The Devil is in the Details

I’m going to continue geeking out on eclipse images just a bit longer. But I assure you that I am also working on images from my recent trips to Namibia and Patagonia, so I will soon share some of them. I’m looking forward to that as well! Several people have asked me how I make images like the one here, which I call Precious Totality, Part II in homage to a similar image from 2017. These images are not easy to create, but here is a brief description to let you know how I created this one.

First, it helps to know a little bit about what you’re looking at, so let me begin there. During totality, you probably know that the moon blocks the bright disk of the sun. This allows us to see the corona, which blazes forth with unparalleled beauty. Since the corona is made of charged particles, it follows the shape of the sun’s magnetic field as the particles stream off into space. Iron filings on a piece of paper have a similar appearance when you put a magnet on the underside of the paper. When it comes to the corona, the light given off by the charged particles creates splendid details and fine structure. The problem is that this light is also super bright, so our eyes can’t see the details, even during totality.

It is also a major challenge to photograph the fine structures in the corona, which I liken to the holy grail of eclipse photography. No camera can adequately capture all the details in a single exposure. So the first trick is to capture many different exposures, similar to what you might do if you are familiar with HDR photography. Only for the corona, you need to take many exposures. For this image, I used images that covered 13 stops of luminance. The next step is to combine the exposures. There are some world-class scientists out there who create incredible images from custom software and algorithms that precisely align the various exposures (Google “Miloslav Druckmuller” and you’ll see what I mean). But I’m just a simple landscape photographer and I don’t have access to custom software. Instead, amateurs like me must use HDR software or Photoshop. For this image, I blended my exposures with Photoshop using blend modes and smart objects. Next, I enhanced the details in the blended image using a technique I learned from Photoshop videos (Google “Russell Brown eclipse” and you’ll find it). Finally, I applied some good ole fashioned dodging and burning to finish it off. That is the icing on the cake!

That is not a tutorial, but I hope it gives you a behind-the-scenes perspective of this image. People like to say the devil is in the details. Wow, that is totally true for eclipse images. Processing this image is unlike any other image I’ve ever processed. The details are difficult to coax from the exposures. It is easy to go overboard and create processing artifacts that look bad. For this image, I’ve spent three days perfecting it! I hope I have struck a good balance. For sure, it doesn’t compare to the likes of Miloslav Druckmuller, but I love the subtle details in this image. I’ve made a large print of this image that I wish I could share, the this post will have to do. I hope you like it. Let me know what you think!


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