How a Photographer Got This Stunning Total Eclipse Image From a Southwest Plane

Aug 21, 2018

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

On Monday Aug. 21, 2017, parts of the US experienced a total solar eclipse. Dubbed “Great American Eclipse,” the solar eclipse passed completely across the United States — the first eclipse to sweep coast to coast since 1918.

Professional photographer Jon Carmichael was determined to experience and capture the eclipse himself. As an amateur pilot, a self-described “space nerd” and a lover of aviation, he could think of no better way to experience the eclipse than from an aircraft. When he heard about the promotion to win a free seat on-board an Alaska charter flight flying into the eclipse, he felt it was perfect fit for him. So, he went all out, even hiring an animator to help produce his video entry for the contest.

Unfortunately, his efforts didn’t pay off. A few days before the eclipse, he found out that he hadn’t won. However, feeling his “life came together for this moment,” Jon was determined not to give up on his chance to see the eclipse from an aircraft. Comparing flight schedules with the eclipse forecast, he found and booked Southwest Flight 1268 from Portland (PDX) to St. Louis (STL) hoping it would work out.

He showed up at the gate with a B boarding position — and $600 cash ready to “bribe” someone for their window seat. (He could’ve jumped the boarding line for a lot cheaper by buying EarlyBird Check In.) At the gate, he spoke with a Southwest agent, mentioning his intentions to photograph the eclipse and sharing some of his work. The Southwest crew sprung into action from there.

Determined to help Jon get the shot, they made sure he’d be the first to board the Southwest flight. Jon chose Seat 1A. After introducing himself, the captain personally stepped onto the jetway to clean the outside of Jon’s window to ensure he had the best shot.

Once in the air, the pilots didn’t just fly into the eclipse, but worked with air traffic control to loop five 180-degree turns to ensure both that Jon got the shot — and that everyone on both sides of the flight got a view of the historic event.

Jon didn’t just get one shot but thousands. And, as Jon seemingly only half-joked, it’s taken him a full year to blend the photos together to get the stunning final image:

Great American Eclipse over the Oregon and Idaho border at 39,000 feet on Southwest Airlines flight. All rights reserved. Do not copy or sell print without permission from image creator Jon Carmichael.
Great American Eclipse over the Oregon and Idaho border at 39,000 feet on Southwest Airlines flight. (Image by Jon Carmichael Photography, all rights reserved.)

Reflecting back on the experience and the final masterpiece, Jon waxed poetic:

The last time we had a connection to the heavens like this was during man’s first flight to the moon, on Apollo 8 in 1968. The first, famous Earthrise photo came from that mission, and like the eclipse last year, showed us that we are all a part of something bigger. I wanted my photo to perfectly capture this moment.

And he certainly accomplished that goal — at least according to Carter Emmart, the Director of Astrovisualization of the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the American Museum of Natural History. Calling the image “by far one of the best eclipse photos I have ever seen,” Carter says the image shows our “linkage to space” providing “greater landscape detail than we get from Earth’s orbit. His image is a ladder to space.”

On Tuesday morning at Twitter’s New York office, Jon unveiled an almost 10-foot-wide print of the image in the print’s first public appearance. Thankfully you don’t have to travel there to see it; we are grateful for Jon sharing the image — and his fascinating story — with us here.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.