Today was a special celestial day here on Earth. In addition to it being the winter solstice there was also a total lunar eclipse. These two events had not coincided together in 372 years. I had been looking forward to the eclipse for several months, hoping for good weather and planning out my strategy to photograph the event. Photographing eclipses and timing everything just right can get a little tricky and having never done it before, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I started to research and quickly learned I would need to baby sit the camera through the entire process (a 5 hour tour). As the eclipse progresses and regresses, the moon significantly looses light and gains it back and thus the camera exposure times need to be adjusted throughout the night. I was able to find a nice chart that illustrated the formula to determine exposure times in a lunar eclipse. I also found a time schedule for the different phases. I used these two documents together as a guide for adjusting my exposures, starting out at 1/1000 of a second for the full moon and working my way up to 2 full seconds for the totally eclipsed moon. We had a few intermittent clouds through out the night, but they didn’t last long. All in all it was a perfect evening and I couldn’t have asked for more.
Here’s a nice photo of phase 9 of the tail end of the eclipse. Its a combination of two exposures, one short to capture the detail on the illuminated surface and another long to catch the red hue of the eclipsed side. Blending the two frames together ads definition to the bright part of the moon and makes an interesting effect.
I set up my second camera with the fish eye lens to photograph the evening, hoping we might get lucky and catch a meteor during the eclipse (that didn’t happen). It was really cool to see the difference in the sky when the moon was eclipsed.
The period of totality was calm, serene and surreal. It got so dark, the stars came out like a moonless night. At the end of the show I had a nice collection of images that documented the entire process. I had programmed my cable release to take a picture once every 20 seconds throughout the night and did this continuously from 12:30 – 5:45 am. I set alarms on my iphone to alert me with every phase change and at those points adjusted the exposure times up and down. I also had to periodically correct the tracking as my alignment wasn’t perfect and I wasn’t auto-guiding. There were times through the process where I would take multiple exposures, one short and one long. This would capture both the black gray and white red effects at the same phase of the eclipse. Both styles of these pictures are cool and both are available to the photographer throughout the process. If I had to do it over again I would have taken advantage of this more and manually switched the times more often.
I spent a good bit of time sifting through the images and thinking about the best way to present them. There are so many cool pictures throughout the entire process, but I can’t really post dozens of pictures on the site. I pulled out the key frames / phase change moments and went from there. I made an animated gif of the eclipse and thought about making a time lapse movie. Then this final design idea came to me, I sketched it out on a post-it note, liked the symmetry and wiped it together in photoshop. I think it might make a nice postcard.
Here’s a composite image representing the 12 phases of the lunar eclipse.
This was really a great experience and it worked out better than I could have hoped. There are a few improvements I will make in 2014, and I’m looking forward to it already.