Lunar Eclipse

While we are all waiting for the Cherry Blossoms to open up, it’s not too soon to think about April 15th which, besides being the last day for filing taxes, is the date of the next total Lunar Eclipse that will be visible in Washington, DC. These are pretty rare events and, in fact, the next opportunity won’t come until 28 September 2015.

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That’s the good news.  The bad news?  Full totality starts at 3:08 AM and lasts until 4:23 AM.   Not enough bad news?  Here’s more: A lunar eclipse is hard to photograph.  One reason is that at the climactic moment of totality, the moon is in deep shadow.

If you have never attempted to photograph a lunar eclipse, you will want to check out this website which goes into extreme detail but speaks the language of photography.  There are two basic ways to photograph a lunar eclipse, either with a single image as shown in my two examples here, or tracking the passage of the moon through the eclipse using multiple exposures.   One example of the latter technique, which I have not yet tried, can be found at this post by Sean Bagshaw.

The above image was photographed on November 8, 2003.  The only other photographer there was from the Washington Post and an image quite similar to this (with his byline) appeared on the front page the next day.  I was still shooting with film back then and, as usual, I was using Ektachrome 100VS transparency film and a Nikon F-100 camera.  I was using my 70-200 mm zoom lens and I would guess that it was set for 200 mm.  The only other thing I remember is how cold it was.  This image shows one of the problems with a lunar eclipse; the illuminated portion of the moon (the part not yet in the earth’s shadow) is about 8 stops brighter than the portion in the shadow.

The image below was taken on December 21, 2010.  I really didn’t want to miss this one because it was happening on the night of the winter solstice, and there would not be another chance on the solstice for several hundred years.  And if I thought it was cold  on November 8, it turns out I was wrong.  This night  was really, really cold–something like ten degrees.  By now I was shooting digital, a Nikon D700.  The lens was a Nikon 28-300 zoom extended to the full 300 mm.

The image is actually a photomerge of two images.  The first included only the top half of Washington Monument  without the moon. The exposure was 0.8 secs at f/5.6 at ISO 400. The second image included just the cap of the Monument plus the moon above. The exposure was identical except that the shutter was open for 1.3 secs.   The two images were merged and then some of the lower portion of the Monument was cropped out.   The total eclipse phase was still a few minutes away, so the illumination was in better balance than in the November 8 2003 image.

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