Friday, June 05, 2015

Chasing the Moon: Lunar Eclipse Photography October 2014

Partially eclipsed moon setting behind the Sierra Nevada
Lunar eclipses can be a fun challenge to photograph.  The moon is so much brighter than the landscape, most photographers simply choose to expose for either the moon detail or the landscape with the too-bright moon over it.  Even the exposure for the moon itself can be a challenge if you try to capture detail in both the lit and shaded portions of the moon's surface while the moon is partially eclipsed.  Of course the challenge only gets greater if you try to zoom in on the moon's surface, and the moon orbits the earth and moves relative to your position on the surface of the rotating earth.

I captured the moon from three places on the night of October 7-8, 2014 in the dark skies of the Eastern Sierra: first from the shoreline of Mono Lake as the full moon rose just before sunset, then from the shoreline of Convict Lake as the moon entered totality and then exited totality just as it was setting behind the Sierra Nevada, and finally from Minaret Vista as the moon, still in the penumbral phase of eclipse, set behind The Minarets just before dawn.  

Composite shot captured using an ultra-wide lens
The Mono Lake sunset moon rise was pretty straightforward, since the moon and landscape can both be picked up clearly in a single exposure then the moon rises just before sunset.  The moon went behind a cloud as it continued to rise during blue hour, enabling more nice shots without having to process multiple exposures.

I tried a number of things at once during the eclipse.  I had three cameras going, one to capture only a wide angle sequence of the landscape and moon and its reflection in Convict Lake as the moon went in and back out of totality, a second camera to capture a telephoto time-lapse sequence of the eclipse on a sky-tracking mount, and a third one simply to assess exposure changes, so I could reset the other two cameras on the fly to follow the changing brightness of the moon.

Since the moon takes a while to get fully out of the the earth's shadow, once the moon set at Convict Lake, I had time drive to Minaret Vista and arrive in tome to capture it setting.

As a major bonus, I realized that the blue dot i was picking up just to the left of the moon during totality was the planet Uranus!

I was pretty tired after getting very little sleep that night, but of course it was completely worth the time and effort.  I can't wait for the next lunar eclipse, coming up this fall.

Update June 2015: I'd like to thank the +The Huffington Post UK for featuing my composite eclipse sequence image in an article featuring photos entered in the 2015 Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest conducted by the Royal Observatory at the +Royal Museums Greenwich : I'll place more of my photos from this lunar eclipse on the new app +dripthat:

The blue planet Uranus could be seen just to the left of the eclipsed moon during the total eclipse in October 2014