Thursday, October 9, 2014

Blood Moon

Woohoo! I just got back from watching the total lunar eclipse (aka "Blood Moon") for the first time this evening. Usually, whenever there's stuff like this in the sky, there will be lots of cloud that night here in Christchurch. But lo and behold, tonight, it was perfectly crystal clear!

From the weather forecasts last night, it wasn't looking too promising, as they had been predicting some rain in the afternoon and evening. However, when the predicted rain never eventuated, and the remaining norwest arch clouds started to dissipate during sunset (leading to some stunning cloudscapes again - to be posted soon), I knew that this was going to be the night at last!

The first time I'd ever heard of blood moons was back in high school in 2007, when one of the science teachers organised (via the GATE programme) a lunar eclipse viewing session one night. For various reasons, I couldn't make it that time, and haven't had a chance since (as the weather never played ball).

9pm - Full Moon
At 9pm, the moon was relatively low in the sky, and thus very large and bright. This made it possible to get some nice shots of the full moon, enough to see some of the surface detail. Not bad using "only" a 135mm lens.

10:45pm - Start of Eclipse
By the next time I checked, a good chunk of the moon was already in shadow! Still, the moon was low enough in the sky to get nice and clear visuals of the thing.

Despite this early stage, it was already possible to start seeing a bit of a red tint. Here it's only visible in the soft shadow, but in real life, the darkened part of the moon was actually fully visible with a dull red/orange glow.

For the next few minutes, I couldn't really sit still - obviously the eclipse was taking place, but I didn't know how long it'd take to fully change over so I didn't really want to head out too early and end up being a walking iceblock. Eventually though, curiosity got the better of me (and the fact that it was fruitless trying to think about work with this drama in the skies going on), so...

11pm - More Red Shadow
At about 11pm, I grabbed my coat, camera, and tripod, and headed out to stake a spot for mooning.

While the initial few shots were cropped, the latter few are not - they are SOOC (@ 135mm). Considering that the moon usually ends up looking like a tiny spec in photos, it must've been quite close again tonight.

11:30pm -Peak Eclipse
By 11:30pm, the eclipse was said to be at its peak, which was also supposed to last for quite a while. Of course, having not worn a watch, at the time, I didn't have a clue that it was 11:30 already.

Instead, by chance, I decided to try and take a few shots of the tree, with its new leaves being backlit by the LED streetlight (the leaves had a really captivating quality to them). Soon I was trying to frame the moon in the shot too...

One thing lead to another, and soon I started playing with trying to frame the blood red moon with the lush green leaves through gaps in the foliage. The result is quite magical. My favourite is 0035 below, which easily stands out among the variants I tried:

Some other foliage shots - I played around with darker exposures and "more green" exposures. The resulting effects are quite interesting to look at.

This last one with foliage is also one of the more "special" ones. With this one, I tried framing it so that it looked like the moon was sitting on one of the branches - like a plump red berry or something.

12am - Darkening Moon
As the night wore on, the moon seemed to get darker/dimmer, with a more even colour tone...

There was also a noticeable change from being lit on the left, to being lit from the bottom. This seemed to correspond to how the shadow moved: initially, it went from right to left, and later went from top to bottom (i.e. as of time of writing).

Eventually, around 12:15am I called it quits. I could've stayed out and waited for the moon to come out of the eclipse again, but it was good enough to know when to stop.

Photography Notes
I ended up shooting most of these handheld, with some of the initial eclipsing done on tripod. What was clear from this exercise is that I probably need to look into a proper tripod + cable release at some point, as tripodding the shots just made things worse (and disabling IS didn't turn out too well either).

As for camera settings, these were shot using:
* WB = Daylight
* Metering = Spot Metering
* AF Point = Center

I tried various exposure settings including:
* Manual - After initially using values of 1/3s and 1/5 sec and apertures of f6.3 - f14, I ended up settling on 1/10 sec and f9.0 there
* Aperature Priority - Initially I tried ranges of f12-f14, and f5.6-f9.0, with exposure compensation to -2 or -2 1/3. The wider apertures ended up working better than the smaller, since the shutter speeds got far too low to handhold without significantly affecting image quality (i.e. blurring and ghosting).
* Program Mode - This turned out to work the best (thanks Canon), striking a nice balance between shutter speed and aperture (and allowing me to use some alternative combos - though that was a bit too clumsy to remember for each shot). With exposure compensation of -2, this worked really nicely in general (i.e. the shutter speeds at 1/5sec were sufficiently fast to still handhold, while the f5.6 aperture was still slightly too soft to see the detail on the moon surface.

Overall, this was a fun way to spend an evening, especially considering that the next one isn't for another 4 years!

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