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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Michael Coen's picture

As I said, corporations cannot impinge on free speech. The First Amendment protects citizens against government, not private, retaliation for speech. These are private entities and are legally permitted to allow or disallow content as they see fit. Google, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook are not government agencies, and therefore are not bound by the First Amendment. The First Amendment does not mean consequence-free speech. This is the same battlecry coming from radical or controversial figures when they get booed off stage at college graduation ceremonies – "oh, they're violating my free speech." No, they're not. They're private citizens, not government officials.

To answer your next questions, you said "How is it, and would it be, effectively allowed if there are constant campaigns from the left..." Here you fall in step with the false narrative that somehow the left is to blame for the ills of the right. If that were the case, then how do you explain the aforementioned countries expressing similar misgivings with the behavior and rhetoric of the far right? It isn't just the "left." It's almost every post-industrialized nation that takes issue with many of the things being said and done, that come from the right. There are also a number of Republicans that have joined that camp as well. So the idea that this is the "left" is demonstrably false.

Michael Coen's picture

"Freedom of expression doesn't begin and end with the what the government allows and protects"

Yes, actually, it does.

Michael Coen's picture

If you're going to cite the Bill of Rights, you should probably know what it actually means. Your examples of corporations don't matter in this context. No amount of wishful thinking or matter of opinion will change the facts.


Michael Coen's picture

Incredible. Freedom of expression is granted by the First Amendment which is part of the Bill of Rights.

And I didn't answer your question about immigration because it has nothing to do with anything being discussed. My views on immigration have absolutely no bearing on Free Speech.

You're free to continue arguing your assumptions about what you believe free speech means and what it entitles you to, but I've said all I'm going to say. Facts are facts.

The end.

Patrick Hall's picture

Yep and that's the way it should be. I personally had no problem with the image Kathy Griffin created because she should be free to do that. The backlash she got is also something she should be willing to deal with and I had no problem with CNN firing her. I think freedom of speech is super important and the freedom of advertisers is equally important too. Both the Left and the Right have to call it as it is and stop bending their own standards when the boot lands on the other side.

Patrick Hall's picture

Thanks. The Trump photo is more about seeing what people think about it. It's a pretty unbiased photo if you ask me.

Choosing a highly controversial figure is bound to align you to some and not to others. As long as you're happy with the new bedfellows I guess...

Come on Patrick. The Trump photo is more about generating clicks, talks & traffic.
Sometimes it is done in a debatable manner like here, but hey, that's why it works in that case.
Fair enough. I wouldn't like this kind of press to become a habit for Fstoppers though.

Patrick Hall's picture

It really isn't about clicks but it is definitely about debate and talks (usually those two things go hand in hand though). If you are producing art and photographs that do no illicit any sort of conversation than I think your art is pretty boring. It doesn't all have to be political and I've certainly done photoshoots that were based on social, political, and even borderline sadistic themes but that's the show people something they have never seen and get the conversation started. It has little to do with me trying to preach or push a narrative but instead ask the public what they think the narrative should be. That's super interesting to me. I feel like if everyone sticks to well executed yet boring photographs then that is the most bland thing anyone can do. I will say this though, I probably won't include Trump in any further projects because I don't like to revisit things twice.

You have a point with "If you are producing art and photographs that do no illicit any sort of conversation than I think your art is pretty boring." Reminds me of the (*debatable*) difference between craft (you just do nice/useful things) & art (you do things with a message).
Therefore, if you want to keep it apolitical, it's just a nicely crafted image. And I have to concede that you had quite an original idea here. Thumbs up for that!
To level up as art, it needs a message. And by having Trump in the picture, the message cannot be completely apolitical. It will always overlap a bit at least. Hence this ginoromous discussion. :D

"I probably won't include Trump in any further projects because I don't like to revisit things twice." --> I remember the taser project from you. Now this one. I am expecting the next one to be at least as biting as those ;-)
Keep on pushing forward! Cheers

Patrick Hall's picture

What if I told you my inclusion of Trump was more a social commentary on his architecture or his reality show than his presidency?

I would say that your timing is wrong :D

Elan Govan's picture

Well Patrick, I am bored now. Can we all go for a pizza or something. I have a very short attention span for politics and two days of it is sending me into a coma.

Anonymous's picture

You really had no idea how people would react to it? Isn't this your website?

Patrick Hall's picture

Yeah it's my website but I didn't know what people would think. I knew it would be polarizing but in which direction or at what degree I don't know. That's what is fun about social commentary on art IMO and it's crazy that so many people can be so disgusted one way or the other over something that is relatively straight forward.

Anonymous's picture

I agree with you but it seems like the number of replies, from each point of view is fairly consistent.

Elan Govan's picture

Hi Patrick, as a landscape photographer, I appreciate solar eclipse is not going to show up every evening in my part of the world, and I am sure your planning went into overdrive to secure this image. So...thank you for share, I will remember the image and the photographer who took it.

Elan Govan's picture

Can we keep American politics out of this website. I am sure there are hundreds of forum, both right wing and left wing, to pour over every fine print / detail until the world ends.

Some people feel they have to wade into the debate, I guess.

Anonymous's picture

Discussing it is one thing. Too often, there's only preaching with no consideration for anyone else's viewpoint.

Anonymous's picture

I wrote "too often," which would be true no matter the number. I'm not cynical, and in fact optimistic. The only way to a better future, however, is a realistic view of the present and the past.

Elan Govan's picture

I think we can still debate the photograph in front of us without dragging Trump's politics into the discussion.

Adam Ottke's picture

It's shocking to me how many people think this says something at all one way or another about Trump other than, "Hey, here's a popular figure that I worked into an eclipse shot....let's see what you think of it?" I guess we're finding out people really are applying all kinds of meaning to this. You could make a pro- or against-Trump case for this either way. But there's a LOT about this and about what you've said with it that makes it seem so sarcastic. I mean, a paper cutout for goodness sakes... This isn't a love ballad, and it's not an anarchist's death metal anthem. It's beyond me why people choose to see this as polarizing at all.

Nice job on the last-minute execution. The success of the exposure with two last-minute plans like this is enough to warrant the awesome Joker clap memes as far as I'm concerned ;-)

Anonymous's picture

When you incorporate the most polarizing public figure in at least a generation into your work, you should expect controversy.


Jonathan Reid's picture

Your white balance is totally off, it's needs to be way more orange.

Patrick Hall's picture

Now this is an artistic debate I can get behind :)

Anonymous's picture

I wondered about that when processing my own shots. I've seen way more with a more neutral white balance, though.

Patrick Hall's picture

White balance is all an interpretation though. Saying 5000k or 3200k or 8000k is the "correct" white balance means you are scaling it towards the human eye only, or the camera's auto bias for white balance. It's totally subjective.

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