Evolution of an Eclipse

You’ve probably read that in January of this year we experienced a once-in-a-lifetime (or at least many, many years) experience of having a blue moon, blood moon and supermoon all happen at basically the same time. Oh, and I almost forgot the lunar eclipse. I didn’t, though, and am I glad I didn’t!

For about a month before the lunar eclipse I worked on a plan to capture the eclipse as uniquely as I possibly could. Early on I visualized a series of still shots of the eclipse at various stages with a photogenic “background” in the picture to make a sort of “still time-lapse”. Background is in quotes because compared to the distance the moon is away from the earth anything else in the photo, no matter how far away otherwise, would actually be the “foreground”. At the time, I felt the perfect foreground would be the view from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science with its iconic view west of both the downtown skyline and the mountains.

Using readily available software and Google searches, I knew the eclipse would start at about 4:15 AM January 31st and go for a couple hours until the moon would dip below the horizon shortly after sunrise. That would allow me to get the moon in several stages, partial and total, before both the horizon would wipe out its visibility. It also meant getting up at 3:00 AM and driving 30 minutes to my destination, then allowing a good half-hour to set up my equipment in the January cold and darkness of the night.

And that remained the plan until someone pointed out to me that the Museum is in a Denver park and the parks are supposed to be “closed” at night. I couldn’t believe any police officer would shoo me away but I also knew I couldn’t take that chance. So instead I decided to take the shots a block from my house where there is a wide vista at the crest of a hill. No Denver skyline but a beautiful view of the Rockies. As a bonus I could get up a half-hour later which didn’t sound all that much better – after all, 3:00 or 3::30 AM sound equally unappealing in January.

I scouted the location the night before just to see what settings I should use and the best position of my tripod. Of course, the clouds were thick as could be and I began to wonder if I should bother. I later checked a wonderful website called Dark Sky and it appeared there was a 50-50 chance I’d have clear enough skies to get the moon. Well, since I’d only have one chance in my lifetime to do this I decided those were good enough odds. So, the alarm got set, I got my thermal knit underwear all ready to put on later, and off to bed I went earlier than normal.

When the alarm went off I bolted out of bed to check the sky. It was mostly clear, but I saw several clouds right next to the moon. Good enough I thought! I quickly got dressed, grabbed my equipment and off I went. I set up and waited for the eclipse to start. And within minutes the clouds parted! I knew I’d have at least some success. Here is me all set up and waiting. Does it look dark and cold? Well, I’m here to tell you IT WAS!

Me setting up before the eclipse

Me setting up before the eclipse


And then, just as the partial eclipse was about to happen, a cloud barely touched the moon. I snapped some shots anyway. Here is one.


The cloud got thicker and started covering more of the moon but I kept shooting. Here is another shot.


OK, by now you may have figured out what took me way too long to realize – it wasn’t a cloud but the actual eclipse! The shadow of the eclipse obviously continued (sans any clouds!) until there was a near total covering (see below).


Finally, there was no moon as the total eclipse (of the heart – ha-ha couldn’t resist) took over. Now I could only barely see the outline of the moon. But as I watched it for a while I began to see how it changed from its off-white color to an orange-ish tone. And then a deep orange- red color. And that was the peak of the total eclipse – and the color. Got several shots during this phase and here is one below.


This was the hardest shot to get as the moon, despite the gorgeous color, was very faint. My shots were not coming out until I finally switched to (warning: technical talk) a very high ISO, wide open aperture and even a longer shutter speed although you can’t use too long as the moon is moving relatively fast. And as the moon got precariously close to dipping behind the mountains for the day, the atmosphere tends to “smudge” the moon, robbing the photographer of capturing any crystal clear image.

I then took some separate shots of the sky and then the mountains so that I could put them all together in post-processing. One rule I required of myself was that all shots that night/morning had to be taken from exactly the same spot. And I adhered to that rule, even though the total lapsed time was almost 2 ½ hours. The last shot I took was of the mountains as I could only capture their detail in daylight.

Too giddy to sleep I went home and immediately began work on putting this all together. I played with different version for several hours and then a few more times over the course of the next few days until I had the “perfect version”, which is what you see below.

Evolution of an Eclipse.jpg

This image, which I called Evolution of an Eclipse, has already been in art shows and I have sold several prints of it. I had some luck involved with this but it also proves the old adage in photography that good planning breeds good luck.