How one photographer captured the bloodmoon.
There was a Blood Moon on the rise - Chirag Upreti
The recent lunar eclipse of January 20-21 st , 2019 was turning out to be a catch 22 situation in New York City. It would either be below freezing, cloudy with no wind and thus no visible Moon or windy with passing clouds that opens ‘sucker holes’ i.e intermittent clear skies but an arctic blast due to the wind chill but it would be possible to image the eclipse. Thankfully and somewhat painfully it turned out to be the latter.
This lunar eclipse would be the first total eclipse I attempted to photograph. The previous total eclipse in NYC was under more forgiving conditions on September 27-28 th , 2015 but my interest in photography had not emerged at the time, they would a year later. So, a couple of weeks in advance the first step in planning for the eclipse I simulated the elevation of the Moon using Stellarium, a free planetarium software. At the time of the total eclipse phase it was going to be really high in the sky, about 70 degrees at maximum eclipse phase (90 degrees being straight overhead). On the east coast the partial eclipse would commence at 10:33pm with the total phase, the Blood Moon phase, beginning about 11:41pm and lasting for about an hour. A few days before snow was forecast for January 20 th , so all expectation were quite low, but as luck would have it the full Moon of January rose with some clouds on the horizon and then the sky opened up soon after. This was also a supermoon, technically described as perigee-syzygy (of the Earth-Moon-Sun system) perigee meaning the closest that the Moon comes to the Earth in its elliptic. With the Moon being closer to the Earth it appears slightly brighter and larger than a normal full Moon, although this difference in apparent diameter is not noticeable to the naked eye, but hey supermoon is catchy (a likely astrological term in origin) so it stuck.
My ambitious plans for a location ranged from flying out to the mid-west, to driving upstate in New York to get some composition for the wide angle shot, however after all was said and done I found myself in a rather familiar place, my rooftop. Yup, the balmy -11deg C with 25mile per hour wind gusts could only be balanced by my coffeemaker on overdrive. I setup my Sony A7R3 with a Tamron 150-600mm f/5 - f/6.3 G2 (with a Sony LAEA3, Sony A to E mount converter), auto-focused on the Moon and took a few test shots. Camera setting registered on manual mode: ISO 320, 600mm, f/10, 1/400 th sec shutter speed. Perfect. I was set for manually tracking the Moon as it entered the Earth’s shadow and sure enough at about 10:40pm I could see darkening of the Moon surface at about the 8 O’clock position. The full Moon is bright and I could my shadow clearly as it followed me around, standing, walking, crouching, doing jumping jacks to keep myself warm. Someone looking down at my rooftop would think I was a lunatic (humorous timing) or training for the Ironman, neither would be true but there was an eclipse underway and I was determined to capture it. Sometime after the initial phase of the eclipse, there were a short series of wind gusts out of nowhere that got me nervous about the setup, so I relocated near the cabin that’s an extension of the elevator shaft to provide a break in the wind at least in one direction. By now the Moon was visibly half eclipsed and appeared like a quarter Moon, my camera exposure did not change. 11:23pm onwards sporadic clouds started to come over the horizon from the west-south west and the Moon looked like a crescent. The camera was pointing nearly straight up so I checked and double checked the zoom lock to make sure there was no drift, then autofocused on the illuminated part of the Moon one last time, there was no putzing around least for the next hour after this. Finally, I changed the shutter speed to 1/200th sec and bumped the ISO to 800.
The beginning of the total phase of the eclipse was cloud free, and my shadow was lost in the dark flooring of the rooftop. This was a dramatic change indeed. Visibly the Moon appeared a darkened pale hue of red and I had my exposure setup at ISO 3200, f/8.0, with variable shutter speeds from 0.4 sec to 1sec. In camera with a white balance set at 4600 the colors were amazing, red, orange and even a hint of purple with some blue. But, this is where it got tricky with these borderline long(ish) exposures. At 600mm even a slight vibration by the wind blurred the object considerably, perhaps it was exaggerated by being on a rooftop but I could see this becoming a flop show pretty quickly, so amidst the slowly setting brain freeze and lack of sensation in the hands I decided to do ‘lucky imaging’ i.e switch to continuous shooting and lock the shutter release button on the interferometer… and fingers crossed with this brute force approach some shots would have to come out acceptably sharp. Time to grab that coffee.
Meanwhile, the ebb and flow of the clouds passing the eclipsed Moon continued. What truly amazed me was stars in the sky that were visible in New York City, it’s the city which serves as a text book definition of light pollution gone awry that hinders our views of the night sky and during a full Moon phase no less. Remarkably, the telephone shots also showed stars peppered around the blood Moon. As the Moon exited the umbra (the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow), the shadows on the ground soon came alive and I reverted to the exposures as I had done for the previous stages. By 3:00am the Full Wolf Moon of January (as know by the Native Americans) again dominated the night sky. Somewhere wolves probably howled at this reappearance, I would only have murmured some incoherent sounds even if I tried, I was just glad to pack my stuff up and head down to the warmth of my home with a smile on my face, the single camera battery I used showed about ~23% juice still left.
Tripod: Gitzo GT2542 Mountaineer Series 2 Carbon Fiber.
Ball Head: Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1.
Camera: Sony A7R3.
Lens: Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di USD G2 for Sony A.
Memory card: Sony 128GB SF-G Series UHS-II SDXC Memory Card
Intervelometer: Vello ShutterBoss II Timer Remote Switch for Sony Multi-Terminal.
Location: Riverdale (Bronx), New York City