Dr. Kate Russo prefers to live her life in the shadow. Go to her website, and you'll notice that almost every photo of her is in black and white. This is a conscious decision, and one that speaks to a defining part of both her professional and personal life: Chasing eclipses and the moment of totality, when the moon covers the sun, casting darkness over the earth.
Since 1999, when Russo saw her first total eclipse, she has seen nine more, as well as two annular eclipses. As a psychologist, much of her eclipse research focuses on learning how others experience the moment of totality. Her two books, Being In The Shadow and Total Addiction, tell these stories from different ends of the spectrum: The stories of first-time eclipse viewers, and tales from fellow chasers who spend their lives seeking the next great moment of darkness.
She also helps communities where totality is taking place prepare for the eclipse. That element of her job means that now is a very busy time for Russo, as she readies for next Monday's total eclipse — the first visible one in the U.S. since 1979. Ahead of the big day, she shares some unique advice for those preparing to lose their eclipse-viewing virginity next week. Follow these tips to make the most of the experience:
Do: Be present.
Eclipse chasers describe the moment of a totality as an almost spiritual one, and if you're not living in the moment — you'll miss out.
"If I was giving my best advice to you it is this — just let events unfold and experience it," Russo says. "Watch what happens above you, around you and within you."
Which leads to another point...
Don't: Get too caught up in photographing the experience.
It can be easy to judge your memory of an event by how many likes your photo of that event gets on Instagram. But Russo warns against putting too much stock in a photo of the eclipse.
"The biggest mistake first-timers make is going in expecting to photograph it," she says. "I know we live in a time where we photograph everything. But honestly, this is a situation where you really do need to live and breathe what is happening around you. You will always remember in vivid detail what you will see and experience."
The only time you'll feel FOMO, Russo says, "is if you spend your time focusing on your camera kit, trying to adjust to rapid changes in light, and then having to miss some of the key features of totality as a result."
If you do want to capture a photo, it's best to set your camera up on a tripod ahead of time and leave it be, so you can focus on the celestial spectacle taking place above.
Don't: Settle for less than 100-percent.
"If you are in it, you will experience one of the most awesome nature events you can possibly witness," Russo says. "If you are not within the path of totality, you will miss out. Even if the sun is 99-percent covered, you will miss out."
She advises first-timers to not underestimate how immersive the moment of totality will be — it's one thing Russo says she wishes she had known before her first eclipse viewing. Make the extra effort, and you'll be rewarded when totality occurs.
Do: Plan ahead for 2024.
If there's one thing Russo has learned from fellow eclipse chasers, it's that it's never too early to start planning. "Know where the path of totality is for the next eclipse, because as soon as your first one is over, this is the piece of information you are desperate to know," she says.
That may seem far off, but it's already time to start planning.