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The Eclipse - A Hackberry Farm Photography Workshop Field Report

If I thought long enough, I could come up with enough superlatives to describe what it's like to experience a total eclipse. However, I don't need to. It is simply incredible.


A couple of years ago, I discovered that Hackberry Farm would be in the path of totality. About ten months before the eclipse, I announced that I'd be holding a workshop at my place. Today is the day, and there's no going back. The sun rose on a beautiful and verdant landscape, and optimism is in the air.   


The Eclipse - A Hackberry Farm Photography Workshop Field Report
Area Map

At about 7:30am, folks began to show up at Hackberry Farm for one of the most anticipated photo workshops and celestial events in a while. We had our whole team prepared, and it was a family affair. Kristy and I served as hosts, Ryan (our son) ran the shuttle from where we parked folks back over to the barn, and Bubba (my brother) whipped up a mess of home-cooked breakfast burritos, complete with eggs that came straight from our farm. The scene is lively, and the mood is anticipatory.


At 9am sharp, we have an orientation meeting. We get to know one another, and I give the order of business for the day. Breakfast follows, and soon after, people filter outside to set up their gear. Their photographic ensembles run the gamut. Some (including me) have basic setups, including a camera, lens, solar filter, and tripod. Others have a more sophisticated arsenal with solar trackers or custom filters. Whatever the shooting style, everyone is here to capture the eclipse in the way that is most technologically comfortable for them.


The Eclipse - A Hackberry Farm Photography Workshop Field Report
Aerial View of the Workshop Participants

Two hours before the eclipse begins, everyone is running through their practice routines. While the banter is jovial, there's a bit of pressure knowing that we all have one shot to capture the perhaps once-in-a-lifetime event. To date, we've had Zoom meetings and nearly daily email communications about the workshop and practice protocols. The one thing I should have communicated stringently enough is how this eclipse and the weather leading up to it would play out in such dramatic fashion.


A week or so out, the weather forecasts were not promising. None of the forecasts agreed. In an email to the group eight days before the eclipse, I explained that "...if you look at the extended forecasts, you'll see some conflicting models where some show a good chance of rain. Don't be dismayed. Extended forecasts are based on historical averages and aren't necessarily accurate." In other words, more than three to five days out, weather forecasts are probabilities and not predictions.


The Eclipse - A Hackberry Farm Photography Workshop Field Report
The weather forecast on the morning of April 5, 2024

Early Friday morning (April 5th), before the eclipse, I composed an email and simply said, "WE ARE A GO!"


I checked the National Weather Service forecasts, and they said mostly sunny with a 30% chance of rain after 4 p.m. It looked like the weather would hold, so I encouraged those who were traveling from both coasts and the middle of the United States that it was my best guess and intuition that we'd be able to see the eclipse—despite what some weather forecasts reported.


When we began the morning of April 8th, the skies were nearly all clear. Save for a few high clouds here and there, the day looked promising. Then, at about 11am, a thick band of low clouds manifested seemingly out of nowhere. A steady southeastern breeze pushed moist air over us, and the humidity rose in advance of an upper-level energy system that threatened to trigger afternoon storms. The humidity brought forth the clouds and cloaked our blue sky. However, the weather forecasts predicted the clouds, and by noon (again, as expected), they were gone. What was left were mixed clouds that, while not ideal, were still workable to photograph the sun.


The Eclipse - A Hackberry Farm Photography Workshop Field Report
Clouds shroud the first half of the eclipse.

At 12:25 p.m., the moon eclipsed the first little wedge of the sun. The event began. For the next hour, the moon steadily crept in front of the sun and blocked it from our view at a snail's pace. However, the clouds increased during the same time. The group went from standing around wondering if the clouds would leave to frantically trying to capture an image whenever the clouds moved or thinned enough to see the event.  


At around 1:10pm, the clouds thickened and nearly completely obscured the sun. I look at some of the faces of the participants. They are as uncertain (and dismayed) as I am. It looks like all of the preparation, anticipation, and effort will be thwarted by something as simple as a cloud. The mood was quiet and maybe a bit melancholy.  


And then it happened...


At about 1:30 p.m. (ten minutes before totality), the cloud parted over Hackberry Farm, and the sky was almost entirely cloud-free. Sure, there were some scuds here and there, but the area immediately around the sun was clear. In an instant, the mood changed, and cameras clicked once again.


While one person is designated to follow the eclipse phases on her app and announce the upcoming phases to the group, I point out all of the natural changes around us. The first thing I noticed was the birds singing their evening songs. Then, the crickets begin to chirp, followed very shortly by the frogs in the wetland. The natural chorus seemed a bit disconcerting considering the time of day. As it got darker around us, buzzards raced to go to their roost, and the chickens in the yard hunkered down in place.  


"OH, MY!" I hear someone exclaim as the last wedge of light disappears behind the moon.


"IT'S HAPPENING! FILTERS OFF!" I say, and in unison, everyone removes the filters from their lenses. I look around to see if anyone needs any help (they don't), and then I look up. I stand in awe of a celestial event I had only seen in videos and read about in books. I have no words to express what I was feeling inside.  


The Eclipse - A Hackberry Farm Photography Workshop Field Report
Totality

I turn to my 85-year-old dad and brother, who are standing beside me, and soak in the moment with them. Then I walk around the barn and say something to Kristy and Ryan. I don't know why, but I felt like I wanted to connect with them in the moment.


Three and a half minutes isn't a long time, but that's all the time we have for totality. During the latter two-thirds of the event, I frantically took pictures, and when the diamond ring sunburst appeared, I was ready.  



The Eclipse - A Hackberry Farm Photography Workshop Field Report
The "diamond ring" sunburst appearing as the moon moves across the sun.


As the sun begins to emerge from the other side of the moon, a spontaneous cheer erupts, and everyone claps in earnest. It's a special moment to share the time with like-minded people with the same passion for photography.  


The filters go back on, and the last phase of the eclipse begins to play out. Instinctually, I leave my camera and walk around to every participant, shaking their hand or giving them a hug. For some reason, it feels like the right thing to do. Jovial is the best way I know to describe the mood. It is downright jovial around here.


At the end of the eclipse, as if right on cue, the clouds began to return. Their presence would be a harbinger because a few hours after the eclipse was over, severe thunderstorms, hail, and nearly five inches of rain blanketed the area. For a two-hour window in time, however, the clouds parted.  


You can believe what you want to, but I believe there was a divine influence in the midst. I can't be convinced otherwise.  


As the day winds down, we meet in the barn again for a recap. The day was emotional as I recalled how my love of photography was born in these backlands, where we now make our home on Hackberry Farm. Being around people like the ones who showed up for perhaps my first and only Solar Eclipse workshop strengthens my love for the medium.  


The Eclipse - A Hackberry Farm Photography Workshop Field Report
Phases of the eclipse composite.

After a supper of pulled pork sandwiches and some post-processing talk, people begin to say their goodbyes and filter out. By five o'clock, it's just me, Kristy, and Ryan. As we clean the barn and wash the day's dishes, we discuss the event and all the friendships strengthened around a shared love of photography.  


It is a day I'll never forget.


 

We are building something special here at Hackberry Farm Photo School. If you want to be a part of an educational organization that puts hospitality and your photographic education at the forefront, I hope you'll join one of our workshops.


The Eclipse - A Hackberry Farm Photography Workshop Field Report
The April 8, 2024 Hackberry Farm Eclipse Workshop Group

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2 Comments


Super images. Here in round rock for us, we had clouds in and out for some decent crescents, but 100% clouds on totality. I've seen some good images from others not too far from us, but it all depended on what clouds were served up to you.


Nice job and good to see a nice crowd!


Cheers,

Don and Edie

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Thanks, Don. It was a wonderful gathering.

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