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Capturing the Super Blood Wolf Moon

January 23, 2019

Have you ever wanted to get a decent shot of the once-in-a-lifetime super moons that seem to be happening every other year? Let me tell you about my experience!

 

I visited the George Observatory, a part of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, located at Brazos Bend State Park on the night of Sunday, January 20th to capture the most recent super moon.

 

So... what the hell is the Super Blood Wolf Moon? Well, a total lunar eclipse occurred on Sunday, January 20th, beginning around 9:30 PM CST. The Super Blood Wolf Moon was the result of the Earth's total eclipse of the moon, blocking the majority of the sun's light. The only light that could reach the moon at this point was refracted by Earth's atmosphere and appears red on the moon's surface. Cool, right?

 

When I heard about the upcoming lunar eclipse over a month ago I knew this would be a great photography challenge for me and could result in a cool picture, or two, of the moon.

 

I'm sure you're wondering what's so tricky about capturing the moon for newbie photographers. Well... pretty much everything. If you're planning to shoot in manual mode you have to understand how the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings on your camera work. It's also helpful to know where these settings are on your camera beforehand. You'll have to access these settings throughout the night in order to capture optimal images. 

 

On this particular night I arrived to the park equipped with my tripod, a fully charged battery, my camera (Nikon D5600) and my 300mm lens. In the future I hope to purchase a longer telephoto lens, but until then, my kit lens is getting all the play. 

 

A little after 9 PM I arrived to the upper deck where the telescopes are located. The observatory is usually open from 3 PM-10 PM every Saturday, but for this event the telescopes were open for viewing until 12 AM and the upper deck was open to visitors with their own telescopes and cameras until 2 AM. I set up my tripod and mounted my camera and began adjusting my manual settings. 

 

The moon was very bright before the beginning of the lunar eclipse so I needed a very small aperture (f22) and high shutter speed (1/125). After I identified the proper settings, I began taking incremental shots of the moon every 5 minutes or so, allowing me to track the shadow of the Earth.

 

In the gallery above, notice how the moon isn't in the same place in the frame. As the Earth continued its rotation throughout the night, adjusting the camera angle on the tripod was another component I had to account for as I adjusted my manual settings. This meant that since my tripod comes up to about my chest I was doing some major squatting and arching of the neck to look through my viewfinder. I attempted to use the SnapBridge app from Nikon for remote photography, but focusing on the dimly lit moon from my android phone as the eclipse occurred was impossible. In the future, I will either take a stool with me or purchase a second, taller tripod. 

 

The trickiest part for me was once the Earth eclipsed the moon and the notorious red glow became visible. Since I'd set my camera's aperture to a very small opening I was only letting a little bit of light in, however, the moon was no longer reflecting all the light from the sun so I needed to let more light into my lens without slowing my shutter speed. This meant I needed a higher ISO to enable more light sensitivity while maintaining my high shutter speed.

 

From left to right you can see the result of each new adjustment. While I made these adjustments as quickly as I could, the Earth kept moving and I had to move my camera's angle along with it. The extreme angle of my camera on the tripod made the lens very sensitive to movement, which meant I needed to both focus and push the shutter button quickly to capture the least blurry image that I could.

 

At this point in the night, it was in the low 40s temperature wise, but all this concentration and movement had me sweatin'.

 

But it was totally worth it. I managed to get a shot I was happy with and, to my surprise, Brazos Bend State Park shared it to their official Instagram page! 

 

Are you new to photography as well? Any tricks for night or astro- photography that you'd like to share? Leave them in the comments! 

 

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