Category Archives: Full Moon

Lunar Eclipse Sequence, Juniper and Standing Rock, Joshua Tree NP, April 2014.

For the eclipse of April 14/15, 2014, I wanted to depict the course of the eclipse across the sky with some recognizable landscape features in the foreground to anchor the composition. As the day of the eclipse went by, I watched the weather reports and decided Joshua Tree National Park would be a good place to shoot, since it was forecast to have clear skies. I have been shooting various spots in JTNP at night in an effort to produce a collection of nice landscape astrophotography images. I knew two locations in particular had orientations that would work well for the eclipse, which was going to occur almost due south. In 2011, Garry McCarthy and I shot original compositions at Arch Rock and the Juniper and Standing Rock incorporating the milky way, at the time something fairly new. Similar images have become fairly common, and the arch will now often have a crowd of photographers at night around the new moon. But since the next time a full lunar eclipse will occur centered due south is decades away, I knew this eclipse offered an opportunity to produce an astrophotography image at each of these well-known spots that was not likely to be appear in any other photographer’s portfolio anytime soon.

This is the third of the three images I made that night, with the lunar eclipse depicted from the point in time when the moon entered the shadow of the Earth to when it emerged again, above the small juniper tree and curious standing rock not far from one of the campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park.

Lunar Eclipse over Juniper and Standing Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.

Lunar Eclipse over Juniper and Standing Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.

If you are curious, the other two images I photographed during the eclipse are Lunar Eclipse Sequence over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 2014 and Lunar Eclipse Blood Red Moon Sequence over Joshua Tree National Park. The second link explains the planning involved and how I executed the eclipse sequence — I used largely the same camera technique at all three locations but the artificial lighting was different in each, exploiting both hand held light and remote triggered flash depending on what was needed. (The arch rock composition differs from the other two in that not only is it a composite but it is a very wide panorama as well.)

This image is centered due south, which was the point during the eclipse when the moon would be both fully eclipsed and highest in the sky. I lit the juniper and rock with a small handheld light from the right. This image is a composite and the moon is a larger than it appeared to the eye. The moon was exposed separately from the stars in order to control for the fact it was much brighter than the stars and to better present the detail and color of the moon itself. The stars themselves were photographed earlier in the evening, when the full moon was just rising, so that it could illuminate the surrounding landscape not reached by my flashlight. My camera remained fixed on a tripod throughout to ensure the images were aligned perfectly and the moon tracked through the sky in the proper way.

Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Lunar Eclipse Sequence over Arch Rock, Blood Red Moon, April 14 2014

The lunar eclipse of April 14 and 15, 2014 was a wonderful event to see. I went up to Joshua Tree National Park to photograph it for two reasons. First, the weather forecast in the high desert was for clear skies and, for the most part, the skies were indeed were cloudless and very dark throughout the night. Second, I was fairly sure I could find several locations around the park to setup my cameras and let them record the entire lunar eclipse, from the moment the moon entered the umbra and began to be shadowed by the Earth until it was full lit again, including the dramatic blood red coloration when the moon is fully eclipsed. The moon was going to be due south of my position at the peak of the eclipse — I knew this thanks to The Photographer’s Ephemeris — so I selected a few locations that offered a nice composition facing due south and made my photographs. This image depicts the eclipse occurring in stages to the south of the White Tank campground area, with Joshua Tree’s interesting Arch Rock on the east side of the composition. (It follows the first full eclipse sequence I presented a week ago.)

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence over Arch Rock, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence over Arch Rock, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.

Note: this image is both a panorama and a composite. The panorama spans over 180 degrees left to right, and is centered roughly SSE. I lit the arch with a remote-triggered tripod mounted flash to the right, hidden behind a rock. The panorama, depicting stars after astronomical twilight but before the full eclipse peaked, is composed of 8 frames. Planet Mars is the brightest “star” above the arc of moon stages and the blue star Spica can be seen just below and to the right of the eight moon image from the left. This image is a composite and the moon is a little larger than it appeared to the eye. The moon was exposed separately from the stars in order to control for the fact it was much brighter than the stars and to better present the detail and color of the moon itself.

Lunar Eclipse Blood Red Moon Sequence over Joshua Tree National Park

This is the first of my photographic efforts shooting the lunar eclipse the evening of April 14/15 2014. I spent the entire night out under the stars in Joshua Tree National Park, where I often shoot when looking for clear skies and stars at night. I photographed several compositions and locations within the park that evening, leaving my cameras out photographing unattended, but this is the one that caught my eye first. The rocks in the background are lit early in the evening by the rising moon when there is still some daylight blue left in the sky above, while the Joshua Tree itself is lit by my flashlight. There are some faint, short star trails in the blue sky but they are difficult to discern on this web version. The individual phases of the eclipse were photographed from 10:45pm through 2:45am, and are positioned in the proper locations and orientations in the sky but have been enlarged to illustrate how the illumination on the moon changes during the course of an eclipse and as it passes through the sky. I was fortunate that the sky remained clear enough throughout the entire eclipse that I could shoot quality images of all phases until the eclipse was done.

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.

This image is available immediately as a print or for licensing, along with two other lunar eclipse sequence photographs from the April 14-15 2014 full eclipse. Please contact me for more information. Cheers and thanks for looking!

A few photographic notes and how I planned to take this image:

  • I realized beforehand that this lunar eclipse would be characterized by a symmetry that made illustrating its path through the sky a natural. The “peak” of the eclipse, when the moon is furthest within the umbra (shadow) of the Earth, occurred almost due south of my location which meant it would also occur at the highest point along the path the moon took through the sky.
  • The beginning and ending of the eclipse took place 67 degrees apart horizontally. To include the entire sequence in one image but without being wasteful of space at the left and right of the composition, I choose to use a focal length close to 20mm giving me a lateral field of view of 82 degrees. The inclination of the moon at the point of peak eclipse was 45 degrees above the horizon, which also worked well for a 20mm lens since it offers a vertical field of view of 62 degrees, enough to include some foreground below the horizon and space above the path of the moon. (I used the Photographer’s Ephemeris to figure the angles out as well as the due-south direction of the peak eclipse point.)
  • In order to have the composition pre-set correctly hours before the eclipse began, I used a compass to make sure it was aimed directly south (thanks REI for showing me how to correct for magnetic declination in southern California, otherwise I would have been off by about 10 degrees!). Once I choose my spot in what I call “Queen’s Valley” in JTNP, an area dense with healthy, tall, picturesque Joshua Trees and interesting rocks, I then did a kind of human protractor thing with my arms to convince myself the moon’s path would go above the tree but below the top of my field of view. I locked the camera down on the tripod, waited for dusk and had a beer. I second guessed myself until the moon finally reached the left edge of the frame in what looked like a perfect position. The geometry worked out about right! (I could have done this image entirely without worrying about the angles, assembling things pell-mell later in Photoshop, but I really wanted to get as much of it correct in the camera as possible.)
  • I used an intervalometer to cause the camera to take photos every few minutes. I did a little light painting as the night went on, but the base frame I liked the most occurred about 70 minutes after sunset, with the moon out of frame to the left. The moon illuminated the background rocks nicely and complimented the light painting I did on the tree.

Tips for Photographing the Blood Red Moon during a Total Lunar Eclipse

During a total lunar eclipse, the moon will pass through the Earth’s penumbra (partial eclipse) and then the Earth’s umbra (totality). At the peak of the eclipse, when the moon is totally within the umbra, no direct sunlight reaches the moon. At this time the moon is only faintly lit by sunlight refracting (bending) through the relatively thin layer of the Earth’s atmosphere. As this refracted light passes through smoke, dust, smog and haze in the atmosphere, it takes on a distinct red tint. Since direct light reaching the moon is whitish-yellow and is many orders of magnitude stronger than the red-tinged refracted light, the red color is only observed at total eclipse when it does not have to compete with direct sunlight. Thus comes the name “blood moon” for such an eclipse. Because of the very low level of light reaching the moon and the speed at which the moon travels through the sky, this is the most difficult part of the eclipse to photograph well. Here are a few tips I have accumulated while photographing past eclipses, and which I plan to use when I try to improve my eclipse photographs this coming week.

Lunar eclipse sequence, showing total eclipse (left) through full moon (right).  While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth's atmosphere.  As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether.  August 28, 2007.

Lunar eclipse sequence, showing total eclipse (left) through full moon (right). While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. August 28, 2007.

1) Use “live view” to focus. Don’t rely on your camera’s autofocus, if you are using a telephoto and trying to render the moon as clearly as possible, make sure the focus is dead on by using the live view mode on your camera. Bump up the ISO (e.g., 800, 1600 if necessary) to make sure the moon is bright enough to focus upon, then restore the ISO after focusing to whatever you plan to use to make your exposures.

2) Focus on the moon before it reaches totality (blood red stage), while there is strong contrast on the edge of the moon to achieve good focus. Once the eclipse reaches totality, very little light is on the moon and focus will be much more difficult, and your blood-red images of the moon may be soft simply due to poor focus.

3) Bracket and Adjust Exposures. Based on my exposures from the August 28, 2007 lunar eclipse, light levels change quickly by more than 5 stops between the point where the moon is approximately half-lit and when the darkest point of totality. So be ready to adjust your exposures quickly as the moon reaches the umbra and begins to take on the red color! Bracketing is helpful here.

4) Avoid camera shake / vibration. You will be struggling for shutter speed when the moon is in the umbra and is red. It is at this time that your technique needs to be at its best or your exposures will be blurry and perhaps ill-exposed. Besides using the obvious sturdy tripod mount, make sure you use mirror lockup and some sort of delay between the point in time the mirror locks up and when the exposure is made to avoid any shake (mirror-induced or photographer-induced) from ruining the image. On my Canon cameras, if I do not have a remote shutter release, I use both mirror lockup (on the first menu screen for 5D3) and 2 second delay (on the frame rate selection control). The combination of these two modes usually results in a very steady images free of any vibration that might be caused by the mirror slapping up. On my Nikon cameras, I use both mirror lockup (selectable as “Mup” on the frame rate control) and 2-second delay (selectable in menu “d4 Exposure delay mode”). For the Sony A7r I would use a wireless remote trigger to avoid touching the camera at the moment the exposure is made.

5) If you are planning to shoot a wide scene containing the entire eclipse, including both penumbra phases and the umbra phase, know that the horizontal (lateral) field of view for this is about 67 degrees, while the lateral field of view for just the umbra phase is about 30 degrees. In other words, the moon will move left to right about 67 degrees during the eclipse. The vertical field of view for the entire eclipse is only about 7 degrees, i.e., it will be moving almost horizontally with a relative small amount of arc. You can use these to figure out what focal length lens you might want to use. I plan to use several lenses in 20mm, 24 and 28mm ranges for my compositions. (These figures are for a point in southern California, use the Photographer’s Ephemeris to figure them out for your location.)

6) Today’s high ISO cameras are the night photographer’s friends. I plan to shoot a lot of my exposures tomorrow night using ISO 3200 and ISO 6400. On my Canon 5DIII and Nikon D800e cameras, these ISOs generally result in surprisingly good images. During totality, when the moon is red, I want to get the shutter speed down as low as possible to avoid motion blur due to the moon hurtling through the sky, and since I do not use a tracking mount and my lenses have a limit to how wide open they can be, the only option available to me to freeze the motion of the moon by jacking up the shutter speed is to increase the ISO.

7) Timing. In the Pacific time zone, these are the notable times for the eclipse (times are Pacific Daylight Time the evening of April 14-15, 2014):

  • Partial umbral eclipse begins: 10:58 p.m. PDT on April 14
  • Total eclipse begins: 12:07 a.m. PDT on April 15
  • Greatest eclipse: 12:46 a.m. PDT
  • Total eclipse ends: 1:25 a.m. PDT
  • Partial eclipse ends: 2:33 a.m. PDT
Partial eclipse. August 28, 2007.

Partial eclipse. August 28, 2007.

Above: partial eclipse. This is the easy phase to photograph, just use the blinkies to get your exposure close to, but not clipping, the brights. Try to keep the shutter speed as short as possible if you are shooting a telephoto. Typical exposures I used for the above partial eclipse photo, rendered at 1000mm on a full frame camera, were approximately ISO 200, f/8, 1/125 second. I will definitely use a higher ISO next time, now that today’s digital cameras produce clean images up to ISO 1000 and more!

"Blood red moon" observed during total lunar eclipse. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth's atmosphere. As the moon passes from the umbra back into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. August 28, 2007.

The moon is shown here transitioning from the penumbra to the umbra and has mixed lighting (some directly sunlight, mostly refracted sunlight). August 28, 2007.

Above: there will be a point in time when the moon is entering the umbra of the Earth and is lit only by dim refracted light, rather than strong direct sunlight. During this transition exposure settings will change relatively quickly. Consider bracketing to ensure you get good exposures. I plan to bracket at least 1.5 stops on each side of what I think is the optimal exposure, to ensure that I have something good to work with when I get back to the computer. During exposures such as the one above, which has about 10% of the moon receiving direct sunlight and the other 90% of the moon lit by reddish refracted sunlight, my exposures have been about ISO 800, f/8, 1/2 second. Note this is eight stops darker than the first image, and totality (below) will be darker still.

"Blood red moon" observed during total lunar eclipse. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth's atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. August 28, 2007.

“Blood red moon” observed during total lunar eclipse. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. August 28, 2007.

Above: eclipse totality, the beautiful blood red full moon. My experience in the past show exposures about ISO 1600, f/8 and 1 second work well. Note that this is another two stops darker than the transition (edge of umbra) second photo, for a difference of at least six stops from partial eclipse to the darkest point of totality — it could be even more depending on the strength of the refracted red light illuminating the moon during totality. In the future (such as the lunar eclipse of April 14/15 2014) I won’t hesitate to use considerably higher ISO settings (e.g., 3200 or 6400) and a wider aperture (e.g., f/4 or f/5.6) in order to get the shutter speed down as short as possible. A little bit of motion blur does affect the above image, and that’s what I want to improve upon in my next set of eclipse photos.

Exposure Settings. Some informal personal notes to keep me in the right ballpark tonight vis-a-vis exposures (I’ll be shooting several cameras and don’t want to mixed up without notes):

  • 10:58pm begin partial eclipse, entering umbra
    • Try ISO 400, f/8, 1/250
  • 11:30pm moon is halfway into umbra (drop one stop)
    • Try ISO 400, f/8, 1/125
  • 12:06am moon completely eclipsed, wholly within umbra (drop about 7 more stops)
    • Try ISO 800, f/8, ½
    • Try ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/8
    • Try ISO 3200, f/4, 1/30
  • 12:45am deepest part of umbra
    • This part is hard to predict because the amount of refracted light reaching the moon varies considerably from one lunar eclipse to another. I will start with about ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/2 second and increase exposure a stop or two as necessary. I have seen some recommendations of up to 10 seconds for this period of the eclipse but in my experience the moon blurs during such lengthy exposures on moderate to long telephotos (70mm to 1000mm) although it works fine for wide angle views (e.g., 24mm, 28mm).
  • 1:24am leaving umbra (increase about 7 stops)
    • Try ISO 400, f/8, 1/125
  • 2:00am moon halfway out of umbra (increase another stop)
    • Try ISO 400, f/8, 1/250
  • 2:33am leaving umbra, eclipse done, go home

Lens Choices for a Wide View. Typical rectilinear lens field of view measurements, in degrees, based on a full frame 35mm camera. H=horizontal, V=vertical, assuming orientation is landscape.

  • 16mm: 95 degrees (H) x 74 degrees (V)
  • 20mm: 82 degrees (H) x 62 degrees (V)
  • 24mm: 74 degrees (H) x 53 degrees (V)
  • 28mm: 65 degrees (H) x 46 degrees (V)
  • 35mm: 54 degrees (H) x 37 degrees (V)

The full eclipse will occupy 67 degrees laterally (left to right) in the southern sky, almost due south at mid-eclipse. It will be about 39 degrees above the horizon at start and end, and about 45 degrees off the horizon at mid-eclipse. (45 degrees above the horizon means “halfway” between the horizon and straight up.) The path will be approximately horizontal, with only about 7 degrees of arc (vertical variation) as it travels through the sky. These measurements are based on a point in Southern California.

Cheers!

Full Moon Rising over the San Diego City Skyline

The full moon, rising at dusk over a view of downtown San Diego and its beautiful harbor front and city skyline, viewed from Point Loma, California. The building that is nicely lit in the center is the San Diego County Administration Building. I have recently made a nice series of new images of the San Diego city skyline and harbor, many featuring the rising full moon. Among them are several large, high resolution panoramas. I am posting them on my other website, Natural History Photography Blog. Cheers and thanks for looking.

Full Moon Rising over the San Diego City Skyline

Full Moon Rising over the San Diego City Skyline