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Stunning solar eclipse captured in Chile with ARRI’s ALEXA LF

Cinematographer Kevin Garrison wanted to keep it real for Taron Lexton’s new picture “Nomad”.

The image above is a frame grab from an ALEXA LF that is being used on the independent feature film “Nomad,” directed by Taron Lexton. Not only was this the first shot on their first day of principle photography, but the team decided to get this shot on location in Elqui Valley, Chile, during an actual solar eclipse. CGI would have been easier, but where is the fun in that? ARRI caught up with cinematographer Kevin Garrison via email the morning after.

Kevin, please tell us a little bit about the film “Nomad.”

“Nomad” is a love story that plays out on seven continents. A young woman encounters a man who spontaneously shifts to a different location on Earth every 12 hours, with no idea where he's going to be next. We decided early on that we wanted to use only real locations, emphasizing authenticity, without any green screen or studio sets.

Why did you choose to shoot this picture with the ALEXA LF and the ARRI Signature Prime lenses?

I’ve always been attracted to large format photography. There are the obvious advantages, like the shallow depth of field and the larger canvas, but the more I use large format, the more I think it approximates how humans perceive depth and detail. Maybe it’s a bit of science meeting magic, but large format feels very real and immersive to me, and the ALEXA LF image gives me a bit of magic on top. That blend of magic and reality just felt right for “Nomad.” Colors render really aesthetically and if ever there was a time for exposure latitude, it was for this shot. There’s at least an eight-stop exposure drop from when the solar eclipse starts to totality.

The Signature Primes are fantastic lenses. Faces look great and they feel organic, smooth, and real without being harsh—which is the “Nomad” aesthetic. We got our ALEXA LF and Signature Primes from 20/20 Camera in LA, and they have been very helpful and supportive of our crazy demands.

What were the logistical challenges of getting this particular shot of the solar eclipse?

The solar eclipse happened at exactly 16:38 (4:38 p.m.) in Chile and it lasted 2.08 minutes, which is an insanely short amount of time to get the shots we wanted. We had been planning this shot for three months, doing the math, scouting the locations with locals, and charting sun paths. We drew lines using rope and stakes the two days beforehand to really understand how far the sun was sliding each day, so we could make an educated estimate as to where the moment of the eclipse would be in line with our actors. There were no do-overs as the next eclipse isn’t until April of 2024. On the day of the eclipse, we spent three hours drilling tripod moves and filter changes for the moment of totality. Nothing but that—we got down to the point of being able to move camera position 2-3 meters and do a two-filter change in 15-20 seconds.

And how did it go?

The feeling of success from nailing that shot was an absolutely cathartic experience. The light and temperature during the shoot were strange; in the morning it was about 75°F, but during the eclipse the temperature dropped 20°, due to the thin atmosphere in the desert out here. Light refracting around the moon made the shadows on the ground dance and shimmer like we were underwater. It was an otherworldly experience that’s wildly difficult to explain. It truly feels like landing on a foreign celestial body for a moment in time. 

How do you determine exposure for something that you can’t test for in advance?

We spent two days in the desert testing at sunset and obscuring the sun with our selected mountain ridge. We tried to estimate our exposure based on a partially obscured sun, essentially creating a faux-eclipse. On the day, we used an ND 0.6 and a solar filter leading up to the eclipse. The solar filter is basically a 0.001 light transmission filter for directly viewing the sun. We pulled the solar filter for the partial eclipse and then we pulled the ND altogether for the full eclipse. I shot ARRIRAW Open Gate at 5600K and 800 ASA at a T8 on the Canon 50-1000, which had the 1.5x extender in, so that shot you see was done at the full 1500 mm.

You also had a special eclipse consultant with you?

Yes, Ted Hesser is an experienced stills photographer who had photographed the total solar eclipse in 2017, and the resulting photo created a massive stir in climbing and travel communities worldwide. He shot a different angle and an absolutely beautiful image for our movie poster. Discovery recently picked it up and we’ve really enjoyed seeing people talk about it all around the world. 

How did you get that frame grab of the solar eclipse so quickly out on social media?

After we got the shot, I immediately jumped into a 4x4 with Ted Hesser and we took off. In the 20 minutes it took to drive to a nearby cliffside where we had cell phone reception, we offloaded the media, color-graded it, and took the frame grab—all while balancing our laptops on our knees. 

You were also busy on social media while shooting…

Yes, I think this is very important for an independent film these days. We have a video on Gizmodo with behind the scenes footage and we are trying to keep everyone as well-informed as we can without giving away key story points, even if that means emailing our favorite camera manufacturer while driving in a 4x4 down the mountain.

What is next for you?

First, two hours of sleep. Then we will continue to travel and shoot the remaining 24 countries. Our last shot is planned for February 2020 in the Arctic. 

Anything else?

Yes - Thank you, ARRI, for all your support and for making robust cameras that I can trust in a moment like this—I mean it. No matter how much you prepare, there’s always the stress factor of an unrepeatable moment. The less I had to think about the tools I was using, the more I was able to focus on getting the exact shot that Taron had envisioned and spoken about for the last six months—all within that extremely small 2-minute window of the solar eclipse. I appreciate the care and thought you guys put into everything you make.

Instagram: @NomadTheFilm
Facebook: @FilmingNomad
Website: http://nomad.film

Instagram: @kevingarrison
Website: www.kevingarrisondp.com

Article & Video on Gizmodo: https://io9.gizmodo.com/a-new-sci-fi-movie-had-2-minutes-to-capture-a-solar-ecl-1836080905