Category

Astrophotography and Night Scapes

Blood Red Moon Madness! A Tetrad of Total Lunar Eclipses

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, California, Joshua Tree

Lunar eclipse sequence, showing total eclipse (left) through full moon (right).  While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth's atmosphere.  As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether.  August 28, 2007, Earth Orbit, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, The Universe

Lunar eclipse sequence, showing total eclipse (left) through full moon (right). While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. August 28, 2007.
Image ID: 19392
Location: Earth Orbit, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, The Universe

During 2014 and 2015 we were treated to a tetrad (quartet) of total lunar eclipses. For landscape astrophotography buffs, this was a big deal: each six months (lunar cycles, to be more precise) we would be offered a chance to watch the full moon pass into the shadow of the Earth and, for a while, be illuminated only by the faint light skirting the edge of the Earth rather than the direct light of the sun which normally illuminates a full moon. This “edge light” — sunlight passing obliquely through the thin atmosphere of the Earth, scattering and bending as it does — casts a faint, reddish light upon the moon that lends to oft-heard phrase “blood red moon”. Indeed, while the moon is dim during a total lunar eclipse, it is typically red, or orange, in color due to this edge light. There are even moon-geeks that have developed a scale for the gradations of this eclipse light.

I set out to photograph each of the four eclipses that would occur: April 14/15 2014, October 8 2014, April 4 2015 and September 28 2015. To my surprise, I managed to get at least one good image of each of the eclipse events. I say “surprise” because I live along the coast of California, and our skies are usually overcast. If I were a betting man I would have wagered against my chances of having clear skies for all four eclipses. I got lucky.

Prior to each eclipse, I wanted to know what lens choice would give me the best composition for a “sequence image”, in which a collage of each phase of the eclipse could be seen as the moon arced through the sky over a terrestrial landscape. There are lots of eclipse calculators out there, and using them I was able to determine, for each eclipse, the time, angle of inclination and compass degree for the moments when the partial eclipse would begin and end. Knowing these angles, it was a pretty straightforward thing to figure out what lens to use on my 35mm camera. I chose a landscape composition, setup my camera on a tripod to repeated photograph the composition with the moon passing through, and then layered the resulting images so that the moon appeared in various stages of eclipse, and positions in the sky, while the landscape below remain fixed. While it is not rocket science, I do explain a little bit more about my thinking when I posted about the April 14 2015 Lunar Eclipse.

Lunar Eclipse, April 14 2014, Joshua Tree National Park (link, link)

I had grand plans to shoot the lunar eclipse as a sequence. I went to Joshua Tree National Park since it tends to have clearer skies than the coast near my home, and is less influenced by light pollution than some other local desert options such as Anza Borrego. I had several different compositions I wanted to depict, so I set up three different cameras in three different parts of Joshua Tree National Park, and let them record the eclipse throughout the night. I then assembled the sequences into composite images. I was pretty happy with each one, but the Arch Rock Lunar Eclipse photograph is my favorite, partly because it was the most difficult to set up and partly due to the fact I love trying to photograph this one iconic arch in as many ways a possible.

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence over Arch Rock, planet Mars above the moon, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence over Arch Rock, planet Mars above the moon, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.
Image ID: 29201

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, over Juniper and Standing Rock, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, over Juniper and Standing Rock, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.
Image ID: 29204

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, stars, astronomical twilight, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, stars, astronomical twilight, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.
Image ID: 29202
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Full lunar eclipse, blood red moon, with blue star Spica (right of moon) and planet Mars (top right), over Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15, 2014

Full lunar eclipse, blood red moon, with blue star Spica (right of moon) and planet Mars (top right), over Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15, 2014.
Image ID: 29205
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Lunar Eclipse, October 8 2014, Torrey Pines

For this eclipse I was unable to get away, and was forced to photograph it near the coast. The forecast was not good, with cloudy skies predicted. I had two ideas: Torrey Pines, and Scripps Pier, both locations I have photographed many times. I went out to the bluffs above Torrey Pines beach and checked out how the angles would work, knowing from the eclipse predictions where the moon would be passing and using that to line up the famous Broken Hill promontory below the moon’s path. I set up the camera to record all night long, and let it go. I had no idea what I would get, or whether it would even be clear enough to get any images. I also went down to Scripps Pier, but the conditions there were poor: the air was very wet, humid, and it felt like coastal fog was going to obscure the view, so I took no images there. When I finally retrieved my camera from Torrey Pines and processed the images, I was pleased to find I had recorded the entire eclipse and it was positioned right above Broken Hill as I had planned. Score one for high school geometry and the compass.

Lunar Eclipse Sequence Over Broken Hill, Torrey Pines State Reserve. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth's atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014, San Diego, California

Lunar Eclipse Sequence Over Broken Hill, Torrey Pines State Reserve. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014.
Image ID: 29412
Location: Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego, California, USA

Lunar eclipse sequence. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth's atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014

Lunar eclipse sequence. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014.
Image ID: 29411

Lunar Eclipse April 4, 2015, Joshua Tree National Park

By this time I was done with eclipse sequences depicting all the phases of the eclipse where they occurred in the night sky: I wanted to shoot something different! My friend Garry McCarthy and I decided to run up to Joshua Tree for this eclipse, primarily in an attempt to find clear skies. We also had two ideas for new images, both of which succeeded beyond my expectations. We would use Arch Rock as the focal point for these images, as we often have in the past. Garry had determined that during full eclipse the Milky Way would be positioned above Arch Rock, similar to how we usually photograph it but in this unusual case the blood moon itself would be providing the light on the arch (as opposed to light painting, as in most of these images of the Milky Way over Arch Rock). This meant we would have a chance to photograph the Milky Way during a full moon, which is normally an impossible proposition. A rare occurrence — a full eclipse in the Western sky and the fortunate location of the milky way low in the Eastern sky, all in synchony not long before dawn, made this image possible. The red color on the arch is natural in this case, as it is the light of the sun, passing through the Earth’s atmosphere, reflecting off the moon and reaching the arch. I don’t think I will have an opportunity to shoot exactly this combination of light at this location ever again.

I also placed a second camera behind the arch, pointed toward the West, to depict the moon passing through the sky. I chose to use exposures that would illustrate how the brightness of the moon wanes and waxes as it passes through the shadow of the Earth.

Lunar Eclipse Sequence, the path of the moon through the sky as it progresses from being fully visible (top) to fully eclipsed (middle) to almost fully visible again (bottom), viewed through Arch Rock, April 4 2015, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Lunar Eclipse Sequence, the path of the moon through the sky as it progresses from being fully visible (top) to fully eclipsed (middle) to almost fully visible again (bottom), viewed through Arch Rock, April 4 2015
Image ID: 30713
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Milky Way during Full Lunar Eclipse over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 4 2015.  The arch and surrounding landscape are illuminated by the faint light of the fully-eclipsed blood red moon.  Light from the sun has passed obliquely through the Earth's thin atmosphere, taking on a red color, and is then reflected off the moon and reaches the Earth again to light the arch.  The intensity of this light is so faint that the Milky Way can be seen clearly at the same time

Milky Way during Full Lunar Eclipse over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 4 2015. The arch and surrounding landscape are illuminated by the faint light of the fully-eclipsed blood red moon. Light from the sun has passed obliquely through the Earth’s thin atmosphere, taking on a red color, and is then reflected off the moon and reaches the Earth again to light the arch. The intensity of this light is so faint that the Milky Way can be seen clearly at the same time.
Image ID: 30717
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Lunar Eclipse September 27, 2015, San Diego

The final eclipse of the tetrad took me to Shelter Island. The moon was already partially eclipsed when it rose over the San Diego City Skyline. I managed to get one frame in which a jet plane, approaching to land at Lindberg Field, was silhouetted against the eclipsed moon itself.

Jet Airliner Silhouetted Against Supermoon Eclipse, at Moonrise over San Diego, September 27 2015

Jet Airliner Silhouetted Against Supermoon Eclipse, at Moonrise over San Diego, September 27 2015
Image ID: 31869

Supermoon Eclipse at Moonrise over San Diego, September 27 2015

Supermoon Eclipse at Moonrise over San Diego, September 27 2015
Image ID: 31874

Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Perseid Meteor Shower over Joshua Tree National Park, August 2015

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, California, Desert, Joshua Tree

Each August the Perseid meteor shower takes place. This year it peaked during a new moon, which offered prime conditions for seeing many meteors. I photographed the Perseid meteor shower in Joshua Tree National Park using two compositions/locations: with Arch Rock as one feature and with a single joshua tree as an alternative composition. [See the former posted a few days ago: Perseid Meteor Shower over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park.] Note that a completely different set of meteors are depicted in each of these two images. In each case, I rotated the images about Polaris (the “north star”) so that they aligned correctly with respect to the constellation Perseus, the northern arm of the Milky Way and the rest of the night sky. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

(See two other Perseid meteor images: Perseid Meteor Shower over Arch Rock and well as Perseid Meteor Shower and Milky Way over Half Dome.)

The Perseid meteor shower happens each year because the Earth is plowing through the trail of dust left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseid meteors are named for the constellation Perseus in the northern sky, from which the meteors appear to radiate. When sand- and pea-sized debris left behind by Swift-Tuttle collide with our atmosphere at about 37 miles per second, the gases in our upper atmosphere are superheated and glow, often with colors. In the above image as well as in “Perseid Meteor Shower over Arch Rock”, I found that most of the meteor tracks I recorded have a pronounced green color at the beginning of their trail, ending in white or yellow.

Perseid Meteor Shower over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, 2015

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, California, Desert, Joshua Tree

The Perseid meteor shower occurs each August, peaking on the evenings of August 12 and 13. It happens because the Earth is plowing through the trail of dust left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseid meteors are named for the constellation Perseus in the northern sky, from which the meteors appear to radiate. When sand- and pea-sized debris left behind by Swift-Tuttle collide with our atmosphere at about 37 miles per second, the gases in our upper atmosphere are superheated and glow, often with colors. That’s what I wanted to photograph, over what has become one of my go-to places to make astrophotographs, Arch Rock in Joshua Tree National Park. I photographed from about 10pm until 3am, seeing hundreds of meteors all over the night sky and capturing about 25 on my camera.

(See two other Perseid meteor images: Perseid Meteor Shower over Joshua Tree National Park and well as Perseid Meteor Shower and Milky Way over Half Dome.)

I was last photographing in JTNP with my buddy Garry in April, when we elected to photograph the total lunar eclipse over Arch Rock. We were alone then, it was great and easy to make good photographs. When I was at Arch Rock a few nights ago for the Perseid meteors, Arch Rock was crammed with people. Honestly I have never seen it so crowded, it was like Mesa Arch at dawn. A lot different than when we first photographed Arch Rock under the milky way 5-6 years ago and astrophotography was not as popular as it is now. A few nights ago, while the Perseids were flying overhead, many of the folks at the arch did not speak English. This made it impossible for everyone to be in sync, working together to keep the light pollution to a minimum and light the arch while balancing the star light. No problem, I just waited until everyone was done, and managed to sneak in a few exposures of the arch and milky way above it when noone was flashing a mag light, or red “night” lights or cylume sticks around. I think everyone photographing eventually got a good image of the arch and the milky way, but it took a while. As for recording the meteors — that’s the easy part: I just let my camera take photos of the north-eastern sky for hours (14mm, f/2.8, ISO 6400, 10 seconds) with a cable release locked down, and I kicked back in the bed of my truck and watched the show. (Note: the images are rotated in post to properly account for the rotation of the stars as the night goes by, so that they appear in their proper orientation relative to the milky way and Perseus in the final photo.)

What is depicted here is Arch Rock, with the northern arm of the Milky Way visible rising above to the left. The Andromeda galaxy is seen just above and to the left of the top of the arch, like a large star. The constellation Perseus, from which the meteors typically appear to emanate, is behind the arch and just rising above the horizon. What I found interesting is that virtually all of the meteors that I recorded have green coloration at the beginning of their tail, ending in white or light yellow. I don’t recall seeing that when I photographed the Perseid meteor shower over Half Dome in Yosemite a few years ago. OK, whatever. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Lunar Eclipse April 4 2015 from Joshua Tree National Park

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, Desert, Joshua Tree

I went up to Joshua Tree National Park to watch the lunar eclipse of April 4, 2015. Photographically, I was not sure what I was going to do. I’ve made a series of lunar eclipse sequence images (lunar eclipse October 8, 2014 and April 14, 2014 version 2 version 3). While these images are visually appealing and challenging to make well, I really wanted to do something different for this eclipse, push the creative comfort zone so to speak. Fellow photographer Garry McCarthy and I mulled over some ideas on the drive up to Joshua Tree but after arriving I was still at a loss. I deliberately left my 500mm lens at home so I would not fall into the trap of trying to photograph closeups and sequences that way. In fact, I brought my fish eye lens to force myself to look for something different. We headed to the arch, a spot we often go to for night photography and the place at which Garry (with some help from me) originally planned and executed the “Milky Way Arch over Arch” photo, which we have subsequently re-photographed in many variations over the years. A little pondering, a pause for a Santana’s chicken burrito, some crawling around on the rocks looking for angles, and then thankfully I had finally had an idea for a different kind of sequence and a different angle on the arch. At least something to try.

Lunar Eclipse Sequence, the path of the moon through the sky as it progresses from being fully visible (top) to fully eclipsed (middle) to almost fully visible again (bottom), viewed through Arch Rock, April 4 2015, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Lunar Eclipse Sequence, the path of the moon through the sky as it progresses from being fully visible (top) to fully eclipsed (middle) to almost fully visible again (bottom), viewed through Arch Rock, April 4 2015
Image ID: 30713
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

I wanted a composition that told the story of the entire eclipse from start to end in one photograph, and in which the Joshua Tree NP setting was clearly evident. I recalled the exposure settings I had used during the last eclipse and realized that the variation of the moon’s light is too great to capture with just one exposure setting, but that could work to my advange in depicting the entire smooth path of the moon through the sky. I took a wild-ass-guess at the best aperture, shutter and ISO to use, set up my camera on a small tripod wedged into some rocks, turned on the intervalometer and let it go all night. The result is the following composite image, depicting the moon from about 1am until 6:30am, including the lunar eclipse from when it began at 3:15am until it set behind the rocks in the distance. The frame is “Arch Rock”, but in an unfamiliar angle. 890 individual images were taken to make this image. The stars and eclipsed moon are shown at about 5am, when the eclipse was at its “peak”, the moon being in its “blood red” phase and lit only by indirect, refracted light passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. The color of the moon is indeed red in the full res version but its hard to make out on the web. The path of the moon is flared toward the top due to high altitude clouds which were passing by, but as the eclipse began the skies cleared and the moon’s path through the sky becomes smoother.

We also realized that during the eclipse, the milky way would become visible, something that is typically impossible to see during a full moon. In fact, the strength of the moonlight would gradually fade in such a way that we could wait for it to exactly match the milky way and starlight above, allowing us to photograph the arch lit by a perfect amount of moonlight, right at astronomical twilight when blue just begins to appear in the sky, without resorting to using any artificial light at all. The result was this image: Milky Way over Arch Rock during Lunar Eclipse of April 4, 2015. (Note: I think this is the highest quality panorama of this scene I’ve ever photographed, and I’ve practiced it many many times. It will print 4.5′ by 7′ with no interpolation.)

Milky Way during Full Lunar Eclipse over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 4 2015.  The arch and surrounding landscape are illuminated by the faint light of the fully-eclipsed blood red moon.  Light from the sun has passed obliquely through the Earth's thin atmosphere, taking on a red color, and is then reflected off the moon and reaches the Earth again to light the arch.  The intensity of this light is so faint that the Milky Way can be seen clearly at the same time

Milky Way during Full Lunar Eclipse over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 4 2015. The arch and surrounding landscape are illuminated by the faint light of the fully-eclipsed blood red moon. Light from the sun has passed obliquely through the Earth’s thin atmosphere, taking on a red color, and is then reflected off the moon and reaches the Earth again to light the arch. The intensity of this light is so faint that the Milky Way can be seen clearly at the same time.
Image ID: 30717
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

We were also treated to a 22° lunar halo an hour or so before the eclipse occurred. Often mistakenly called “lunar corona”, the lunar halo forms when moonlight refracts through hexagonal high altitude ice crystals. As no light is refracted at angles smaller than 22° the sky is darker inside the halo. It formed a complete circle for about 45 minutes. We were freezing our asses off and, while this was a superb distraction, once it was gone we still had to wait and freeze until the eclipse began. Why is it still so cold in the high desert in April?

Full moon with 22-degree lunar halo, Joshua Tree National Park.  The lunar halo (not to be cofused with lunar corona) forms when moonlight refracts through high altitude ice crystals. As no light is refracted at angles smaller than 22-degrees the sky is darker inside the halo

Full moon with 22-degree lunar halo, Joshua Tree National Park. The lunar halo (not to be cofused with lunar corona) forms when moonlight refracts through high altitude ice crystals. As no light is refracted at angles smaller than 22-degrees the sky is darker inside the halo.
Image ID: 30711
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Cheers and thanks for looking!

Elephants (Three Different Ones)

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, Elephant Seal, Valley of Fire, Wildlife

I am starting to post my images from a fantastic safari experience in Kenya in September, and searched on the term “elephant” in my own stock files and found these three came to the top. I immediately thought “Elephants (Three Different Ones)”. Yes, I am a Pink Floyd fan, naturally. And no I don’t mean that kind of pink floyd. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Elephant arch and stars at night, moonlight, Valley of Fire State Park

Elephant arch and stars at night, moonlight, Valley of Fire State Park
Image ID: 28435
Location: Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA

Bull elephant seal exits the water to retake his position on the beach.  He shows considerable scarring on his chest and proboscis from many winters fighting other males for territory and rights to a harem of females.  Sandy beach rookery, winter, Central California, Mirounga angustirostris, Piedras Blancas, San Simeon

Bull elephant seal exits the water to retake his position on the beach. He shows considerable scarring on his chest and proboscis from many winters fighting other males for territory and rights to a harem of females. Sandy beach rookery, winter, Central California.
Image ID: 15458
Species: Elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris
Location: Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California, USA

African elephant herd, Amboseli National Park, Kenya, Loxodonta africana

African elephant herd, Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Image ID: 29531
Species: African elephant, Loxodonta africana
Location: Amboseli National Park, Kenya

Stars, A Galaxy and … Wind Turbines?

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, California, San Diego

On a lark one evening in 2014, my buddy Garry McCarthy and I headed out to the desert to do some night photography with only one caveat: try someplace new (in other words, not Joshua Tree again). We headed east and somewhat south with sort of a plan but really it was mostly the blind leading the blind. Eventually we got on spot, broke out the lights and flashed them around while clicking away with the cameras and what followed was one of the most industrial, industrious and unconventional photography sessions I’ve had. Thanks to Garry’s mad lighting skillz acquired on many landscape astrophotography trips, we came away with some creative and fun images. How big are these wind turbines? About 250′ tall at the rotor’s axle, and another 185′ for the blade, for a total reach of 435′ above ground. Pretty damn big! Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Ocotillo Wind Energy Turbines, at night with stars and the Milky Way in the sky above, the moving turbine blades illuminated by a small flashlight

Ocotillo Wind Energy Turbines, at night with stars and the Milky Way in the sky above, the moving turbine blades illuminated by a small flashlight.
Image ID: 30239
Location: Ocotillo, California, USA

Ocotillo Express Wind Energy Projects, moving turbines lit by the rising sun,

Ocotillo Express Wind Energy Projects, moving turbines lit by the rising sun,
Image ID: 30248
Location: Ocotillo, California, USA

Stars rise above the Ocotillo Wind Turbine power generation facility, with a flashlight illuminating the turning turbine blades

Stars rise above the Ocotillo Wind Turbine power generation facility, with a flashlight illuminating the turning turbine blades
Image ID: 30227
Location: Ocotillo, California, USA

Ocotillo Express Wind Energy Projects, moving turbines lit by the rising sun,

Ocotillo Express Wind Energy Projects, moving turbines lit by the rising sun,
Image ID: 30246
Location: Ocotillo, California, USA

Ocotillo Express Wind Energy Projects, moving turbines lit by the rising sun,

Ocotillo Express Wind Energy Projects, moving turbines lit by the rising sun,
Image ID: 30242
Location: Ocotillo, California, USA

Stars rise above the Ocotillo Wind Turbine power generation facility, with a flashlight illuminating the turning turbine blades

Stars rise above the Ocotillo Wind Turbine power generation facility, with a flashlight illuminating the turning turbine blades
Image ID: 30224
Location: Ocotillo, California, USA

Lunar Eclipse Photo Sequence, October 8 2014

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, California, San Diego

Lunar Eclipse Sequence Over Broken Hill, Torrey Pines State Reserve. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth's atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014, San Diego, California

Lunar Eclipse Sequence Over Broken Hill, Torrey Pines State Reserve. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014.
Image ID: 29412
Location: Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego, California, USA

I have made a few photographic sequences of lunar eclipses, including several of the total lunar eclipse of April 15 2014 (version 2, version 3). I wanted to do something similar for the October 8 2014 lunar eclipse, but did not have the freedom to go photograph out in the desert where the air was likely to be clear. On the evening of the eclipse conditions were iffy, and down on the beach the air was heavy and wet so the pier was out — it was on the verge of turning to fog. Up on the mesas above and inland from the beach the air was much clearer and drier but still the shooting looked iffy, I was not sure the eclipse would even be visible. As it turned out I was able to get the images for which I was hoping, although things were not as clear as I probably would have found in the desert.

My planning for the eclipse was something like this: the penumbral phase of eclipse was to begin at 2:15am at 227 degrees on the compass and inclination of 53 degrees. Full eclipse would begin at 3:25 (245 degrees, 41 degree inclination) and end at 4:24am (256 degrees, 30 degree inclination). The penumbral phase would end at 5:34 (266 degrees, 16 degree inclination). This meant the “rectangle” that the path of the eclipse would take through the sky was roughly 40 degrees horizontally (left to right on the compass) and spanned a vertical inclination of about 37 degrees. I figured a lens with about 24mm of focal length, or a little more, held in portrait orientation — which covers approximately 73 degrees vertically and 53 degrees horizontally would work well, since it would allow for some foreground and would cover the entire left-right travel of the moon with room to spare on all sides. Mind you this may sound like some sort of complicated math but in truth a few minutes with The Photographer’s Ephemeris and a few notes on the back of a VISA envelope were all that was required to set up the plan for that night. The “center” of the eclipse would be at a compass angle of about 250 degrees, so I setup my camera in that direction, configured it to shoot periodic bracketed images all night long using an intervalometer, and crossed my fingers the sky would remain clear for the two and a quarter hours that the eclipse would happening.

I also shot individual images of the eclipsing moon with 560mm of focal length — the Canon 200-400 f/4 lens with built-in 1.4x teleconverter turned out to be perfect for this, and I periodically used live focus to ensure the moon was as sharp as possible. That lens, coupled with good focus and a good sensor, can really resolve a lot. I composited these sharp and detailed moon images onto the best single image of the “background” in the location and orientation in which the moon travelled across the sky. They appear about twice as large as the moon actually appeared in the original wide-angle photographs. I was a little surprised to find the path was slightly convex (relative to the ground) as in my previous south-facing sequences the path was strongly concave, but then realized after looking at the star trails of the images from that night that indeed this was the proper path of the stars and moon. I was facing only about 20 degree south of west and Polaris was about 110 degrees to the right. All heavenly objects have an apparent rotation about that one star, leading to the path of the moon you see here. The following image is a huge (12000 x 12000) mosaic of the sequence, with some impressive detail in the moon including some visible lunar mountains when the sun was just skimming the edge of the moon in some of the frames. The frames I found the most interesting, and challenging to expose, are those were there is still direct sunlight case upon the moon while at the same time some of the “blood red moon” coloration is beginning to appear in the shadowed area of the moon. The moon is yellower at the end of the sequence than it is at the beginning — at the beginning it is high in the sky and the optical path passed through relatively little atmosphere, but toward the end of the sequence the moon was nearly setting and the optical path passed through much more atmosphere, affecting the “color temperature” of the moon and rendering it with a yellowish hue. (Hue: does anyone actually use that word in conversation?)

Lunar eclipse sequence. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth's atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014

Lunar eclipse sequence. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014.
Image ID: 29411

Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Lunar Eclipse Sequence, Juniper and Standing Rock, Joshua Tree, 2014

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, Desert, Joshua Tree

For the eclipse of April 14/15, 2014, I wanted to depict the course of the eclipse across the sky with some recognizable landscape features in the foreground to anchor the composition. As the day of the eclipse went by, I watched the weather reports and decided Joshua Tree National Park would be a good place to shoot, since it was forecast to have clear skies. I have been shooting various spots in JTNP at night in an effort to produce a collection of nice landscape astrophotography images. I knew two locations in particular had orientations that would work well for the eclipse, which was going to occur almost due south. In 2011, Garry McCarthy and I shot original compositions at Arch Rock and the Juniper and Standing Rock incorporating the milky way, at the time something relatively new. Similar images have since become common, and the arch will now often have a crowd of photographers at night around the new moon. But because the next time a full lunar eclipse will occur centered due south is decades away, I knew this eclipse offered an opportunity to produce an astrophotography image at each of these well-known spots that was not likely to be appear in any other photographer’s portfolio anytime soon.

This is the third of the three images I made that night (#1 and #2), with the lunar eclipse depicted from the point in time when the moon entered the shadow of the Earth to when it emerged again, above the small juniper tree and curious standing rock not far from one of the campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park.

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, over Juniper and Standing Rock, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, over Juniper and Standing Rock, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.
Image ID: 29204

If you are curious, the other two images I photographed during the eclipse are Lunar Eclipse Sequence over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 2014 and Lunar Eclipse Blood Red Moon Sequence over Joshua Tree National Park. The second link explains the planning involved and how I executed the eclipse sequence — I used largely the same camera technique at all three locations but the artificial lighting was different in each, exploiting both hand held light and remote triggered flash depending on what was needed. (The arch rock composition differs from the other two in that not only is it a composite but it is a very wide panorama as well.)

This image is centered due south, which was the point during the eclipse when the moon would be both fully eclipsed and highest in the sky. I lit the juniper and rock with a small handheld light from the right. This image is a composite and the moon is a larger than it appeared to the eye. The moon was exposed separately from the stars in order to control for the fact it was much brighter than the stars and to better present the detail and color of the moon itself. The stars themselves were photographed earlier in the evening, when the full moon was just rising, so that it could illuminate the surrounding landscape not reached by my flashlight. My camera remained fixed on a tripod throughout to ensure the images were aligned perfectly and the moon tracked through the sky in the proper way.

Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Searching the Skies – Palomar Observatory at Night

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, California

My father took my brother and I camping at Mount Palomar a few times when I was a kid. We would fish at Doane Pond (back then it seemed like a lake but now I realize its little more than a puddle), and always visit the Palomar Observatory just up the road. I was fascinated by the amazing astronomy photographs in the gift shop, and the sheer size of the dome and telescope (200″ diameter, 14-ton glass mirror!) seemed awesome. Fast forward 40 years. I was recently permitted to photograph this telescope at night. The Palomar Observatory, which first collected light in 1948 and is part of the California Institute of Technology, remains one of the most important telescopes in the world. The evening I photographed the observatory, I was fortunate to be accompanied by the observatory’s public relations officer who kindly answered my many questions. One remark of his in particular really stunned me regarding the work that was being done the very evening I was there. I still sort of shake my head thinking about it. I spent years in college and grad school studying some heavy mathematics and science and still have trouble wrapping my mind around this idea: within the last decade and particularly in the last year, scientists at the Palomar Observatory have made direct observations of exoplanets — planets orbiting another star. I don’t mean inferences of other planets by observing the slight periodic dimming of a star, suggesting a planet is crossing in front of the star. I mean direct observations of the exoplanets themselves, through spectroscopy, which allows the composition of the planet to be understood. The distances involved in this science are so great, and the implications so profound, that I find it a little disorienting to ponder for more than a few minutes at a time, my puny intellect is overwhelmed! I’ll have more images of Palomar Observatory to share in the coming weeks. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Palomar Observatory at sunset, Palomar Mountain, California

Palomar Observatory at sunset.
Image ID: 29336
Location: Palomar Observatory, Palomar Mountain, California, USA

Panorama of the Full Moon over San Diego City Skyline

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, Panoramas, San Diego

I shoot a lot of images of the San Diego City Skyline, to keep them fresh and because I am always looking for a reason to be down along the San Diego Bay at dawn or dusk — it is such a beautiful city. A few months ago I made some nice photos of the full moon rising over downtown San Diego (and this one too!). This is the one I like the best: an enormous panoramic photograph printing up to 3 feet high by over 28 feet long! Here the full moon is seen just after it has risen above the mountains east of San Diego, above the San Diego County Administration building. Photographed with a very sharp telephoto lens and high resolution camera and consisting of over 20 source images, the detail in the final panorama is quite something, with individual people visible in restaurants along the waterfront. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Full Moon rising over San Diego City Skyline, viewed from Harbor Island

Full Moon rising over San Diego City Skyline, viewed from Harbor Island
Image ID: 29120
Location: San Diego, California, USA