clouds when the shutter speeds were higher. And as luck would have it, the clouds broke up as the eclipse approached its end. During the two hours, I shot over 300 images. With all I had to go through to get to this point, I hoped at least one of them would be sharp and shareable. But shooting in windy conditions, on not the sturdiest tripod, along with manually focusing 800mm in Live View… I wasn’t very hopeful.

Once the eclipse was over, I carefully packed up my gear, typed in the address of my hotel into Google Maps, and had a pleasant and uneventful trip back. After a satisfying Texas BBQ dinner, I reviewed my images via the view screen. I checked them for sharpness and felt much better about my images. But the real test is when I get home and look at them on a calibrated monitor. From finding out about the eclipse, trying to get a solar filter, not checking the weather forecast, to struggling with all of Mother Nature’s shenanigans, it was a worthwhile but challenging and memorable experience. So, without further delay, here’s my series of images of the 2023 annual solar eclipse from Jaycee Park in Ganado, Texas.

Click or tap image below to view larger.

Until next post,


Gear used:

Canon EOS 90D DSLR

Canon EF 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

Canon EF 2X II Extender

Mr. Star Guy White Light Solar Filter 77mm

JOBY RangePod Tripod for Camera and Vlogging


< The Story behind an Image part 8

If you like what you see, consider hitting the “Like” button or maybe start to follow my little blog!

The Story Behind an Image, Part 8

Ever since 2004, I’ve had a passionate love affair with photography. And come to discover that I have a fondness for photos that comes with a story. Over the years, I have shot a few of them. Here’s the next installment in “The Story Behind an Image” series.

Part 8: Capturing the Magic: Unveiling Mother Nature’s Canvas

So, this year I’ve returned to my love of aviation photography. As a birthday gift to myself, I upgraded my gear and have been spotting all around Detroit metro airport (DTW). And before I shot a single frame, I had an image in my mind that I know I wanted to capture. It would be of an airliner landing either at sunrise or sunset with a dramatic sky in the background. The aircraft would be most likely silhouetted but recognizable. And from the start, I never gave much thought to what airline, or the type of aircraft was going to be in the shot. I wanted some type of emotional background to be the subject. Also had no idea exactly when I was going to take the shot. Having to wait for Mother Nature to do her thing to make the shot possible.

My first attempt at the image was back in February, soon after I got my new camera/lens combo. I purchased the 90D along with the 100-400mm Mk2. Spotting for me is my cheap and easy way of getting back into the routine of photographing aircraft. I can grab my gear, and some snacks, drive down to DTW, and I’m only out a few bucks in gas money. There I can get back to being comfortable in my shooting stance, reconstituting that muscle memory of changing settings without looking at the camera and just enjoying the time behind it. Nevertheless, to say those few outings were cold and brief. And from the location I was shooting from, the sun was setting low on the horizon due to it still being winter.

Now that it’s springtime and I’ve been regularly spotting at DTW. Over the long Easter weekend, I found a couple of new shooting locations and became infatuated with two European young ladies, Lufthansa 442 and Air France 378. The following week, my enthusiasm for spotting continued, and found myself back at my new favorite spotting location, an abandoned gas station at the corner of Middlebelt and Goddard Road. And after a busy work week followed by afternoon spotting, by the time Saturday rolled around, I was tired and hesitant to go through the motions of spotting.

The weather had been great all week, but Saturday had a chance of afternoon thunderstorms. All day long, I kept a watchful eye on the weather forecast. Then about 5:30, a fragmented line of storms started popping west of DTW and slowly heading east. Growing thunderstorms definitely qualify for an emotional background. And Air France’s lovely A350 is just about an hour away from touchdown. And with the imagery of a brilliant gloss white Airbus contrasting with the dark gray of afternoon storm clouds was plenty to motivate me to gear up and do some more “spirited driving” down to DTW.

As soon as I merged onto I-94 West and saw the darkened and moody clouds in front of me, I enthusiastically said out loud, “Today could be the day!” My only growing concern was that the storm either blow through before Air France passes in front of my favorite shooting location or they die out before they get there. After exiting the interstate, I made my way to the deserted gas station. Unfortunately, it wasn’t looking like the storms were going to stay together for much longer. But the sky behind the airport was still dramatic. But Air France was still another 25 minutes out and that damn star was playing hide and go-seek with the fading thunderstorms. It would be a gross understatement to say that the sky was magical.

And sure as shit, when Air France shows up, Mother Nature started throwing shade. The Sun hid behind a substantial size cloud and the atmosphere visually quieted down as she glided past in slow motion. My expectations had gotten the best of me, and I felt like it was a lost opportunity with no help from Mother Nature.

But moments after the French Airbus landed, Mother Nature decided to show off once again and I wasn’t going to just pack up and go home. Who knows when or where such rare lighting conditions will happen again, and will I be there to shoot it? I stayed for another hour, photographing some of the most stunning images I’ve had the opportunity to capture. Even on the tiny LCD screen, I knew I had something special. Arrival after arrival, the light, and the tonal range just got better and better. In between flights, I feverishly chimp and was blown away. Amazingly to my fortune, I was the only spotter there photographing the light show.

One thing that I’ve come to understand about photography, especially when it comes to aviation, is that you go out aiming for a particular photo, but the reality is you must accept what you get.

Until next post,



The Story behind an Image part 9>

If you like what you see and read here, click the “Like” and “Follow” button. Along with feel free to leave a Comment below.

The Story Behind an Image, Part 7

Ever since 2004, I’ve had a passionate love affair with photography. And come to discover that I have a fondness with photos that comes with a story. Over the years, I have shot a few of them. Here’s the next story behind one of my images.

Part 7: The image that makes me smile

Any aviation enthusiast and or photographer who has ever been to a NAS Oceana airshow knows in the morning you do two things, shoot statics and shop for swag. During the airshow weekend, most of the squadrons based at Oceana sets up rows of tents and offers tons of squadron merch. From T-shirts, Cruise DVDs, challenge coins, coffee mugs to photos and illustrations. In 2008, I attended the show with two fellow photographers, Shawn Yost and Craig Scaling. All weekend long we were cracking jokes, quoting “Top Gun” and all around enjoying each other’s company.

Saturday morning, Shawn and I made our way through security, and met up with Craig. We made our way over to the “Squadron Mall” to buy all the swag we could not live without. Shawn and Craig both fancy squadron cruise DVDs and challenge coins. Zaps (squadron stickers) are my jam. After spending an untold amount of money, it was time to figure out where in the hell we were going to put it all. Remember, its morning. We still have a whole day of shooting ahead. You can’t hold on to all that swag and shoot jets?! You got to pack that shit up! After packing our swag into every nook and cranny of our cameras bags, we headed toward to show line to figure out where we want to shoot from. If I remember correctly, Craig wanted to head over to the static to reshoot something. Craig took off his backpack to put his DVDs away. With his hands full, he asks me to hold his camera. He then processes to stuff his DVDs into his overpacked backpack. With a devilish grin on my face, I nodded to Shawn. He instantly stuck the pose and I quickly framed them both and press the shutter. Craig had his camera set to continuous shooting and it shocked the hell out of me when I heard his shutter blasting away. And as quickly as it happened, I lowered Craig’s camera and Shawn recomposed himself. Craig asks for his camera back. ”You’re shitting me, Right?!” I said to myself. He didn’t realize what just happened?! So, I handed him his camera as if nothing even happened. Trying not to laugh, Shawn and I were both amazing he didn’t hear the shutter snapping away or pick up on what we just did. Looking back now, it was beautiful! Craig went off to shoot statics, Shawn and I in disbelief found a shooting location. We enjoyed the show, packed up our gear, and headed to the hotel. While there, dump cards, charge batteries, shower, dinner and get ready to do it all over again the next day.

Sunday morning, we woke up, got some breakfast, and head to the base. Again, parked the car, geared up, made our way through security, shot the show, and met up with Craig afterward. I do remember, we headed over to my parent’s house that night for a home-cooked meal. On the way over, We figure Craig would have said something about Saturday’s little photo shoot, but nothing. At my parent place, we eat, and we laughed. Heck, my dad even broke out his old cruise books when he served on the Ticonderoga (CV-14) and Saratoga (CV-60). Back in the hotel, we chilled, and eventually off to bed. Come Monday morning, we all headed our separate ways back home.

According to the EXIF data from the image, it was 10 days from the time I shot it to when Craig found it and email it to Shawn and I. He named the image “ShawnandStevearedead”. Key takeaways are. First, regardless of what’s you are shooting, Have fun! And second… Never let me hold your camera when Shawn is around!  


< The Story behind an Image part 6

If you like what you see and read here, click the “Follow” and “Like” button. Along with feel free to leave a reply below.

The Story Behind an Image, Part 6

Ever since 2004, I’ve had a passionate love affair with photography. And come to discover that I have a fondness with photos that comes with a story. Over the years, I have shot a few of them. Here’s the next installment in my “The Story behind an Image” series.

Part 6: The start of a new chapter

This story starts back in 2005 after months of penny-pinching saving, I had finally recovered and upgraded my gear from my break in at my apartment. I acquired at the time Canons new 20D and both their 100-400mm zoom and the 400mm F/5.6 prime lense. But after shooting with both at various events, I felt having them both was redundant. And wanted to narrow it down to one lense I preferred most.

It came down to the classic photographer’s argument of zoom versus prime. What’s more important, versatility or clarity? For me the brighter exposure and its tack sharpness of the 400 5.6 won me over. As well as its image quality was far superior to the zoom and it was an absolute joy to shoot.

Another contributing factor why I got rid of the zoom was during this time in my juvenile love affair with photography, I had a growing concern about the “look” of my images. Specifically, what’s going to set my images apart from others? Especially images from those who attend the same events as I. Since the vast majority of air show photographers prefer using a zoom lense over primes. I chose to shoot strictly prime. But doing so comes with its own issues. The most obvious is its lack of versatility in its inability to zoom. The way I coped with this inability was to concentrate on composition and trying to fill the frame with my subject with little to no negative space.

It’s worth mentioning during this time the highest resolution sensor Canon had was only 16 megapixels with the 1D mk2. Which was totally out of my price range. With such a low megapixel count to today’s standards, tight cropping was very noticeable, and you saw it in the image quality. And my 20D was only 8.2 megapixels and it struggled to shoot 5 frames a second. Without a consistent high frame rate, it made it pretty damn difficult to get a full frame uncropped image of a close flying aircraft successfully.

It was also during this time I discovered I fancied capturing images of warbirds much more than the sleek modern jets. To me, they are like living machines with these old massive engines for hearts. I love the fact that they were painstakingly restored by hand and maintained with great affection. And I sought out aviation events that cater to them. In July I stumbled upon “The Greatest show on Turf”. A warbird show that is held on a grass field in Geneseo, New York. From my apartment in Michigan, it was nearly 6 hours away. If I remember correctly, my plan was to drive to Geneseo on Saturday and stay the night at a hotel. Check out Sunday morning and head down to the show. Then after a day of photographing airplanes in the summer sun, make the grueling six-hour trip back to Michigan so I can go back to work bright and early Monday morning. Looking back now, I was 29 at the time and I know I can’t handle a weekend of that pace these days.

I remember on the drive over being so intoxicated with excitement about the show. I’ve never been to that part of New York before as well as seeing warbirds operate on a grass field. Entertaining all my wild expectations about this virgin show of mine, I drove on into the night. After arriving at the hotel, I found something for dinner and was off to bed.

From the hotel, it was a scenic 30-minute drive to the airfield. And my unexplored airshow questions had a child like rhythm to them in my head during the trip down. The most frequent was, what direction is the crowd line in relationship with the path of the Sun? That has become my main and driving question of what aviation events I will attend. And to my surprise, the event runs southwest to the northeast, with the crowd line facing northwest. Meaning the Sun was to be at are back for most of the day. But come late afternoon, it maybe a bit tricky but nothing that could not be avoided.

I recall flying started early with trainers then worked its way to the fighters. And earlier on in the show the vintage aerial display was interrupted by two New York Air National guard F-16s and performed a couple of spirited passes. I quickly switched over to aperture priority, selected F/5.6, composed my subject and held the shutter down. And as quickly as they showed up, they were heading home. While chimping, I came across the image that is so closely tied to this story.

Since I began shooting aviation events, there is always that one image you want to be razor sharp. You must remember; this was 2005 and the resolution of the LCD screens on the back of cameras were shit. What looked sharp on the rear screen versus what is sharp on your monitor were two different things. The show continued and afterwards I said my goodbyes to sleepy little Geneseo and drove back to Michigan.

After an interminable and exhausting day at work, I finally got to view my images for the past weekend. And to my amazement, the one image I was fixated on was absolutely razor sharp. When viewed full size, you can clearly read the name of the crew chief on the side of the canopy. It’s what this image did for my confidence in my abilities as a photographer and was a turning point in my photographic journey. My mindset changed from “I hope I can” to “I can” capture images with the look I want. Like any creative individual, having the confidence in yourself and your gear is huge. It’s ironic, I went to Geneseo to capture warbird images and unexpectedly gained confidence in an image of a modern fighter.


Be sure to check out

The Story behind an Image part 7 >

If you like what you see and read here, click the “Follow” and “Like” button. Along with feel free to leave a reply below.