Human-Centered Content Eclipses All Others

The images we chose to share our experience of the 2024 solar eclipse show us that human-centered stories are the most meaningful.

My husband was the first to put the Great American Eclipse of 2024 on my radar back in 2017, after the last total eclipse passed through the U.S. He realized that our little city in Vermont would lie directly in the path of totality for the 2024 eclipse. With clear skies, we’d experience one of the longest durations of totality in the country. 

I didn’t make any big plans, order any commemorative t-shirts, or get too excited until April 7 — Eclipse Eve — when the weather forecast solidified into a pretty sure bet for clear skies. (Over the last 70 years, the skies have been overcast in northern Vermont at least 50% of the time on April 8.) 

That evening, with sun looking likely, I got out my DSLR camera. It had been packed away pretty much since my older daughter was born. Lying in bed that night, as if cramming for an exam the next day, I started reading up on which camera settings to use to get the best images during our three minutes of totality. 


The day of the eclipse, I lugged my tripod and fancy camera out with me. I snapped a few quick iPhone pics of my husband and daughters in their glasses looking up at the sky and then went to work setting up the tripod in all sorts of different locations in an attempt to line up the perfect shot. 

My excited daughters, who were doing cartwheels and back handsprings in the yard, bumped the tripod several times. “Be careful! That camera cost more than all of your stuffed animals combined!” joked my husband. at one point.

When the sky finally darkened at the start of totality, I removed the lens cap and started shooting, toggling desperately between different shutter speeds. After just one minute, it was obvious that all of my images were blurry. I didn’t have the right lens, or the right settings, or enough practice to do this moment photographic justice. So I turned off the camera and simply observed the marvel and the madness of the moment. 

The birds stopped chirping. Mosquitoes suddenly swarmed. At 3:27 p.m., it was as dark as the final moment of falling dusk. I toldremember saying to my daughters next to me, “I can understand why cave people thought this was the end of the world.” I also didremember doing some quick math: The next time a total eclipse passes through Vermont, in 2079, Anna will be 65 years old, and Amelia, 63. Tayt and I will likely exist only in their memories. 

What we showed on social

Later that day, as we all turned to social media to share our experiences, the picture I posted wasn’t any of the images I had tried so hard to compose. It was the shot of my husband and daughters standing agape in our driveway. My caption? “I took a bunch of photos during totality with my fancy camera. But this one is so much better.”

My husband Tayt, 7-year-old daughter Amelia (left), and 9-year-old daughter Anna (right).


Most of the other eclipse photos that filled my Facebook feed that day were others’ attempts at the “money shot” that were as mediocre as my own. With one exception: this picture, taken by a fellow mom in the neighboring town. Her caption? “This was the shot Teddy wanted me to get.”

Photo courtesy Melanie Dattilio. 


Valuing human-centered experiences … and content

We now live in an enlightened time when a solar eclipse is an understood, if still special, phenomenon — something we celebrate rather than fear. It’s also a time when we’re blessed with an abundance of technology to enhance our ability to create, capture, and connect. With the help of fancy digital cameras and even amazing AI-generated images that transcend reality, our ability to communicate is supposedly greater than ever before. 

AI-generated image of the solar eclipse over Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. 


But it strikes me that it’s still the simple stories that are the most powerful. The best stories involve people, and the best of the best involve people that we know or can relate to. 

The pictures that got the most social-media engagement on eclipse day were the “reverse-angle” ones, where we turned our cameras on ourselves. On the front page of our local newspaper the next day, there wasn’t a picture of the sun or the moon, but of the people watching it in the park. The most interesting thing wasn’t the celestial show, but our reaction. 

One day, when my daughters are old women — and preparing to watch their next Great American Eclipse — perhaps they’ll pull up some historical images on their retinal projectors, or whatever technology they’re using in 2079. Will they show their grandchildren one of the multitude of fuzzy blobs from 2024 that they can find on Google 12.0? Will they find that amazing AI-generated image of the eclipse, superimposed and perfectly aligned, in the sky over Montreal’s Olympic Stadium? 

I’m guessing not. My money’s on my hastily -taken, ill-composed snapshot of the two of them standing with their dad in our driveway. And they’ll talk about what they remember, which probably won’t be the eclipse at all. 

“Right after that picture was taken, I fell on my face trying to do a flip in the front yard,” Amelia might say. “And Mom was so mad because I kept bumping into her camera setup. I love how she was always taking pictures when we were growing up.”

“And we’re all wearing bright T-shirts because Dad had all these science-y things for us to do that day, like seeing how colors showed up differently when it went dark,” Anna might say. “I love how he always wanted to teach us something.” 

The boys in the next town will hopefully smile at how their mom celebrated their love of sports, turning the eclipse into a last-second buzzer-beater. 

Our technologies will continue to change, along with our understanding of the natural world. But for the same reason that our hairy, prehistoric ancestors painted themselves into their cave-wall murals, our most memorable and enduring stories are the ones in which we are the main characters. 

While our tools are always changing, our love of stories will always make us human.


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