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.

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Visa® credit card

This card from Bank of America gets really interesting if you have a BofA checking, savings or investment account. Depending on the value of your combined accounts you can potentially get as much as 3.5x points on travel/dining and 2.625x points on other purchases making it the richest consumer banking bonus out there.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Receive 50,000 bonus points – a $500 value – after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • If you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase
  • No limit to the points you can earn and your points don't expire
  • Redeem for cash back as a statement credit, deposit into eligible Bank of America® accounts, credit to eligible Merrill accounts, or gift cards or purchases at the Bank of America Travel Center
  • Get up to $200 in combined airline incidental and airport expedited screening statement credits + valuable travel insurance protections
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
  • Low $95 annual fee
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
17.74% - 24.74% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

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.