The Eclipse on the Playa

There’s a little hocus-pocus going on in this picture, but it’s what was necessary to show you both the people AND what they were looking at. The image was made by holding a piece of #13 welder’s glass in front of the lens, and that filtered out all of the light except for that piece of the sun that you see in the middle of the picture. The surface of the glass also reflected the images of the people behind us, who were looking at the sun as we took the shot. You can see our hand holding the glass in the lower left portion of the frame. (Inspiration and collaboration for this methodology came from the lovely and talented Erica Bartel.)

If you couldn’t be in the path of the total eclipse, we thought that being in the Black Rock Desert, building Burning Man 2017, wasn’t the worst place you could be.

At the morning meeting, Cobra Commander said that there were plenty of eclipse glasses available, “as prophesied.” [They were donated by a Burner for this exact purpose — ed.] And so it came to pass, and that which could not be ordered on Amazon appeared as if by wizardry for all those who would partake.

Sheepshank said the word for the day was syzgy, “a straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies in a gravitational system,” so what better place to observe the eclipse than at Zac Coffin’s Temple of Gravity, way out past the Temple, near the trash fence that encircles the city.

We weren’t the only ones who had the idea, of course.

There were a goodly number of other folks either playing hooky or who had gotten time off from work to put themselves in a good place to experience the eclipse.

The Temple of Gravity from afar.

And then the next thing you knew, here comes D.A., boom box looping “Total Eclipse of the Sun,” and he climbs up on the Temple and starts belting out the song. The soundtrack for the experience also included, “Ain’t No Sunshine, When She’s Gone,” and “Here Comes the Sun,” and a bunch of other solar ditties. But it was hard to match the perfection of “Total Eclipse.”

We weren’t in the path of totality, but the quality of the altered light was mesmerizing. Another camera buff said that there was about a half-stop difference in exposure in the amount of light reaching us, which isn’t very much. But it was … different. Paler, more desaturated, a little more blue.

But what really struck us was the change in temperature. Of course it has been hot here, plenty hot, but as the eclipse hit its deepest point here, it felt like the air temperature dipped by a good 10 degrees. With a breeze, there might even have been a goosebump or two.

People swung on the sculpture, put on their eclipse glasses and took it all in. Mike in the metal shop lent us a bit of welder’s glass (filter #13), and we could look and see the shadow taking a bite out of the sun without the benefit of glasses. It also allowed us to have a little fun with the reflection of people in the glass, even as the eclipsed sun shown through.

Obviously, this is more a picture story than a word story, so let’s have at it:

John the Newbie took in the sight from Media Mecca


The early crowd at the Temple of Gravity.


Here was another way of seeing what the sun was doing: Make pinholes in a paper plate ….


… and let the eclipse shadows fall on another paper plate.



This might give you a better idea of how the reflection + eclipse shots were accomplished: Shoot through the welder’s glass to get the sun, and also capture the reflections on the surface of the glass.


Hold the glass in front of your lens and shoot both the sun and the reflections of the people on the sculpture.


Some folks on the Temple crew took some time out to watch the sky.
Eclipse glasses were available at the morning meeting and in the commissary.

Green Forest Monkey tried to capture the eclipse with an iPhone hack.
D.A. was in fine voice.









About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

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