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Eclipse Approaches

December 7, 2011

It was almost a year ago that I made my first attempt at lunar eclipse photography. Last December was basically just playing around, since the moon was high in a dark sky. But in a couple days, on Saturday morning, we dwellers in the western U.S. will see a moon at or near total eclipse right around moonset, i.e. dawn, which is an amazing photographic opportunity. The moon will be down low where it can be photographed next to landscape features, and the building light in the east will give that same landscape some illumination of its own. The potential is there for something like this really sweet eclipse shot from Iran.

I’ve got two or three locations under consideration, and my final choice will depend on the weather forecast, whether or not I can drive and camp out the night before, and intuition. What I’m looking for is a long-ish view containing bold topography that will show up well through a telephoto lens. My experiments last year showed me that 100-200mm (on a 1.5 crop sensor) will render the moon large enough to be an interesting element in a landscape comp. (Even so, it’s tempting to rent a longer lens for the weekend, but going much longer would really start to limit one’s options for including landscape elements.) I’m also after high views looking down and fairly unobstructed vistas to the WNW; total eclipse is pegged for 7:05 MTN, which is the precise time of sunrise in my neck of the woods, and I don’t want a mostly-eclipsed moon to fall out of my view below a mesa top any sooner than it has too. The Photographer’s Ephemeris, ClearDarkSky.com and Google Earth are wonderful modern luxuries for this sort of thing, though I’m also happy to have paper maps, an old-fashioned Silva compass and a healthy mental database of local geography.

Anyone else looking to get out there with a camera might want to take a look at How to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse. One thing I don’t think I’ll try, tempting as it is, is a multiple exposure composite. I discovered first-hand what a bitch those are last year: really regular timing is necessary, the exposure needs to be constantly adjusted, and it’s harder than you’d think to predict the moon’s path to keep it in the frame. I don’t feel up to it, especially not at the expense of staying flexible with my single-exposure comps; maybe if I had the luxury of a second camera body.

Best of luck to anyone heading out there!

 

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