Readers who have been with me since 2015 may remember I had a less than successful outing photographing the lunar eclipse in September that year. All of my pretty bloodmoons were blurry and I was sooo disappointed. You can see my post about that experience here.
I had to wait until 2018 to try again. But alas, clouds. No eclipse viewing for Seattle that time.
The next total lunar eclipse was this last Sunday, January 20th. Not a good time of year for clear skies in Western Washington, and the cloud cover forecasts in the days leading up to the event were offering little hope.
But wonder of wonders, there was some clearing. It ended up depending on where you were as to whether it was completely cloudy, partly cloudy, or mostly clear. I totally lucked out in north Seattle where it was mostly clear.
Unfortunately, the day of the eclipse I somehow managed to get a cervical strain and was dealing with pain in my neck. I almost didn’t go out because of it, but felt like I had to at least give it a try.
The full eclipse was going to last a bit over three hours and it’s cold at night this time of year so I already knew I probably wouldn’t want to shoot the whole thing. My plan was to start shooting about forty minutes before totality, but that didn’t happen. Neck delay.
I was only partly dressed for the weather. I couldn’t lean over to tie shoes, so I was just wearing regular socks and flip-flops despite it being 38 degrees out. I did have a warm jacket and knit hat on to keep my top half warm.
Rather than make a big experience out of it this time I decided to stay close to home and drove to the parking lot at a nearby office building. I knew it was quiet back in there and if my neck got bad or my feet froze I could make a quick escape back to my apartment.
When I got into my car there was only a bright crescent on top of the full moon still showing. Eeps, I needed to hurry if I wanted any shots before totality!
The parking lot provided enough open space to see the moon and I was able to set up right next to my car. That way I didn’t have to carry my gear anywhere with the bad neck. I got out my folding stool, put my camera on the tripod, and ran into my first problem.
I could not find the bleepin’ moon with my lens!
I’ve shot the moon before and it’s trickier to find when using a tripod vs. handheld, but good grief! I’ve never had that much trouble before. It took me so long and I got so frustrated I almost gave up before I got started.
Finally I got my lens pointed at the right spot. By that time the eclipse was in totality. I didn’t get any shots of the first part.
Then I ran into my second issue. I had automatically attached my longest lens to my camera and left my other lenses at home because even with a really long focal length the moon only takes up a small part of the frame. I wanted to do as little cropping as possible.
But what I hadn’t given any thought to was that with the 1.4x teleconverter the largest aperture I can use is f8. Whoops. Not conducive to keeping the shutter speed down to under 2 seconds to avoid the motion blur that plagued me in 2015.
Because of this my first few shots were at ISO 3200, much higher than I wanted. The pics looked okay on my camera screen, but sure enough, when I got them on my computer the moons looked really noisy when zooming in on them. With some tinkering I was able to get ISO down to 1600 and figured that was workable and the best I was going to do while the moon was at its darkest.
Since a lunar eclipse is very slow-moving event you have plenty of time to adjust to changing light and to play around with the exposure to get different effects.
This first pic is what I’d call a normal exposure. (You can click on the photos to view at a better resolution, especially to see the stars.)
The second one is a bit brighter, and because the shutter was open longer I was able to catch a few stars also. Normally you can’t capture stars near the moon because it’s too bright. A less light polluted area would be much better if you want a lot of stars.
Here’s a dark and mysterious version.
I refocused every few shots because even using reading glasses and focus magnification I don’t trust my eyes to get manual focus exactly right every time. By refocusing occasionally I make sure that if I slightly missed focus to start with at least some shots will hopefully be tack sharp.
My first shots were okay, but my sharpest images came from later on, so it was a smart move. Though there were a few series of shots in between that were too soft from missing sharp focus by just a tidge.
A few times during the shoot I had fights with my tripod. I use a 3-way pan head, and most of the time that’s exactly what I want because it’s easier to make precise adjustments with it compared to a ball head, especially when using a heavy lens. But a pan head doesn’t have the full range of movement that a ball head does.
The further up in the sky the moon moved the more I had to fight with the handles and legs to get my lens pointed high enough. And of course, each time I did that I had to try to find the bleepin’ moon again!
Here’s two more shots just because I have a ton and they’re pretty.
As more sunlight was hitting the side of the moon after totality ended I adjusted ISO down to 800. I’d taken one or two shots at the new setting when all of a sudden I was only seeing the bright crescent of light on the camera screen, none of the moon. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with my camera. The settings looked right, I didn’t think I’d accidentally changed anything, but it wasn’t exposing properly!
I finally looked back up at the moon and realized thin clouds were passing in front of it. Oh. I guess that’s why. Heh.
Sometimes I keep oopsies because they amuse me (or look kinda cool). This is what happens when you’re photographing a lunar eclipse and accidentally push the shutter remote button while in the middle of moving your tripod around.
As more light was returning to the moon more clouds started passing over. Some blocked my view of the moon completely, and some were very thin letting it shine through. So I played around with taking shots that included clouds and ended up with a few like this. (Click on image to see more detail.)
By then my nose and toes were very cold, the ibuprofen was wearing off, and clouds were becoming more frequent, so I decided I was done even if the eclipse wasn’t. My last experiments were shooting to expose just for the crescent of light on the moon before packing up and returning home.
So this lunar eclipse experience was still a bit of a mixed bag. It was a much greater success in terms of photography, but my neck pain really put a damper on things and I kinda missed the festive, communal atmosphere I experienced by going to Magnuson Park last time.
Though I have to say I’m glad there were no witnesses to my moon finding and tripod struggles! That would be kinda embarrassing.
Next time I will have to try something different yet again. I’d like to give my 300mm lens a try. That will let me use a much wider aperture and since it’s my sharpest lens the images might stand up to the more severe cropping. And now that I know I can successfully shoot just the eclipsed moon, I will have to give some thought to picking a location where I can shoot wider and include some other elements in a few compositions.
The next total lunar eclipse will be on May 26th, 2021. Mark your calendars!