In August 2017, eclipse mania swept America as people jockeyed for the best spots to watch the first total solar eclipse visible from coast to coast in nearly a century. With the eclipse’s path stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, tens of millions of people got the chance to see the moon completely obscure the sun, a phenomenon known as totality. One of the observers was photographer Reuben Wu, who picked a remote spot in Wyoming to shoot the event.
“It was amazing, and I realized that an eclipse is not just about the corona,” he says, referencing the outer atmosphere of the sun that briefly peaks out from behind the moon during totality. “The whole environment completely changes. It’s like a 360-degree sunset.” No sooner had the sun reemerged than Wu began planning his next eclipse photograph. This time, he wanted to include the umbra, the shadow cast by the moon over the Earth’s surface. But to capture both the corona and umbra, he needed to find a near-horizon eclipse. “The 2017 one was so high up that it was impossible to capture both the eclipse and the landscape,” Wu notes.
The next eclipse that met Wu’s requirements would take place on July 2, 2019 in South America. Wu spent nearly two years putting together the sponsorship deals that would enable him and a small team to travel to northern Chile to shoot the event. With backing from Adobe Lightroom, Mountain Hardwear, and LumeCube, Wu and his five-person crew arrived in Santiago in late June, five days before the eclipse. After spending a few days shooting in the Atacama Desert for another project, they headed for their eclipse basecamp near the town of La Higuera.
Wu had spent months poring over satellite images to find the perfect spot. When they arrived at the base of their chosen hill, they parked their all-terrain vehicle and hiked about a mile along mule tracks to the viewing area, which, at 5,000 meters, put them well above the marine cloud layer. They carried eight cameras and two drones. “My main concern was whether there would be other people around,” Wu says. As it turned out, there was only one other group in the area, and they chose an adjacent hill. (Most of the approximately 300,000 eclipse tourists watched from the Chilean coastal town of La Serena.)
During the 2017 eclipse, Wu had been so focused on capturing the perfect photograph that he hadn’t been able to fully enjoy the occasion. “I realized it was a missed opportunity to experience a world you wouldn’t experience any other time,” he says. This time, he prepared his cameras ahead of time and programmed them to shoot at intervals throughout the eclipse. The two drones hovered overhead, shooting video. For the approximately two and a half minutes of the eclipse, Wu could sit back and soak in the atmosphere.
“It’s very easy to be focused on a single thing and not realize what’s happening around you,” he says. “The corona is beautiful, but the effect that the umbra has on the landscape is just incredible, and I don’t think most people realize that.”
The next solar eclipse will take place on December 14, 2020 in Chile and Argentina. Wu and his team are already making plans to photograph it.