Capturing — The Blood Red Moon

I’ve had several inquiries about the photographic technique I used to capture the images that comprise the composite lunar eclipse image of April, 2014, posted on social media, later posted as a devotional entry about The Blood Red Moon — October, 2014 here at Quiet Time Ministries. So I thought I’d venture forth with what I learned about shooting The Blood Red Moon on the deck of my driveway in the pitch–black middle of the night in Palm Desert, California, on my first attempt in April, 2014.

The Blood Red Moon

Lunar eclipses occur when Earth’s shadow blocks the sun’s light, which otherwise reflects off the moon. There are three types — total, partial and penumbral — with the most dramatic being a total lunar eclipse, in which Earth’s shadow completely covers the moon. The moon may turn red or coppery colored during the total portion of an eclipse. The red moon is possible because while the moon is in total shadow, some light from the sun passes through Earth’s atmosphere and is bent toward the moon. While other colors in the spectrum are blocked and scattered by Earth’s atmosphere, red light tends to make it through easier. The effect is to cast all the planet’s sunrises and sunsets on the moon. What is a lunar tetrad? It is four successive total lunar eclipses, with no partial lunar eclipses in between, each of which is separated from the other by six lunar months (six full moons). The first Blood Moon eclipse in a series of four happened on the night of April 14-15, 2014. The second one takes place on the night of October 7-8, 2014. At that October Blood Moon, there will be a total lunar eclipse. The April, 2014, and April, 2015, total lunar eclipses align with the feast of Passover. The October, 2014, and September, 2015, total lunar eclipses align with the Jewish feast of Tabernacles.

The Photographic Challenge

So it was April 14, 2014, that began the first of four lunar eclipses through 2014–2015, where I would have the opportunity to see the blood red moon. And sometime prior to that I made the formidable decision to try to shoot the event with my Nikon camera.

I can’t remember how it all began. Perhaps I heard about it in the news. I have long wanted to learn how to take photos of the moon. This seemed like the perfect occasion. Someone in one of my online photography groups recommended going to Ian Plant’s website to learn more about shooting the lunar eclipse with the blood red moon. By the time I finished reading his article I was extremely excited to experience this event. I also read other articles for recommendations on camera settings to get a good exposure of the moon.

I decided on using my Nikon D7000 camera, as opposed to my Nikon D800E, along with a 80-400mm lens. With the Nikon D7000, I would get 1.5x the focal length i.e. 600mm, allowing a larger view of the moon in the frame. The next thing I needed was practice. I went out several times in the middle of the night just prior to the April, 2014, event, to practice shooting the moon. I was so excited to see the results.

At first, my test photos were terrible. The moon was just a big yellow spot in the sky. Then I read some more — on the fly in the middle of the night — and I changed the settings to ISO 200, f10.0 and 1/200sec. And voila! I got a clear photo showing the surface of the moon. So I knew I could handle photos of the moon in most of the phases of the eclipse. The one question mark that remained was that during the blood red moon phase, there would be no ability to focus automatically — all shots would be a manual exposure.

So the time came for the eclipse. The photo shoot took place from 10:30p.m. – 5:30a.m. on April 14-15, 2014, a cloudless desert night in California. I put a blanket on the cement deck driveway in front of my home. I set up my tripod, camera, and lens. I knew I would be taking hundreds of photos and I wanted zero camera shake, so I attached a Vello Shutterboss remote. I used it to shoot timed exposures and also as a remote shutter release.

Once the lunar eclipse began, I was immersed in getting all phases of the moon from the beginning, through the blood red moon phase, to the return to a white full moon. One of my goals was to create a photo showing different phases from beginning to end to allow others to share in the experience. Most of my photography friends online had cloud cover and were not able to see what I saw in southern California, so I felt quite fortunate. After shooting maybe 200 or so photos, I decided to stop and check my SD card in my computer to see if my photos were sharp and clear. I ran in, popped the card in my MacBook Pro, looked in Adobe Bridge, and even pulled some into Photoshop. The images were just what I was hoping for. Now I was really excited! I couldn’t wait for the moon to turn to the blood red phase — something I had never seen before.

When the moon turned dark, I was faced with a whole new set of challenges. I could barely even see to manually focus. And I had to open up the aperture and slow the shutter speed enough to capture the image. Too slow meant a blurry image and too fast didn’t let in enough light to get the blood red of the moon. It was what I call a dance of capturing the image. Back and forth I experimented with settings, constantly looking at the LCD to see how it was looking, and then trying again. For my final decision of settings, I pulled out the SD card and brought it in to my MacBook Pro to see what settings created the image I felt captured the blood red moon the best. I finally settled on an ISO 200, f5.6, and 1 second of exposure. So I kept shooting with these preferred settings throughout the remainder of the blood red moon sequence. The myPhotoWalk Technical details are the settings for the blood red moon phase. Shutter speed is faster and aperture is smaller for the other phases. The moon went through the final phases of the eclipse and I shot images until it was full again, so that I could create a composite of the entire experience.

The Post-Processing

Immediately after the photo shoot in the early morning of April 15, 2014, I went through literally all of my images in Adobe Bridge, first choosing the blood red moon image I liked the best. That became my primary image. Then I chose an image when the moon was halfway eclipsed at the beginning, and halfway the other way near the end. And then, my final image was the full moon at the end of the lunar eclipse. I processed each image in Adobe Camera Raw mostly adding sharpening and slight adjustments to all the other main settings. I saved each as a .psd file and brought them all in, one by one, as layers to the main blood red moon image. I created a layer mask and painted in each phase of the moon onto the main blood red moon image until I had a perfect composite of four phases.

I posted the composite image on various internet websites the following morning and I probably got the most hits of any image I’ve ever uploaded to Facebook or any of the other social media sites. But my favorite moment was in a photo critique of my blood red moon composite with Laurie Rubin and Laurie Excell, both professional photographers. Laurie Excell remarked that it was a photo worthy of being in a photo portfolio. To hear that from her was such a blessing and an affirmation that I had learned a lot in my journey of photography.

So that is the summary of my first adventure of shooting the blood red moon. I was really pleased with the final result and I hope you are as well. I shot it again in October, 2014. I will have the opportunity two more times in 2015 — April 4, 2015, (total eclipse time will only be 5 min) and September 28, 2015, (total eclipse time 1h12min).

♥ Blessings and Grace to You!

It was pitch black — a surprisingly clear night sky in the Coachella valley desert of California. The night was silent. I was still, waiting patiently, drinking in the moment. I had my Nikon D800E camera set up on a tripod with my 80-400mm lens, hands poised on my camera trigger, desperate to catch these amazing images as they progressed relentlessly in panorama. And oh, what glory I witnessed! It is an amazing sight to watch the moon in all of its phases in a lunar eclipse, especially when the moon seemingly caught on fire in a glowing red vibrance. And then it was over, perhaps a once in a lifetime event for me and my short existence on earth.

From … The Blood Red Moon Catherine Martin, A Walk In Grace Blog, 10.12.2014.

Catherine Martin

myPhotoWalk Technical

  • Title: Capturing The Blood Red Moon
  •   Request This Image > SmugMug Image Request
  • Description: I spent 3 hours shooting the first of the blood red moon lunar eclipse tetrad 2014–2015.
  • Creator: Catherine Martin
  • Date Created: 04/14/14
  • Camera: Nikon D7000, 80.0-400.0 mm, Focal Length 400.0 mm, f/5.6, 1 sec, ISO 200.
  • Photoshoot: Middle of the night myPhotoWalk devotional photography photo shoot in Palm Desert, CA, USA.
  • Post-Processing: Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Camera Raw.
  • Copyright ©2018 Catherine Martin — myPhotoWalk™ — Quiet Time Ministries. All Rights Reserved.
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