Shooting your vacation, the iPhone 4 way: Pt 2

Posted by on July 15, 2010 in Astronomical Event, Distant Suns App, Fun | 0 comments

After leaving my cameras in the men’s room at Gate 25 of the Santiago, Chile airport (D’oh!), it became necessary to make my iPhone 4 my exclusive camera to shoot the July 11 total solar eclipse.In Patagonia for the solar eclipse

This posting is merely some observations about the phone’s handling in less than ideal conditions.

The eclipse’s path began in Argentinean Patagonia, the most southern province in Argentina. Our target was the town of El Catafane, pop. 25000, a popular destination for summer vacationers.

While Patagonia was not known for clear skies during the winter, about 20 eclipse chasers and me (the only certifiable “eclipse virgin”) came from all across the US and Mexico hoping against the odds to see a sunset corona. Totality was to take place when the sun was a mere 1 degree above the horizon immediately before sunset.

The promised clouds and snow never materialized, as Sunday dawned perfectly clear, and surprisingly warm, with a temp peaking about 45F degrees.

Four of our party brought pretty hefty DSLRs, everyone else would use their small pocket cameras and me with my iPhone. One woman from San Diego had just purchased a Nikon DSLR but still didn’t feel comfortable using it so told me I could us it instead while she’d take the iPhone.

Viewing site in Patagonia for the solar eclipseOur viewing site was about 20 miles south of town up on a rocky hillside, about 1000 to 1200 feet elevation. Snow covered about half the landscape, the rest made up of some large rocks or very prickly bushes. The iPhone did quite well in the cold, my hands not so well. Since the touch screen required raw flesh to work right it was necessary to keep my right hand ungloved. As the temperature dropped that became much more of a nuisance. Several times the camera’s screen stopped responding, so I had to restart the camera app and one time, restart the camera itself. I don’t know if this was due to the cold or the heavy use. I would suggest getting gloves with the fingertips removed for cold shooting conditions.

When handing it over to Lucille while I took her Nikon, I instructed her to only take pictures over places that didn’t include rocks in case she dropped it. Not long after that I heard two words that no iPhone owner wants to hear: “Hey, whose phone is that in the snow?”. I was using my old 3GS case, which is too big for the ‘4, so it slipped out easily from time to time as it did here (and at a Tango show, where it popped into a wine glass, breaking the glass). Fortunately it only got a little wet, which seemed not to hurt it at all.

First contact (when the moon first starts eating away at the sun) came at about 4:45 PM. Totality would be in an hour. I went around testing the Nikon, setting it into burst mode and Lucille went around having a blast with the iPhone, when she wasn’t dropping it at least. Her job was to shoot video of the entire totality, about 3 minutes worth.

As the sun/moon closed in on the horizon, there was some discussion about the mountains in the distance and how high above the horizon they might be. Considering we had a scant1 degree to play with, there really was no margin for error. If we were higher then the mountains, then there would be no problem. If lower, sobbing would surely ensue.

Finally the last couple of minutes worth of the crescent rapidly vanished, and the sky darkened. We could sense the shadow of the moon begin to sweep down upon us at several hundred miles-per-hour, as we were the first part of the earth to intercept it. I started the Nikon, Lucille stared the video.The solar eclipse in Patagonia

Then and only then we discovered the mountain’s height: 1.5 degrees. Normally cheering breaks out at totality, but in this case it was more of a collective “wtf?”.


Solar Eclipse in Patagonia thru Distant Suns augmented realityI had made in intricate schedule of shooting for the first minute, but that went out the door when someone shouted “there’s Venus!”. That and Mercury popped out very clearly as did Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. There was a small cloud hovering over the mountain’s peak, reflecting the eerie light apparently from the corona. But it was only the lunar shadow told us that something oddly beautiful, and surreal must have been in progress. We could only laugh or maybe cry. The weatherman forgot to warn about the partly-scattered-mountain-ranges I guess.

Two minutes 48 seconds later, the distant clouds burst forth again in golden hues, reflecting the no longer visible sun. The sky brightened up, all but Venus faded back into the twilight blue.

Behind us? The tops of the hills we had been in this morning were glowing a ruddy red as if to mock us. Another eclipse group was up there so and had seen the full event.

Oh well.



The video came out surprisingly well,capturing the odd coloring of the sky, Venus and Sirius and the disappointed hush over the camp. It was fairly noisy as one would expect in low light conditions on an inexpensive sensor, but otherwise a nice souvenir of the event. The veterans where pretty impressed as well.

Even though I still hadn’t seen an eclipse, at least I had a fabulous dry run for the Australia 2012.

The following day we visited the Glacier National Park, and fortunately, I didn’t drop the iPhone into the lake unlike an unfortunate fellow eclipse chaser.

Glacier National Park, Patagoinia