It was freezing cold outside. And dark. Not the kind of dark that just comes with night but the dark that happens when the earth passes between the sun and the moon.
It was February 20, 2008, and I was in our new temporary home in Gaston, Oregon, an hour west of Portland, in time for the total eclipse of the moon. Brent and I stood in the cold for hours to photograph and watch this rare event.
NASA explained that the difference between this eclipse and other annual eclipses is that this one was first visible to the majority of people on the planet, covering the Americans, Europe, Africa, and western Asia. The full eclipse happens only when there is a full moon and only if the moon passes through some portion of Earth’s shadow, when the earth, sun, and moon are in total alignment.
We are used to seeing solar eclipses, where the moon blocks the sun for a few minutes. A lunar eclipse lasts for hours as the earth blocks the light hitting the moon. No special glasses are required for a lunar eclipse, unlike a solar eclipse. The previous total or full lunar eclipse was three years before. The next one is April 15, 2014.
There are two shadows that the earth cats on the moon, an inner an outer shadow. It is the inner shadow, the umbra, that happens when earth blocks all direct sunlight from reaching the moon, making it totally dark. If the moon passes through the umbra, it is a partial eclipse. If the moon passes through both the umbral (outer shadow), then a total eclipse occurs. We were in for a total eclipse.
As the moon passes through the various stages of the eclipse, it turns from red to dark brown and dark gray. That is what we experienced.
For us, it was a rare enough event as clouds didn’t interfere with the show.
Recently, I took those images and put them together in a form of a time lapse shot, moving from the red stage through to the burst of the sun coming through.
Even with ice crystals forming with our breath, it was great fun to huddle out in the cold on the back of our truck parked next to the trailer and take these pictures over the three hours of the eclipse.
The tricks to photographing the moon include using a tripod for maximum stability, long lenses to fill the frame with the moon, and a shutter speed fast enough to stop the motion of the moon across the sky while slow enough to allow enough light in through the distance and the dark to get a clear picture. It isn’t easy. I had to constantly monitor the exposure as I zoomed in closer and pulled back and as the light on the moon and its visibility shifted and changed over the time of the eclipse. I wanted as much depth of field as I could, but when you are photographing something that far away, depth of field isn’t as important as slowing things down enough to let enough light in while maintaining stillness for a sharp focused result. Without special telescopic equipment, you have to compromise and experiment. It’s a fine line between light, focus, and clarity, so I bracketed my exposure all across the bar hoping to get lucky with the right combination for this unusual event.
To create the time lapse effect, I used a photo graphics program to splice the images together, resized those that weren’t exactly the same size, and then blended the black background night sky to accommodate the light radiating out from the moon as the sun hit it through the shadow of the earth.
Here is more information on eclipses.
- Lunar Eclipse Computer
- Lunar Eclipse | Alien Worlds: Shedding light on our unearthly universe
- NASA Eclipse Web Site
- Hermit Eclipse: Eclipse Search
- Eclipses, Cosmic Clockwork of the Ancients
- Lunar Eclipses for Beginners
- New York Institute of Photography – Lunar Eclipse Photos
- A Catalogue of Eclipse Cycles
- Five Millennium Canon of Lunar Eclipses: -1999 to +3000 – Xavier Jubier – Fred Espenak