Moon eclipse with Spica

Click for larger picture

Click for larger picture

The full eclipse of the moon as viewed from Eagle, CO, was a sight to behold. At first, when the full moon rose at 7:30pm MST, it looked spectacularly large on the horizon. Though this is only a visual effect and the moon was no larger on the horizon than it is straight overhead, the effect is still stunning.

After waiting for hours, the moon began its slow progression into darkness, moving from the outer shadow of the Earth (penumbra) and through to the inner shadow of the Earth (umbra). Once the moon was fully eclipsed,  it turned to a copper color. Some describe this as a “blood moon”. I enjoyed watching the transition from daylight bright to a deep, ruddy color.

There are several enjoyable aspects of a lunar eclipse:

  • You can look straight at the moon and not damage your eyes
  • They “seem” to be more frequent than solar eclipses
  • The effect is chilling

One beautiful part of this eclipse was the moon was a few degrees from Spica in the constellation Virgo. At first the moon was bright enough to overwhelm the 15th brightest star the sky. But as the moon fell into the Earth’s shadow, that imbalance changed until Spica, a giant blue star, gracefully complementing the scene.

For the photographers out there, here is what I shot with:

and the settings on the camera were:

  • ISO 640
  • f5.6
  • 1 second

DSC_D8_4036 star trailThe thing about shooting with a 180mm telephoto lens on a full-frame sensor body is that shooting any longer than 1 second causes the sky objects to begin leaving tell-tale streaks, better known as star trails. Also, I wanted as much sharpness as I could get out of my 180mm, so I shot it at f5.6 rather than f2.8. At effectively infinite distance, the depth of field didn’t matter, but the smaller aperture made for easier focusing. It also helps reduce or eliminate halos around highly contrasted subjects, too.

As can be seen in the extreme crop at the right, the star is no longer a point but rather an oblong shape, indicating the 1.6 second shot was too long.

Ansel Adams shot moon

Ansel Adams shot moon

An hour after the moon rose on the horizon, I photographed it as a comparison point against the eclipsed version. Using Ansel Adam’s oft-quoted formula, I knew exactly the exposure I wanted to put the moon in Zone VII to make it properly bright without being blown out. Here are my settings:

  • ISO 100
  • f11
  • 1/60 sec

Those settings or a proportionate variation will give you great full moon shots. The exposure setting has to do with knowing the luminance of the full moon is 250 cd/ft^2. Using that setting as the shutter speed, one can place the moon in Zone V. But that makes the moon gray. So to make the moon a bright but not blown out Zone VII, all I have to do is drop the shutter speed 2 stops, from 1/250 – 1/125 – 1/60. A perfect moon every time.

Note that with a setting of 1/60, a lens like the 180mm will be blurry due to handholding. This is where both the tripod and exposure delay come in. Even on a tripod, shooting that slow with a long lens will show vibration. Adding mirror lockup is even better. The initial vibrations damp out from the shutter slap. Then, depressing the shutter release again, the D800 begins its 3 second shutter delay. For really long shots, I’ll even use the camera’s self timer and set it for 10 seconds with mirror lockup.

Happy moon photography!

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