How I Shot Donald Trump and the Solar Eclipse in One Photograph Without Photoshop

When I first found out a full solar eclipse was passing through Charleston, South Carolina, I marked my calendar hoping I would be able to photograph it. Today the eclipse passed through the final stretch of America, and even with a full year of forewarning, I was not prepared to photograph it at all. With only two hours before totality, I decided to take a huge gamble and aim for two unique photographs that would be done 100 percent straight out of camera. The results are pretty interesting.

A Charleston Eclipse

For the first photograph I wanted to capture something that was unique to Charleston. Unfortunately, our city is very short; like the tallest buildings are five stories short. This meant that it would be near impossible to shoot up towards the eclipsing sun and capture anything of interest. I did a few test shots you can see below that are very abstract, but ultimately I decided to photograph the most iconic landmark in all of Charleston. The Arthur Ravenel Bridge is, for better or worse, probably the most photographed thing in the city, but I knew I wanted to create an image that was unique to this special day.

I thought it would be interesting to use an old double exposure trick that many photographers used back in the days of film. Luckily my Nikon D750 has a double exposure mode that lets you take two photos back to back and it combines them into one single file. The process isn't as easy as it sounds though because you need to make sure your base image isn't too bright or else it will bleed into your second exposure. Another thing you have to consider is your composition before starting the process. If I wanted to have the eclipse on the top right of the frame, I would have to memorize exactly where the bridge began and ended so I would not overlap the eclipse directly on top of the silhouetted structure. Also, in order to make the eclipse register at all on a DSLR camera, I had to use a super telephoto zoom lens. For this shoot I mounted the new Tamron 18-400mm lens which is for cropped cameras but that actually gave me even more flexibility when it came time to aim my camera towards the sun.

Below are some preliminary tests I did as I waited for the first contact of the moon against the sun. The results are pretty interesting, but ultimately I figured many of these were too graphic and I decided to focus solely on the entire bridge.

Test shots looking for an interesting composition

I wound up shooting frame after frame during different phases of the eclipse and tweaking the white balance. If you were to combine these photos in Photoshop you could easily adjust the white balance of the two images individually and then combine them. With the in-camera double exposure feature, everything becomes burned into the frame with little to no adjustments. Overall I am really pleased with the final photos I captured, and I have posted two of my favorites below. For those who might question the authenticity of these photos, I have uploaded one and two raw files you can download to play with yourself.

My two favorite eclipse photos of the Ravenel Bridge in Charleston.

The Donald Trump Eclipse

I heard a quote from one of my favorite photographers that goes something like "always take the biggest risk on your biggest shoots because if it pays off, it will pay off big." Chances are I will only experience one total solar eclipse in my life. The safe approach would be just to shoot a telephoto shot of the event. For totality I decided to create perhaps the most polarizing photograph of my career: the Trump Eclipse.

The Donald Trump Eclipse was taken by shooting through a paper cutout while the eclipse was in totality.

The idea was pretty simple. I thought, what type of photograph would Donald Trump retweet and how could I make that? I wasn't out to create a pro-Trump or anti-Trump photograph, but I did want to create something that he might like. I also knew if I crafted the photo well, maybe those who oppose Trump would also enjoy it because it could have two completely different meanings. Obviously Donald Trump is a highly polarizing figure, so I guess I'm about to find out firsthand just how far the pendulum swings with this weird photograph.

High key white version that I decided wouldn't work when totality would happen.

To create this photo I wanted to use a black or white silhouette of the red-haired one that I could use a template around the frame of my photograph. The idea was to shoot through the cutout and capture the solar eclipse. I did one test where I used the sun to illuminate the pure white cutout which looked really cool, but I knew once totality occurred, it would be near impossible to create a blown out pure white template (without also relying on flash photography). Instead I settled on the dark bordered version you can see below.

This photograph was even harder to frame up compared to the previous bridge shot. Not only did I have to get a dark — but not too dark — exposure of the silhouette, I also had to make sure the template wasn't blowing in the wind. Looking back, if I had more time I would have cut out the template on poster board. Once the template was shot, I also had to make sure every photo I took of the eclipse was perfectly centered into the opening of his head. I have a bunch of images but the one above is the only one where the eclipse lined up high enough in the frame for my liking.

Once the event was over and I reviewed my images, I was extremely excited that I was able to pull off such a challenging photo, completely in camera, all while shooting a 60-second event that will never happen in my city again. The weather in Charleston was partially cloudy with lightning storms around during the eclipse which I think made for an even more dramatic event. As you can see in the video above, the time-lapses and photos my friends captured were much more interesting in my opinion than those of a perfectly clear sky. That being said, it did get so cloudy during the final 15 seconds of totality that you could not see the sun at all until the full eclipse was already over. I did snap a couple of normal eclipse photos but they weren't nearly as exciting as the real event.

The "traditional" eclipse photo.

Will this photograph of Trump get shared by the president or will it turn into a bunch of anti-Trump memes? I don't know. What I do know from the response I have already gotten from it on Instagram is that this is perhaps the most controversial image I have ever created while at the same time being pretty simple and lacking explicit content.

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140 Comments

Rex Jones's picture

Hahaha, this is perfect!

David J. Crewe's picture

But....why though?

"We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated." –Donald Trump

Ken Flanagan's picture

Its not education people lack, its common sense. It would be interesting to hear what people think is the most immediate danger to our way of life here in the USA.

Political correctness and illegal immigration. Those are two things that Trump wants to get rid of, and rightly so.

Edit: Why would anyone downvote my comment? Political correctness gets in the way of the truth and impedes and blocks discourse and freedom of expression. Illegal immigration is ILLEGAL. Allowing in 10s of millions from essentially one culture and with a common language is also national suicide. That's demographic common sense. That's common sense, period.

Anonymous's picture

Good luck pandering to the breitshart crowd. I hear that site is doing great with advertisers.

Not sure why you posted that, but I doubt Trump meant that in a derogatory way towards his voters, as many on left made it out to be. I would say it was a Yankee Doodle type reply to the opposition at the time.

Anonymous's picture

By quoting this statement it says a lot. Do you think the poorly educated can't pick a good president. That maybe you think that only the highly educated should vote. That the poorly educated are stupid? Words do matter and what you quote says a lot about how you think.

I literally googled "funny trump quotes" and copied and pasted one into the comment box. It's really amazing how people on both sides can look at a picture of Trump or read a quote from Trump and jump to such wildly different conclusions.

Anonymous's picture

Right, words have meaning and posting something without thinking about it has meaning also. Come you guys don't make excuses for what you post. If you didn't think it was relevant then you shouldn't have posted it. This isn't an amateur site anymore. People take what you post to heart. To a lot of people this is not funny and it is not a joke. I take it for granted that you mean what you say and you think before you post. If you don't you should.

Are you mad that Trump said those words or do you think it's unfair that I quoted them?

Anonymous's picture

I'm not mad at all. I'm sad that you have to hide behind a Trump quote and pretend not to have an opinion. Do you support Trump or not. Is the escilpe image a statement on Trump or not. As I have said there are many things that could have been used as a double exposure. To say that it is only to teach a photo technique insults your readers. To call it art insults the art world. I just want you to be honest and tell your readers the purpose behind this whole thing. Is it a joke, not funny to a lot of us. No I'm am not mad just trying to get to the purpose of all of this. I wish that a photography site that I admire could just stick to photography because lords knows that there are enough sites against Trump. And yes I voted for Trump so I must be one of the poorly educated .

Patrick Hall's picture

I don't know if I buy the "to say this is art insults the art world" argument. I myself feel like the art world is 90% bullshit to begin with so to insult the art world doesn't even mean anything. The two most expensive prints ever sold are bullshit. What about the artists who sell blank canvases as art? I don't think it's fair to say ANYTHING insults the art world because art should have the freedom to do literally anything. Art has a free pass regardless of how people feel about it.

To be honest, my purpose was solely to see how people would respond to a very non biased silhouette of the president of the united states. I intentionally did not pick sides and did not craft the image in a pro or anti Trump fashion regardless of how I personally feel about him. Looking back it could have been interesting to also do this with Hilter, Stalin, Putin, and Obama. A whole series of these would be even more interesting.

Anonymous's picture

I think that is BS. Any image with the Caption of How I shot Donald Trump is making a statement. To say the least very poor taste imo. I guess you found out my response. By the way it is not an unbiased image. It is a poor likeness of Trump and by no means flatters him. Maybe sharper scissors next time.

I literally never in a million years thought people would take this as a "gun shot"

Anonymous's picture

Patrick did you ever want to run the same experiment when President Obama was in office. Would it be different if the caption read "How I Shot Barack Obama". I think so. There would be outrage and racism spoken.

Anonymous's picture

Lee, again BS .Maybe " How I photographed Donald Trump would have been more appropriate. Come on, that is why photographers don't say shot anymore because it has a double meaning. As a photographer for the last 35 years I don't use the term shot when I photographed someone. Especially when you are photographing children or politicians. That caption was meant to invoke a response.

Patrick wrote it and I honestly don't think he considered that. We use the word "shot" all the time.

https://fstoppers.com/fashion/fstoppers-rides-vomit-comet-how-these-incr...

Anonymous's picture

The difference is that the caption you linked says that photos were shot not people. Different meaning. Your Caption Is misleading and is written to shock . English is a tough language. I have trouble with it too unless of course that is what Patrick meant so that it would invoke controversy. I will stop arguing because it is useless and I am moving on. I have already expressed my disappointment and there is nothing further to add.

Sometimes the caption is right
https://fstoppers.com/fine-art/why-i-photographed-ground-during-solar-ec...

Zach Smidt's picture

Patrick, you're a genius. I'm 100% certain you made this for the sole purpose of the massive amount of arguments and discussion that you knew would come with an image like this. Well done! I'm also glad that I'm not the only one who thinks that 90% of the world of "high end fine art" is just a glad-handing circle jerk. Cheers.

William Howell's picture

As a big Trump supporter and voter for, I think our president would love eclipsing the eclipse!
That is pretty funny.

Hey, that bridge is beautiful.

Patrick Hall's picture

Thanks. It did turn out pretty cool and I'm fairly sick of Charleston bridge shots

Hans Klett's picture

The first 5 words of this article's title just landed you on a special list somewhere in the Secret Service.

Anonymous's picture

You're on the wrong side of history Fstoppers. You have just lost a longtime reader. I hear the "alt-right" is really cleaning up with advertisers, great direction you have chosen.

You think we are fans of trump?

Anonymous's picture

Did I misinterpret the title of the IG post?

Haha I didn't realize pat used that. It was actually my idea as a play on "make America great again," not a show of Fstoppers support of Trump or any president.

Anonymous's picture

"Black Hole Sun" would be far more appropriate. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Hole_Sun#Lyrics

Patrick Hall's picture

You have one shot at a title; trust me I have a ton more. Black Hole Sun would be a great one