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Swing for the Fences


Quandary Peak from Hoosier Ridge at sunrise, near Breckenridge, Colorado
Quandary Peak from Hoosier Ridge at sunrise, near Breckenridge, Colorado

Veteran travel photographer Bob Krist once said, “In photography, your batting average means nothing. It’s only the home runs that count.” In other words, your strikeouts don’t matter. No one will (or should) ever see them but you. In fact, given that people will shoot an estimated 1.4 trillion photographs in 2021, your singles, doubles, and triples don’t count for much either.


My conclusion from all this? Swing for the fences and accept the high risk of failure that is the inevitable price of such a strategy. Here’s a case in point.


On May 26, 2021, the first total lunar eclipse in over two years occurred. The problem for photographers in Colorado was that the moon was only 5 degrees above the horizon, setting to the southwest, when totality began. Totality is the phase of an eclipse when the moon is fully inside Earth’s umbra, so that no light from any part of the sun can reach the moon, and the moon turns red. As I began planning a shot of this rare event, I realized the moon’s low altitude during totality meant that I needed to find a shooting location where the elevation of the horizon to the southwest would be the same or only slightly higher than the elevation of my shooting location. I either needed to find a location high in the mountains or to go far out on the eastern plains so the mountains to the southwest wouldn’t block my view of the moon during totality.

I started exploring possible locations using Photo Ephemeris Web Pro, which now has lunar eclipse information. I soon learned that to see the fully eclipsed moon over Longs Peak from the plains meant I would need to be some 35 miles away from the peak – too far, unless the air was very clear, to get a good shot of Longs. What if I hiked to the top of Twin Sisters Peaks, which offers a stunning view of Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak and is much closer to the peaks? Photo Ephemeris Web showed that the moon would set behind Mt. Meeker just before totality began. How about shooting from the summit of a Fourteener? The roads to the summits of Mt. Evans and Pikes Peak, the only two Fourteeners accessible by vehicle, were still closed by snow. So what Fourteener was close to Boulder and had a trailhead that was accessible in May? The logical choice was 14,265-foot Quandary Peak, just south of Breckenridge. Photo Ephemeris Web showed that from the summit of Quandary Peak the totally eclipsed moon would be just to the right of 14,429-foot Mt. Massive, the second-highest peak in the state, during totality. If the skies were clear, I should be able to make a spectacular photograph that would be unlike any eclipse shot I’d ever made