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.

Log in or register to post comments

116 Comments

Previous comments
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.

Anonymous's picture

Agreed. My concern was more along the lines of, "What will most people think is natural." I like for people to at least think they're seeing an accurate representation of an object.

I see a recognisable face. Did you manage to get a release?

Patrick Hall's picture

Public figures don't need releases :) well unless you are Hulk Hogan

Just tremendous. We are going to make Fstoppers great again. This guy, Patrick, he's a great guy. Believe me. Lots of haters and losers here. They're all fake commenters. Many people are saying it's the best photo ever. I have many unnamed sources that say that. We are bringing photos back to Fstoppers. Great photos. The best. Believe me. Isn't Patrick a great guy? Many people say that. Many. People. We will have the best photos. Tremendous articles. Articles the like which have never been seen before. You might not know this, but this is the most liked article from Fstoppers. Ever. Believe me. Jobs.
#MFGA

Holy fuck with the politics already........One comes here for photography/video news and education...and here I am sifting through who's having a shit fit over Trump's silhouette , or who's ready to boycott FStoppers just for even entertaining the thought of including Trump in a photo. STFU and enjoy the creative process!!

You all have nothing better to do than to bitch about everything! Look at me, now I'm bitch and turning into one of you assholes!

....and no, I'm not a Trump supporter at all! I hate everyone! ...including you.

Patrick Hall's picture

Well did you learn how to do a double exposure at least?

Yes, thanks Patrick for the information and tutorial as well.....Keep up the great work!

Anonymous's picture

This is not art it is a political statement. There are many figures you could use for your double exposure. Choosing the president was a choice. I believe you have the right for any expression that you want. I will defend that until I die. It might not be a big deal to some but you have soured me on Fstoppers. Probably my loss, but I was just wishing that one of my favorite photography sites could be a haven from the daily bombardment of Trump haters.

92% eclipse in Denver casts interesting shadow of leaves on concrete driveway. Shot with iPhone at peak.

Anonymous's picture

I know a lot of folks who were disappointed with their smartphone shots. Too bad they didn't think of something like this. I had one person, in the crowd I was in, take a smartphone shot of my total eclipse on the LCD of my camera. :-)

Patrick Hall's picture

Really? I feel like the second most common shot besides a telephoto shot of the eclipse was a shot of the shadows of leaves. Not that there is anything wrong with both approaches, they are popular for a reason, but I saw tons of these come out of Charleston.

Anonymous's picture

Hmm. Maybe I need to get out more. :-)

i didn't know ahead of time that leaves would do that, and since we did not have a total eclipse, it seemed like the most dramatic thing to capture. I was suprised to learn that many others also captured similar images. Partial eclipse unfortunately not that great, kind of like a cloud just went over the sun. A rooster in the distance did start crowing, so that is something at least.
Patrick, I have followed you for a long time, but really think that picture is in poor taste, and deep down, I think you know it, regardless of your political affiliations. I tried to bring the discussion back to the eclipse. Enough said.

Jonathan Adams's picture

Its offensive to use the word "straight out of the camera" like you are trying to give legitimacy to a faked image... to many people out there working hard to make great real photographs of the event and double exposure on the bridge is the same as Photoshop.

Patrick Hall's picture

How is it the same as Photoshop when I have literally none of the tools that Photoshop offers? It's exactly the same technique as using a single piece of film and exposing it twice. If I had taken a 10 second exposure and covered my lens after 1/2 a second and then re positioned my camera to the sun and removed my hand again all while the shutter was clicked up one time, would that satisfy your concept of "straight out of the camera?" I don't see how this is "faked" when it's just a simple double exposure technique.

Paulo Macedo's picture

The day has come, when a president has more comments than a new iPhone release. :O

Patrick Hall's picture

Imagine if I could have shot this with the new Iphone 8!!!!

Paulo Macedo's picture

It would be fstoppers.com = 404 Not Found LOL world stock markets would crash.

"Always take the biggliest risk on your biggliest shoots because if it pays off, it will pay off bigly." FTFY.

Brian Pernicone's picture

FStoppers: Come for the great photos, stay for the absurd political controversy!

Have to admit, I didn't click this link expecting to see someone say the "neo-Nazis have at least some valid positions."

Nice shot, though, Patrick. What I like best about it is that the viewer's reaction to it says more about the viewer than it does about the artist. It really provides a window into people's mindset regarding this President. It's interesting stuff.

I like the Trump silhouette with the partial eclipse as it highlights the emptiness between Trump's ears.