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Kara's Corner

Was it Worth Using a Drone to Capture the Solar Eclipse?

August 23, 2017

I used my drone to capture video of the solar eclipse, but was it worth it? Let’s find out.

This past week, I shared some tips for braving the elements along the path of totality for the solar eclipse — especially for those that planned on bringing a drone along. As expected, my friends and I encountered massive crowds, unpredictable weather, poor cell phone reception, and a potential shortage of every basic supply. Thankfully we were prepared for it all along with an unexpected hike up some seriously jagged rocks.

Pilot's Rock Drone Eclipse

I’m fairly certain Pilot’s Rock wasn’t named for remote pilots. Here were are in front, testing out our drones before totality approaches.

I ended up rerouting to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, due to to a better weather forecast. While the experience, overall, was transcendent, I know you’re wondering how the drone footage turned out. I’ll share what I captured plus some thoughts from my own journey and those shared by fellow drone pilots.

Hopkinsville ended up making the most sense in terms of distance from my new home state. I headed there knowing that there wouldn’t be as much congestion as Oregon or some of the more popular destinations along the path. The small, rural town has been preparing for the eclipse for years. They even temporarily renamed the town “Eclipseville.”

Of course, all lodging within 200 miles was sold out. Camp grounds and parking lots were at capacity. Thankfully, we found a little-known location called Pilot’s Rock, whose topmost peak falls at around 1,000 feet AGL. The hike up, and back down, was treacherous. It was worth it, in the end, as roughly 40 people were willing to make the trek and have free access to the best view in Kentucky.

While I recommended making sure the land was public when taking off, in my past solar eclipse preparation guide, locals informed me that the owner of this private property did not mind people using it — so long as they parked off the road and picked up after themselves. Sure enough, a park ranger showed up at one point and warned a few people they’d be towed if they didn’t reposition their vehicles. He said nothing of the drones in full view.

Three other people brought their UAVs to the top of Pilot’s Rock. This impacted my final decision for the type of drone footage I planned to capture. While I was initially going to make an arc around the massive natural structure I took off from, I opted to fly a few hundred feet from my take off point and position the camera to capture the shadow as it swept across the landscape. This way, I wouldn’t risk colliding with anyone else — especially during the blackout.

Watch my drone video of the solar eclipse (it’s below!)

Below is the drone video I captured of the solar eclipse. If you look in the bottom left-hand corner, you’ll see tiny specks moving in rapid motion. That’s us in motion as events unfolded. I sped up the footage significantly for brevity.

I can guess what you’re thinking: what’s the big deal? I feel the same way. There was haze on the horizon and, overall, the shadow moved across the landscape so quickly that I might has well have created a video with some fade in and fade out effects. I used automatic settings to counter the sudden change in lighting, something I typically avoid. Some of my friends shared their footage and echoed the overall sentiment of “this is not my best work but I’m posting it anyway.” In the end, the thrill of the in-person experience outweighed the disappointment of the not capturing great footage.

Even TIME magazine didn’t pull off anything terribly exciting. I was hoping to share some epic aerial shots from anyone, anywhere and came up short. It will be interesting to see how drone technology has evolved by the time the next total solar eclipse arrives in 2024.

On a personal note, I am eternally grateful for Daniel Herbert and Ryan LaTourette. This trip was only possible with their support.

All photos and video by me, using a Phantom 4 Pro.


Kara Murphy is a Part 107-certified remote pilot and writer based in Midwest.Follow her on Instagram for her more artistic aerial imagery, find out how to hire her here.

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