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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Previous comments
Patrick Hall's picture

Maybe "great" was sarcastic. I'm not going to justify my titles because they are what they are. Truth be told, everyone wants to read into it what they want to. Why would I choose Heather Heyer who no one could identify her profile silhouette at all. I chose a popular celebrity because people know that profile.

Anonymous's picture

Not knocking the photo, the photo is fine. it's art, and you did a great job. But the web is permanent, in 50 years the "maybe sarcastic" context of that caption will be gone. Hell, it's hard enough to determine what you meant now. If you meant it seriously, then you lost a reader.
So which is it?

And welcome to the love of art. Everyone has their own interpretation, now and forever.

imagei _'s picture

I found it funny as there is no such thing as 'Great American Solar Eclipse'. But then I'm not an American so I may see things differently.

Patrick Hall's picture

If you google it, The Great American Solar Eclipse is the phrase most of the media and websites have latched onto because it only happened in the US and became visible and dissolved over North America and the waters around it.

You can pretend to be apolitical or naive but the gesture is clear. You could have chosen Heather Heyer, or a famous son or daughter of the state with no political relevance, but you didn't.

It's okay, you're allowed your opinions, but feigning lamb-like innocence just makes it kinda silly.

Anonymous's picture

Seriously though, if you want to generate clicks with controversy, while staying "relatively apolitical", then at least don't pick titles that praise Nazi-sympathizers.

Patrick Hall's picture

Should I change it to "How I shot the President of the US and the Eclipse in One Photograph"? I'm trying to understand your reasoning here

Anonymous's picture

"TRUMP" plus "eclipse", I get it. But this guy is legitimizing, and inciting, Nazi's.
BTW, I'm talking about your tou're IG caption man, not this one. "Putting the "Great" back in the Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017 " Is not "unbiased".
How, in any universe, is that "great"?

Also, Not knocking the photo, the photo is fine. it's art, and you did a great job. But the web is permanent, in 50 years the "maybe sarcastic" context of that caption will be gone. Hell, it's hard enough to determine what you meant now. If you meant it seriously, then you lost a reader. So which is it?

Kevin Devos's picture

Is this conversation really happening? Come on people. Who gives a crap what the title is. The picture is what matters. STOP bringing politics into unnecessary areas! I honestly think some people just want to start a big debate, how immature.

Kevin Devos's picture

Yes you are right, i replied to the wrong comment, my mistake. I will say however, that wanting to debate politics on a photography website is the problem.

Anonymous's picture

Don't try to understand it. Some people, on both political sides, can only see everything through that lens. They don't see the forest or the trees.

Anonymous's picture

There it is, false equivalence in all it's glory.

You have Nazi's, honest to god genocidal zealots, on one side. Yet, somehow you have drawn a moral equivalence with those who oppose them and their vile ideology.

You may want to re-exam that adage you used to see if it applies to your reasoning on this topic.

Anonymous's picture

Or I may want to refrain from addressing idiots. Unfortunately, that doesn't prevent them from replying anyway. smh

Anonymous's picture

Straight into ad-hominem attacks. Does this justify your both-siderism?

Anonymous's picture

That wasn't an attack any more than calling you intelligent, had you made an intelligent comment, would have been a compliment. It was merely an observation.

Anonymous's picture

So now your argument is "words mean nothing." Are you a practicing nihilist?

Anonymous's picture

Actually, I'm arguing that words do mean sometiong. My description of you means, you're talking like an idiot. smh

Anonymous's picture

So first it's Nazi's and their opponents are somehow equivalent, then it's I'm an idiot for conlusively shutting that down. Then it's I'm not an idiot, you were just expressing yourself. Now it's I'm an idiot. You may want to make up your mind sometimes, you may find that it helps you substantiate your arguments.

Anonymous's picture

I could see your comment on top but not to reply so...
No. It has nothing to do with your position and everything to do with your lack of logic. You sir, are an idiot. Since ignorance is bliss, you must be the happiest person on the planet!

Anonymous's picture

Again, no substantiation of your position that those who oppose Nazi's are somehow morally or actionably equivalent to those who oppose them. Just more bluster and name calling. Tell-tale signs of someone arguing an indefensible position.

Anonymous's picture

I don't understand your comment. Nobody in this conversation, supports Nazis.

Anonymous's picture

When you rationalize Nazi's as "just people with different political opinions" you legitimize genocide as a political position.

Anonymous's picture

WAKE UP! The logical conclusion of any racial supremacism is genocide. We learned this during WWII, Nazi's are bad, supremacists are bad, FULL STOP!

"But, they may have some other valid points." Well, ask the German people of the 1930's how it worked for them when they rationalized the Nazi's.

Also do a little googling, Richard Spencer, David Duke, etc., have all publicly advocated genocide. When anyone does that they need to be stopped, PERIOD! Google the word holocaust for reasons why this is so, unless you also deny that happened.

Anonymous's picture

You're saying that because racists can't be racists anymore without being considered the A-holes that they are, that this has forced them to respond by adopting genocide as their chosen ideology? Wow!

That and the fact that somehow you, or those you describe, now ascribe to fascism in order to "protect free speech" would be hilarious, if it weren't such a frightening indictment of the effectiveness of GOP education cuts over the past 40 years.

Finally, free speech regards Congress' inability to limit free speech*, that doesn't mean that I have to listen to your garbage, or that their are no consequences for being an idiot. That is what's called the free market. It just so happens that their are more liberals, with more money than the Nazi's and the white supremacists you brought up. That's why businesses side with us.

*The first amendment has some reasonable limitations, three immediately come to mind with regard to neo-Nazi's:


Anonymous's picture

Let's get this straight, I am not your friend.

Re-read my statement. Where did I use the term "idiot" or imply that anyone should be "eliminated"?

The only ones doing that are the Nazi's because the logical conclusion of their white supremacist beliefs is genocide. This was proven in a little event called WWII when the U.S. sent a bunch of "counter-protesters", we called them GI's at the time, to stop a large gathering of Nazi's in Europe.

Anonymous's picture

Beligerence! Screams the passive aggressive who couldn't defend his argument.

Free speech is allowed, but advertisers and eyeballs are also free to make their choices as well.

Absolutely agree. Change the channel if you don't like it. Which I will....

Michael Coen's picture

By definition, corporations cannot impinge on free speech. The Bill of Rights limits government retaliation to speech, but says nothing about how others are permitted to respond. We're free to express our opinions, but those opinions sometimes have consequences. I would also add that it isn't just the left, as you claim, that dislikes some of the opinions we've been subjected to over the course of the past two years. Are Germany, China, the U.K., and other nations that have voiced serious misgivings about the opinions expressed, part of the evil "left" as well? Even Republicans, hard-liners like Ted Cruz, have come out against DT.

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