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Totality Unveiled: A Rare Eclipse, a Rarer Photo

Updated: Apr 28

Miami Living got behind the scenes scoop on two aerobatic pilots, Kevin Coleman and Pete McLeod, who collaborated with a team of talented photographers to capture a series of once-in-a-lifetime photographs during a rare full eclipse in Sulphur Springs, Texas. Sorry, guys, but Miami wasn't really in the path for totality.

These unique photos were made possible by the creativity and expertise of photographers Dustin Snipes and Mason Mashon. The duo devoted endless hours to figuring out lighting solutions, plane formations, and ideal positioning to capitalize on the 4-minute window of totality.

The Process of Capturing Totality

  • To make the outline of the planes more visible and to combat the darkness created by the eclipse, a reflective wrapping was installed on the wings to assist in illuminating the aircraft.

  • The eclipse cast its shadow in Sulphur Springs, Texas around 1:40pm local time on April 8, 2024 and lasted for roughly 4 minutes.

  • The pilots had to fly in a tight formation, flying at 1500 feet (457 m) in elevation and only four feet apart, in order to line up the sun, the moon, and both the planes within the same frame. On the ground, Red Bull Air Force team member Luke Aikins received instructions from the photographers that he then translated directly to the pilots to create a series of epic imagery.

  • “Normally, this would be a manageable maneuver, but when you have the darkness from the eclipse, a flight angle that needs to be perfectly lined up with the sun, and only four minutes to take the shot while moving at 290 kph (180 mph), it makes it incredibly challenging,” said Kevin Coleman about the project.

  • Dustin Snipes welcomed the challenge, "I loved being able to solve these "impossible shots" with our team and create something that no one has seen before. To get the planes, the sun, the moon, and the lights all within one exposure was an extreme challenge, one I haven't faced yet."

  • These one of a kind images were captured within a four minute window, with only 3 quick passes from the planes. Leading up to eclipse day, Snipes and Mashon conducted numerous rehearsals, shot dozens of flyovers, tested numerous illumination solutions, and built a capture plan through months of preparation. They made various calculations to find the precise angle for positioning the pilots.

  • "This is one of the hardest photos that I’ve ever tried to capture,” said Mason Mashon. “There are known settings to capture an eclipse, but when you need to figure out the height of the planes above ground level to frame and scale them perfectly with the eclipse, during totality, it’s a totally different game.”

  • Ultimately this project was developed as an opportunity to celebrate a rare celestial event, and challenge pilots and photographers in new and unexpected ways. “Unlike the high adrenaline and aerobatics I’m used to, this project is all about exact precision and planning”, said Pete McLeod, “It’s all about teamwork to make this happen so it’s been incredible to be a part of.”

By ML Staff. Images courtesy of Red Bull


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