When Red Bull athlete Alex Mason completed a masterfully daring feat—slacklining his way above a 150-foot crevasse in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, during Monday’s total solar eclipse—Keith Ladzinski was there to immortalize it.
In a chilly pseudo-twilight dark enough to see stars, surrounded by the delighted hollering of the huge crowd watching the eclipse from a nearby peak, Mason “just kept walking, almost braille-ing his way across this thing with his feet,” Ladzinski says.
Mason’s stunt is remarkable—and so is Ladzinski’s shot, an in-camera double exposure he was “lucky” to capture.
This photo is one of the first glimpses of the 2017 total solar eclipse captured by National Geographic photographer Babak Tafreshi in a jet above the Pacific at the moment the eclipse began. Babak was aboard the flight along with two Airbnb guests who won the chance to be among the first to witness the solar eclipse before it crossed the U.S. in August.
While scouting the shooting location, a famous ski drop called Corbet’s Couloir, Ladzinski realized that at the moment of totality, the sun would be almost directly overhead—meaning that to capture both eclipse and athlete in the same frame, he’d have to shoot straight up. “It’d be pretty much a butt shot.”
Instead, to compose an image that showed both sun and slackliner to their best advantage, he’d have to move the sun. “You can’t move the sun unless you double expose it,” he says, “and in that case you can put it wherever you want.”
In traditional film cameras, double exposures require exposing the same film to two different light conditions—that is, two different compositions. A digital camera does the same thing in a single digital file. It’s a tricky bit of shooting, but it wasn’t the only factor Ladzinski had to deal with.
At 5 a.m. on the day of the eclipse, Mason, Ladzinski, and the support crew got into place: setting up rigging and large strobe flashes on both sides of the cliff, they settled in for the waiting game. (See how Nat Geo staff celebrated the 2017 eclipse.)
At 11:36 a.m., totality hit: the moon blocked the sun, sending its shadow racing across the earth at nearly 2,000 miles an hour, blanketing the crevasse where Mason paced the high line and Ladzinski frantically made photos. As many times as he could, he set the eclipse in the frame’s upper corner, then swiveled, triggering the flash to capture Mason and the landscape in the space left dark in the first exposure.
“You’re having to think and move really quick, you only have 100 seconds,” he laughs. “It’s like you’re hearing the Jeopardy! music.”
Though concentrating on capturing this stunning shot, Ladzinski had a couple seconds to marvel at his first total solar eclipse.
“I was just looking to see where the sun’s position was, and it kind of locked me in…it was hypnotizing,” Ladzinski says. “And then I had to snap back out of it and get to work.”