Lunar Eclipse December 10, 2011

Eine Kleine Nachtfoto oder Die Fotografen müssen verrückt seine

A Little Night Photography or The Photographers must be crazy

 (Paul Dileanis)

December 10, 2011 at 0300 hours I roll out of bed and dress in the cold darkness. Gathering the pile of photo gear by the front door I load the dusty green Montero and start the engine.  Within minutes I am rolling down a dark nearly deserted freeway on my way to another photographic adventure. Above me the moon shines through a thin veil of clouds. I am not alone.  I know that countless other photographers around the world, ignoring the sane advice of friends and spouses, are rising up in the darkness with the hopes of photographing a lunar eclipse.

I had plotted and planned for days.  A lunar eclipse would make a nice addition to my gallery.  In the past my attempts had always been thwarted by the capriciousness of nature. I have an ongoing project photographing the moon as it sets at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse south of San Francisco (Pigeon Point Gallery link).  I turn my car towards the coast.

Arriving about 4:40 AM I find that my timing is off and the eclipse has begun.  I park my car, grab my photo bag and tripods and strike off hurriedly across the fields.  Once at my chosen location on the ocean bluff I rapidly set up my two tripods and attach the cameras.  A quick test shot affirms my exposure and I compose my image.  The plan is to take one photo every 5 minutes throughout the eclipse.  I will later blend the images together in Photoshop. After getting the primary camera up and my first exposure done I turn and look back towards the highway to where my car is parked. A faint yellow glow in the distance tells me that my dome lights are on. A faulty switch has been plaguing me for the last few weeks causing the lights to go on at random times.  A moment of panic grips me.  Do I abandon my post or take the chance that my battery will last three hours?  Well, I do have AAA road service and the next eclipse is sometime in 2014.  I stay by my camera dutifully taking an exposure every 5 minutes.  At 6:06 AM the total eclipse commences just as the moon is descending into a bank of fog. By 6:15 AM the moon is out of sight.  I make a mad dash to the car and turn off the dome light.  I return to my camera and wait to see if the fog will break and the moon reappear.

How I created this Photograph

This image is made up of 23 images taken during the December 10, 2011 lunar eclipse.  The camera, a Canon 5DmkII with 24-105 L lens, was set to manual.  ISO was set at 200.  For the first exposure I set the shutter speed to 1/60 and the f-stop at 16.  Once the moon was less than half visible I changed the shutter speed to 1/30.  When the moon was less than a quarter visible I changed the shutter speed to 1/15. When just the edge of the moon was lit I went to a full 1 second exposure. For the images taken after the full eclipse began I opened the aperture to f/5.6 and increased the exposure to 2 seconds. If the moon had made it to total eclipse while still visible I would have increased the ISO to 800 to capture detail in the dark face of the moon.  Later I chose my base image (actually a composite of 3 images made at different intervals during the eclipse) and created a layer for each of the 19 moon images and another layer of the stars taken of the dark sky when the moon was eclipsed. (Hint: be sure to hold the shift key when dragging each of the images into a layer.  This will align the images correctly.). I then set the layer blending mode to “screen” for each of the layers.


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