Costa Rica

Published on March 3rd, 2011


Random Photo Memory: Total Solar Eclipse in Costa Rica

La Dia de Dos Noches” (July 11, 1991) will long be remembered in Costa Rica as “The Day of Two Nights“.  A total solar eclipse was predicted that summer and the entire Tico countryside would fall within the premium viewing path.  Happily, I had to fly down there to recon new locales and attractions for Imagine’s Costa Rica trips, so – “Why not…” says I, “…schedule my trip to coincide with the eclipse?”

I have long been enthralled with such rare and amazing events (my #1 secret heart’s desire:  to travel the globe perpetually chasing eclipses and other such extraordinary natural phenomenon.)  And likewise, at the time I was heavily into photography – both necessarily for my growing tour biz, but also personally, as I was then fascinated by the magic of fiddling with f-stops and shutter speeds.

Thus, after booking my Costa Rica flights to coincide with the eminent day, my next order of business was to – figure out how-in-the-heck to photograph a solar eclipse!  What equipment would I need?  What exposure would be best?  Just how does one attempt to capture such an event, uh without going BLIND?

There was no Google in those days of course, so it was to the neanderthal “Yellow Pages” I turned, to “let my fingers do the walking”. (hmmm… it occurs to me that even now with Google et al, that old “…fingers do the walking” Yellow Pages tagline remains viable – only now it’s keyboards, cell phones and iPads that we are “fingering” to nab anything and everything we crave, yes?)

Ah but I digress.  Clearly I needed some sort of heavy-duty protection both for my camera lens, as well as my baby-blues.  But just what I could safely use I hadn’t a clue.   I mean yes, I realize that staring even momentarily at the sun is surely a good way to burn your precious retinas.  And pointing your camera lens directly at even a sliver of the sun is mighty tricky.

I’d heard that using welder’s glass was a good bet, so I first called that obscure (pun intended) service.  Ah but upon explaining what I wanted to do (photograph a solar eclipse), I was swiftly told (in stern and no-uncertain terms) that “There is NO WAY to SAFELY photograph a solar eclipse!!!”  (As usual) undaunted by the “You-Can’t” crowd, I instead turned to my pals in the photographic industry.  Surely they’d know just how to get the job done.

Their sage advice?  Get thyself a few sheets of 4″ x 5″ black & white film (which apparently includes a layer of silver for protection), expose it to the max (by leaving it in the sun for a bit), then have it developed and use multiple sheets of it as a filter over your camera’s lens during the eclipse.  Likewise I was assured that I could safely use a few such sheets to protect my eyes.  Roger that.  Thus I created my own set of “eclipse filters” and flew down to Costa Rica with them on July 10th (the day before the scheduled eclipse).


Unless you favor a nation of BLIND folks, of course you’d hand these out for FREE!

Ha!  Immediately upon landing in the capital (San Jose), the joke was clearly on ME!  On verily every street corner of the city were little kiosks handing out free mylar glasses (much like cheapo 3-D movie glasses at the time.)  Well duh!  I mean – if you were the President of a developing nation that was soon to be in the path of a total solar eclipse at high noon – you’d jolly well offer the masses a bit of eye protection else – risk an entire nation of BLIND folks!

Still, my cache of 4″ x 5″ film filters would prove mighty handy for photographing the several phases of the eclipse.

There was also the question of weather – specifically of ensuring clear skies for the eclipse as it was the rainy season in Costa Rica and one couldn’t be sure that rain clouds wouldn’t obscure the midday event.  So I headed northwest to the Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste, the most arid region of Costa Rica.  Even better, I opted to view the eclipse at one of my favorite Tico beaches – along the Pacific shores of Playa Tamarindo where I’d often led Imagine groups on extraordinary after-dark excursions to witness the giant Leatherback sea turtles nesting by moonlight.

The start of the eclipse was predicted for the following day at high noon.  Totality would begin at about 2 pm and last 7 full minutes.  Suffice, I was ready!  I planned to have my manual SLR film camera (my beloved Pentax LX) set up on the beach (on a tripod of course).  And as guesstimating what exposure to film an eclipse at was effectively a crap-shoot, I opted to be ready to flip between EVERY BLESSED aperture/shutter combo on the camera!

The next day the local Ticos along with a small group of travelers like myself all gathered at the water’s edge to witness the coming spectacle.  As the eclipse began the sun was alas, partially veiled by clouds sadly obscuring a clear view.  We waited.  I snapped a few dozen pics of the gradual crossing of the moon over the clouded sun, and then… just minutes before totality, the clouds parted as if by magic!

Just imagine…  one moment you’re standing on a tropical beach bathed in brilliant, midday sunshine.  Then swiftly the sunlight fades, and fades, and fades and you’re suddenly gazing in utter nighttime darkness – with STARS TWINKLING ABOVE.  “La Dia de Dos Noches” – The Day of Two Nights indeed!  Surely one of my most memorable travel experiences.

And the frosting on this most remarkable cake?  I managed to get a full set of PERFECT shots of each of the preeminent eclipse phases including The “Diamond Ring” effect (from both sides as the moon crossed barely onto, then off of, the sliver of the sun), as well as the gloriously shimmering crimson “Bailey’s Beads” at totality.

ECLIPSE! "The Day of 2 Nights" - Costa Rica, 11 July 1991

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About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

2 Responses to Random Photo Memory: Total Solar Eclipse in Costa Rica

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for posting these amazing pictures! I was born in Costa Rica exactly during this eclipse and it is beautiful to see this event caught in pictures!

  2. Judy says:

    I was farther south on a beach for the same eclipse. I’ve often told the story of how the rooster at the nearby “shack on the beach” crowed with the coming of the second “morning” at 2:07 in the afternoon. It has been great to view these photos because I certainly didn’t get any shots. Thank you!

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