History’s most amazing photo?

January 22, 2020 • 10:00 am

I almost never visit the My Modern Met site, but it must be good, as I often get suggestions from readers about articles there. I think I found this one on my own, but probably through Facebook. It’s the story of how an enterprising young photographer, Jon Carmichael, took a spectacular photo of a solar eclipse. Click on the screenshot to see the story.

The date was August 21, 2017, and you may remember that there was a total eclipse that day visible in much of the U.S. (I saw part of it, though it was overcast in Chicago). Carmichael decided to try to photograph the eclipse from in the air—on a commercial flight.

He chose a Southwest flight from Portland, Oregon to St. Louis, Missouri, which would put him in the path of the eclipse when he was in the air. But he neglected to buy the early boarding option, which was only $15, so he wasn’t sure that, given Southwest’s seating policy, he’d get a window seat on the proper side of the plane to take his picture. The site above gives the rest of the story, which features Southwest’s trademark hospitality:

When he explained his mission to the Southwest flight crew, not only did they ensure he’d get a great seat, but the captain actually went outside the plane to clean the window for a crystal clear shot. During the flight itself, the pilots circled a few times to provide all passengers with a spectacular view.

When it came time for the moment of totality, Carmichael was ready. He shot over 1,200 photos in two minutes and managed to perfectly capture the total eclipse over Snake River. It’s an image that Inc.calls “history’s most amazing photo.” A 10-foot laser-crystal c-print of 108 now hangs in Twitter’s New York offices.

The photo below, the one under discussion, is apparently a mosaic of his images that took a year to create. You can buy a print on Carmichael’s website. It truly is a stunning photo, though it’s not really one picture but a montage.

Here’s a video of the episode made by Southwest Airlines, which even shows the pilot cleaning the window.

Carmichael and the pilots:

30 thoughts on “History’s most amazing photo?

  1. It’s a good picture, but “History’s Most Amazing Photo” is a *very* high bar, and the Apollo 8 “Earthrise” photograph by Bill Anders is a far more worthy contender.

    I witnessed the August 2017 eclipse too, but from ground level, in central Idaho.

    1. The Pale Blue Dot picture wasn’t too shabby either. Can that be considered a ‘photo’? Or the more recent Black Hole picture. Can that be considered a ‘photo’?

      1. Yes, it can be considered a “photo” in which light (with short wavelength) is replaced by radio waves of much longer wavelengths. The “lens” had in fact the size of the Earth, it was a combination of radiation received by radio telescopes distributed over the Earth.

    2. Agreed. Though I would say this is truly an “awesome” photo, using the true definition of the criminally overused word. It’s an awesome photo, I like the story behind it, and I’m happy to consider it in the highest echelon of photographs ever taken. But “History’s Most Amazing Photo” is a challenging label. Anyway, regardless of what people are calling it, I’m glad to now have learned about this!

    3. I also go with “Earthrise”. Today, we take it for granted but keep in mind, before Apollo 8, we had never seen the Earth like that. And it was not a live pic. There was grainy black and white video shot from space but back in those days we used film. So we did not get the full effect until a week after Apollo 8 returned to earth. The film was developed, NASA released the picture and it was on the front page of just about every newspaper in the world. And here we are, about 51 years later where most people do not know what film is or that newspaper were all about print format.

      1. Next total eclipse in the US will be April 8, 2024 and will be visible in Texas. I plan to make reservations early this time. Waited too long in 2017 and could only find a room in Fort Collins, CO. We got up early in the morning and drove up into Wyoming and found a good spot with a lot of other people just off the Interstate at a rest area. It was spectacular, but all my photos suck, so I can appreciate what Carmichael did.

        1. The 2024 eclipse is in April so clear skies won’t be as likely as the spectacular 2017 summer eclipse. But I am already checking out potential sites.

          In 2017 I heeded a great piece of advice and I am glad I did. **Don’t waste precious eclipse time trying to take pictures.** Let other people do that. Instead focus your senses, not your camera, and try to take in everything going on around you as the eclipse engulfs your site. It was really special.

          1. Yes, the weather is a bit of a crap shoot, but the Wyoming forecast turned out to be accurate. And good advice on watching and indeed feeling the eclipse – exactly what I did, and then got good photos from others 🙂

      2. Careful, though. My brother drove from Michigan to St. Louis and just as he arrived, the clouds moved in. A bust.

  2. A great photo, but 11 months to work on? I spend quite a long time on post production, but my wife would have some questions to ask if I spent 11 months on one photo! It would be fascinating to hear some more about the challenges of stitching together all the shots he got. Just controlling for exposure must have been a nightmare.

    Also, is it cynical to think this might have always been a commission from Twitter, with the backstory downplaying the commercial links?

    1. The curvature would be from the wide lens or a side effect of stitching a bunch of photos together. If you really think about it, to see the curvature of the earth means that you’re looking down on it from outer space.

      As a thought experiment, if he was seeing the curvature of the earth from his airplane window, what would the people on the other side of the plane be seeing? the void of space. In reality, they’re all seeing the same, straight, horizontal horizon line surrounding the plane

  3. In line with what is commented above, of course what makes a picture ‘great’, or even ‘the greatest’ depends on what you want to make of it.
    It could be because of color, focus, bokeh, and composition.
    Great pictures can be so because of difficulty or unlikelihood that they could be taken.
    Other great pictures are because of their emotional impact — how it makes one feel because of what it depicts.

  4. Well, I didn’t think it was the world’s most amazing photo (that’s why there’s a question mark in the title), but I thought it was damn good, and that and the backstory warranted a post.

  5. Trump-type hyperbole has tainted everyone. What is wrong with My Modern Met headlining “Here is an amazing photograph”? Instead it is the most amazing in history. Hardly. Everything now has to be the greatest, the biggest, the most awesome, etc. What is wrong with people?

    1. Its not a photograph. Its a montage with the moon enlarged relative to the land/ sky scape. To fit the rest of the image, the disk of eclipsed moon should be about 1/6th the size its displayed in the image.

      Geeky details:

      Shout out for TPE, The Photographer’s Ephemeris. Useful tool for landscape photo planning. First thing is, The moon distends about 0.5 degrees to an unaided observer on earth. I graphically calculated that for the moon to be that size relative to the width of the image, the horizontal field of view of the image would be about 25 degrees, roughly what you would get from an 80 mm lens on a full frame camera. The filed of the view of the landscape & eclipsed moon is about 180 degrees. TPE plot of the time of the eclipse at the approximate photo vantage, at time of eclipse: https://app.photoephemeris.com/?ll=44.299567,-117.046651&dt=20170821112600-0600&center=44.5656,-116.8934&z=9&spn=1.52,2.51&sll=44.977586,-116.141576
      Secondary marker shows the approximate bearing of the middle of the image.

      Eclipse times are available from this (pretty slick) Google map application: https://www.greatamericaneclipse.com/oregon/
      Scroll down for Google map, its a little crash prone. Note time zone change between OR & ID.

      Being picky: Although shapes are distorted in 180 panos, and here is a strange time distortion because the edge of the shadow (2,000 mph) & the camera (500 mph) moved quite a bit while while individual photos were captured. What you see in the image is what you get, but in a 180 pano from elevation from a stationary point in the middle of the umbra, the umbra would be a relatively smooth distorted ellipse. In this image, I think I see the umbra extending farther away from the camera than it should in the area right of the eclipsed moon. Makes sense, if the exposures started from the left. By the time the images were captured on the right, the shadow moved farther away from the camera.

      At least that is what I conclude. Happy to be corrected (or confirmed).

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