Saturday, December 10, 2011

12.10.2011 Total Lunar Eclipse

this is my place marker quasi post to hold space/time/date for real post to come with pics and vid of todays eclipse.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Eclipse Dozen - Full Moons of 2010 Collage

I am proud to announce a second year of successfully capturing all the full moons with the release of my "Full Moons of 2010" collage.

Using my 1000mm lens setup and my Canon XTi & T2i bodies I was able to capture the 12 full moons of 2010 AND the two lunar eclipses. The same as last year this collage is a 40"x60" at 300DPI master that is only available in 24"x36" size through my site at this time.

Unlike last year capturing most of these full moon images was relatively easy. Only one month, the 03.29.2010 "Worm" moon presented a challenge due to cloud cover. There was actually pretty thick cloud cover on both evenings of lunar eclipses but thankfully there was an hour or so period of clearings in the clouds which allowed unobstructed image capture.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Quasi Valentine's Lunar Special

On a sunny but wispy cloud filled day back in January of 2009 I managed to capture a heart shaped cloud next to the moon...

This is a very rare moment I captured one sunny day back in 2009. I almost missed seeing this heart shaped cloud drift by the moon, thankfully fate made me go outside just in time with all my gear to capture it.
Shot @ 50mm 1/60s f/11 ISO100 ~4:12pm PST 01.03.2009

So here's the background story on this picture. It was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon here in San Jose, CA and there were thin wispy bits of clouds and contrails slowly drifting all over the sky. The moon was in its waxing crescent phase crossing the afternoon sky. I set my HV30 up on a tripod trying to clear as many power lines as possible from my backyard view and let it shoot the moon at the widest angle so that I could later watch the concert of clouds dance with the moon.

I would go out every 20 minutes or so to check on cloud conditions and such but would usually go back inside once I was sure the moon wasn't going to leave the frame. On my 2nd or so trip out to check on my camera I was looking up in the sky and saw IT! It being this giant heart shaped cloud off the right(west) of the moon and high in the sky. AND IT LOOKED LIKE IT WAS GOING TO FLOAT BY THE MOON! I ran back inside and got my XTi setup with my Sigma 50-500mm "the Bigma" lens. I went back out by my video camera and setup for some hybrid still action.

Fortunately this giant heart shaped cloud DID pass by the moon as I guessed it would and I was able to capture just a few shots of it in that time. Even though the clouds were moving slowly I was rather inexperienced with capturing short lived moments then. I remember it seeming like it took me forever to get my tripod setup and leveled and trying to adjust focus properly. I do wish that I had done a better job framing the moon more to the right rather than in the center of the frame. But I was also really worried about chopping off any of the heart cloud off since I only had 50-500mm on a crop sensor body to work with. I wished I could go just a bit wider than 50mm with my Bigma. However the only wider lens I only owned then was the kit lens and never cared for the medium quality images it produces compared to the Bigma. So in the end I'm actually really satisfied with what I captured :)

Here's a link to a 20x sped up clip of the video I shot that afternoon. The heart shaped cloud comes into view at about the 1m20s point in this clip. The orientation of the video camera was extremely dutch to avoid power lines (which can be seen at the very bottom of video frame) so it won't match the stills which I do believe are proper level orientation.

Valentine Cloud & Moon from Lunarphile on Vimeo.

In addition here is the moon at 500mm taken just a minute before the heart cloud picture in this post. This was taken moments after the heart cloud passed over the moon and before the wispy bits of clouds came back in frame at 500mm.

Shot @ 500mm 1/60s f/11 ISO100 ~4:10pm PST 01.03.2009

The wispy cloud beauty continued throughout the afternoon. Here is one of the other shots I liked from that day.

Shot @ 50mm 1/60s f/11 ISO100 ~4:47pm PST 01.03.2009

I wish I had spent more time outside taking stills but was probably being lazy and playing video games inside or something and just left my video camera to capture the action for me. I'll consider posting a realtime or at least less sped up version of video with audio and maybe some hybrid still action next week when my Vimeo HD allotment for the week resets.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Winter Solstice Total Lunar Eclipse

After a couple of weeks of distractions and side projects I'm finally finding the time to post about the total lunar eclipse that occurred on winter solstice December 20, 2010.

I had been looking forward to this eclipse for months now, especially after capturing the partial eclipse over the summer. But it's rainy season here in California and there was nonstop cloud cover day and night for about 5 days leading up to the 20th. I was extremely anxious and worried about missing the eclipse due to cloud cover and don't have a budget to go jet setting around the country to capture lunar events. Fortunately I was able to rent a Canon 500mm f/4 prime lens and 2x extender for the day which would be my special tool for capturing good images through the cloud cover. This $6,000+ lens is technically 2 full stops faster and infinitely sharper than my crappy $100 Quantaray 500mm +2x extender setup. And it only cost $100 for the day :)

I was really lucky to see any of the eclipse since most of North America was covered in clouds that evening. Here is a screen shot from showing satellite imagery of cloud cover. Only areas around the Gulf of Mexico and bits of the south west had any chance of predictable viewing conditions.

But look closer on the west coast, specifically the San Jose area...

There was thin to little cloud cover shown in the area around me and going outside to look showed that to be partially true. There were clouds but they were thinning and moving fast to the east. Even though I missed the moon rise due to overcast conditions, just an hour after moon rise the clouds had cleared enough for me to capture this shot around 5:30pm PST.

The clouds moved along over the next few hours. I was finally able to get a clear shot of the moon at 1000mm, or 1600mm technically factoring in my T2i's 1.6x crop factor. I jumped around like a giddy school girl when I saw how SHARP the moon edges looked with this professional lens.

Unfortunately the clearing in the cloud cover only lasted so long. Around 10pm a light cloud cover started to roll in. Here is a shot during the penumbral period with some thin cloud cover.

The cloud cover never really went away after this point but did have some moments that were more clear than others. In this next shot taken around 10:30pm you can see clear evidence of the earth's shadow on the moon as the umbral period is about to begin.

After this the cloud cover became more thick and even blocked out the moon some moments. I went back to check satellite updates on Wunderground that showed clear skies but that obviously wasn't the case. Thankfully I had the super badass Canon 500mm mounted to my camera and was able to capture moments like this around 11:05pm.

The cloud cover only got worse as time went on and with less than an hour until the eclipse peak I was worried about missing out due to overcast skies. Again I can't praise the Canon 500mm lens enough for letting me capture moments where I could barely see the moon with my naked eye. I felt like an amateur race car driver who won the chance to drive a Ferrari for a day using this thing. It really is worth every penny because while I've shot stuff at ISO3200 before, its usually done no faster than f/16 with a 1/5th second shutter. But here is what you get with this L class lens at f/8, taken around 11:35pm just before the total eclipse phase starts.

These next 2 shots are unfortunately the last I was able to get since cloud cover took over after this for the next hour or so. This was shot at ISO6400 f/8 0.4s shutter at 11:48pm.

This was right before the peak eclipse taken at 12:07am PST, ISO6400 f/9 and 0.5s shutter.

And that was all I saw of the eclipse for about the next hour until the clouds cleared up some. Here is a shot as the eclipse is fading during the umbral period at 1:20am.

Only about 10 minutes later the earth shadow had receded even more and the red glow had gone from the moon as seen in this shot from 1:33am.

After this cloud cover totally overtook the skies for another hour. By the time I saw the moon again around 2:20am the umbral period had ended and there was no clear evidence of a shadow on the moon. The cloud cover was also thick and would only give me brief 30 second of so glimpses of the moon at this time. I removed the 2x extender so that I was just working with the 500mm lens at f/4 giving me lots more light to work with under such cloudy conditions.

Fortunately these were rain clouds! No you didn't misread that, I said fortunately because:
a) I had a pro level weather sealed lens and a rain cover for my non pro camera body so rain won't affect my gear
b) I was able to sit under my car port as I took these pictures keeping my gear and self dry
c) shooting the moon in rain clouds is super awesome because it can create rainbow-ish aura's around the moon

Here is a shot at 3:00am as the eclipse is officially ending in these rainbow clouds, taken at 500mm f/5 1/15s shutter ISO400.

This is my last shot of the night and maybe my favorite. This is seconds before a huge block of clouds hides the moon from view, you can see the dark edge creeping in on the right of the image. I had to open up two stops to get this before the moon disappeared for the rest of the night. Taken at 3:06am 12/21/2010 500mm ISO400 f/8 1/20s shutter.

Overall I'm glad to have gotten to experience this total lunar eclipse, and on the Winter solstice too, a real once in a lifetime treat. While I certainly had wished for clear skies I can't complain because things could have been worse. I was really happy to use the Canon 500mm lens and captured some great moments with it. I hope to own that fine piece of glass some day. Then we can make sweet cloudy moon magic together, until then I'll just remember this evening.

*all times PST

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Very First Moon Shots

Today is the 3 year anniversary of my lunar photography obsession. August 18th, 2007, just 8 days after getting my first DSLR, a Canon XTi. If my memory serves me correctly I went budget super telephoto lens shopping on Friday August 17th, 2007. I was on my way to the now closed Kamera Korner in San Jose and passed by a Wolf Camera that was closing down and figured they might have some discount lenses. I went in expecting to land a deal on some Canon glass but was fortunate enough to meet a fellow moon loving photographer that worked there and he told me about their super closeout Quantaray 500mm f/8 lens with a 2x extender. I knew that a "real" 500mm lens would cost me several thousand dollars so when he informed me that this 1000mm monster could be had for under $200 I jumped at it. He correctly described it as an extremely slow lens that wasn't super sharp and had some chromatic aberration but with some tweaking in Photoshop decent images of the moon could be created. Unfortunately that Wolf Camera location was out of that lens but it was at another location further south in San Jose but I'd have to wait until the next business day since they were closed. But even better was when he told me that since the lens was being discontinued from their line it was on closeout for just about $110!!!

The next day I hurried over to the Wolf Camera with the discounted 1000mm lens setup and paid less than $120 after tax for the lens and a Canon t-mount adapter. I went home and spent the afternoon doing some practice shots until the moon came into view later that evening. I found it extremely challenging focusing this fully manual lens using just the viewfinder. LiveView didn't exist yet so there was lots of experimentation with taking shots and reviewing them at max magnification on the LCD screen.

Here is the very first moon picture I took just over 3 years ago...


The first lesson I learned using a manual lens shooting the moon is that focusing is extremely difficult during the daytime due to the low contrast of a bright waxing gibbous moon against a clear blue sky. Later that evening once it was dark I was able to capture a slightly better shot but manually focusing such a telephoto lens was still very new to me. In addition my composition skills needed a lot of work.

The next night wasn't much better and I remember thinking at this point that the lens was a waste of money. I now know that is NOT THE CASE and it comes down to operator error.

It took me several months to really learn how to use this lens, and several months more to learn how to properly edit the pictures and remove nasty optical artifacts like chromatic aberration which plagues this super budget lens.

Here is an example of the kind of moon shots possible with this very same $120 lens on my exact same XTi camera with a year and a half of lunar photography experience under my belt...


In all I'm certainly glad that I didn't give up on using this lens. It is the most important lens in my collection and one that I've been trying to use for nearly all my 2010 lunar images. It helps that I upgraded from the XTi to the T2i so now I have LiveView to ensure accurate focus. I still do an initial focus manually through the eyepiece to keep my skills sharp and often find with a LiveView check that my focus is spot on :)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

OMG I can hardly believe it's done. 372 pages, exactly 600 different photographs culled from over 22,000 lunar image captures taken during the 2009 lunar cycle. I can't wait to see it in person! Check out a full screen preview in the mean time...

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Eclipse Excitement

So now I'm on my way up to the side of Mt. Hamilton to shoot the partial lunar eclipse of June 26, 2010. As I got off the freeway and headed along the streets I could see that indeed the cloud cover was reduced in the area. I could actually look up and see the moon where as at home just 15 minutes earlier I couldn't see a full moon through overcast skies. Driving up the windy road for the first time in the dark I found it hard to focus because seeing the city lights below me was so mesmerizing. As I continued up the mountain side I could clearly see the thick blanket of clouds over the entire area with the moon casting a bright white reflection contrasting with the yellow city lights leaking from below.

Fortunately I remembered the distance I needed to drive up CA-150 from the turnoff because I left my printed directions at home and my phone only interpreted getting me to CA-150, not how far I needed to go to reach my desired altitude of 700 meters above sea level. 3.6 miles I kept telling myself as I tried to focus on dark winding curves while glancing at the city lights below. When I got to my 3.6 mile point the viewing area I was expecting wasn't there. It seemed to be someone's personal driveway and not a hiking trail as I was expecting from my interpretation of Google Earth. I made it up to a spot above where I first planned to stop that had just enough space for 2 cars to park.

It was about 2am and I was nervous about how the next 4 hours would turn out. I setup my tripods and gear and took a few shots since it was clear.

*Full Moon @ 2:08AM PST*

The entire mountain side behind me was tall grass fields that seemed to be teaming with life rustling about. I'll admit I was little freaked out wondering if any mountain lions were in the area, or even extremely hungry foxes, like the one I nearly ran over as he crossed the road on my way up. For the next hour I sat inside my car keeping warm , watching the cloud cover and checking wunderground status updates on my phone. Thankfully I got service out there otherwise I would have been left in the dark about how the cloud cover was actually rising. Just before the eclipse was set to begin the overcast conditions had risen to 1600ft and I could see it creeping closer to the mountain edge and starting to flow up the hill. I was really worried that fate was going to play a cruel joke on me and cover the entire mountain in fog just as the eclipse was set to begin. Thankfully there seemed to be some wind from the east that worked to keep the cloud cover at bay but I wasn't sure how long that would last. The overcast skies seemed intent on climbing Mt Hamilton.

Around 3AM I could see the initial darkening of the moon as the eclipse began. Unfortunately the cloud cover seemed to be getting thicker so I made the decision to swap lenses and use my "faster" 50-500mm Bigma on my main T2i body around 3:20am. I took a few pictures then but focused on shooting video for the next hour or so. This was more of a mistake than the plan. I was busy concentrating on judging the cloud cover and operating two cameras, I simply forgot to switch back to still mode and get some good shots as the eclipse progressed.

The eclipse takes hold around 3:30AM. Fortunately the cloud cover didn't overtake my shooting position but it did come close. The area around my car became foggy at times and I could barely see 100 feet away from me. This heightened my city boy worries about things rustling in the bushes. In fact around 3:40am I made a tweet about it. 20 minutes later I realized that all the rustling I heard was just a deer that crossed the road just a little way down from me. I made sure to tweet my relief about that moment as well :)

Looking back I wished I would have not changed lenses. The cloud cover never became so thick that the moon was completely obscured but it did become thick enough for my slow F16 wide open with horrible chromatic abberation 1000mm lens setup. If only I could have afforded to rent the Canon f/4 500mm lens and a 2x extender and used that I would have never swapped lenses. While I'm making technical gripes I would like to express my amazement at how much more awesome taking moon pictures is using a 1.6x crop body instead of a full 35mm sensor DSLR. My usual workhorse lens, the Sigma 50-500mm behemoth was making thumbnail sized images at full 500mm extension on my friends borrowed 5DmkII. Like I mentioned in the first part of this eclipse post this was only my second time using a full frame SLR body. I had shot the moon with this same lens before and had even reviewed some of those images before this eclipse but felt a little underwhelmed with the results I was seeing. I can understand how wide angle star field shooting astro guys might envy access to a 5DmkII but I found myself swearing to only using crop body cameras for all lunar and certainly eclipse events.

Back to the eclipse. Around 4:00AM I realized that the cloud cover over the moon was a temporary threat to my coverage. The clouds only got bad for a stretch of about 5 minutes or so during the time I was worried. It did make for some dramatic moments on video but interrupted my flow of alternating between video and stills. Around 4:15AM I swapped the lenses back, 1000mm on the T2i and Bigma on the 5DmkII. This would be the setup for the rest of the night.

Here is a shot from 4:25AM, about 20 minutes before peak eclipse. I went back to shooting video for about 15 minutes, since my charts said totality would occur around 4:47AM or so. I planned on capturing the peak moment in stills.

The moon at 4:44AM during the peak eclipse time. I took quite a few during a 5 minute span but this was my best looking one. I was also a bit distracted because at this point I was also dancing a jig on the side of Mt. Hamilton. I managed to view this awesome event when I could see the entire Santa Cruz to Santa Clara to San Mateo valleys were blanketed in thick cloud cover. I couldn't even see the glow of yellow San Jose street lights through this cover, it had grown too thick. I really felt like one of the few lucky people in the Bay Area who cared about AND got to see this eclipse. And quite possibly most of coastal California since I had checked on forecasts in the LA area.

~5:10AM, the eclipse is now fading, as the moon begins to descend into the thin wispy layer of cloud cover. To the east I can see that the night sky is begining to give way to dawn. The stars are begining to fade. I take long moments between handling two cameras to turn around and appreciate all of the scenery behind me. I especially loved watching the horizon begin to glow with light from the sun. I did my best to capture the transition of the moon as black skies turned to faded blue cloud shroud.

I knew I couldn't see the entire eclipse from my longitude on the west coast of California. I had hoped to watch the eclipse as the moon set over the Pacific ocean and cursed the cloud cover that overtook the area. But as I stood there watching the moon set into a sea of overcast skies it was even more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

Here you can make out the cloud layer below the moon.

I can't believe people live up here and get to witness mornings like this on a regular basis. I am slightly jealous. The moon had taken on a slightly redish tint due to what I assume was atmospheric effects from the cloud cover. Mixed with the fading eclipse shadow created a moment that I've never witnessed.

5:41:37AM - This is the penultimate minute of the eclipse moon being visible to me.

5:42:03AM - Just 26 seconds later, the moon speeds into the cloud cover.

5:42:43AM - Goodbye Birthday Partial Lunar Eclipse Moon, you gave me an awesome show :) :) :)

I stayed at my spot by the road for another 30 minutes or so. I spent some time trying to capture the morning light coming in from the west. This is when I felt like eating my wrods earlier about loving crop body cameras. Here with the Bigma fully wide at 50mm on the 5DmkII I wasn't covering enough area to show the beautiful scenery behind me.

The fog visible in the background is only a fraction of what was floating around me about an hour earlier. I had to wipe down the front of my Bigma due to foggy condensation that had collected on it.

What I'm not able to show here is how awesome this event was overall. I would need 4-5 cameras and some additional camera operators to really show how beautiful this evening and morning was. Especially from my vantage point above San Jose. I would have loved to shown you all how the city lights were covered by a steadily advancing cloud layer. And the misty tall grass behind me filled with the sounds of crickets, frogs, rustling deer and other critters. The feeling of cool misty fog blowing up the mountain side, fogging lenses and making breath visible.

There is a strong all 5 senses memory in my mind now of this event. Pretty much unlike any other night in my 3 years of moon stalking. It is also one of many other awesome lunar related nights and mornings that stand out in my mind. I hope I have helped share a tiny bit of what I witnessed because it's too spectacular to keep to myself. At least for those like me who are in tune with taking the time to appreciate moments like these. From ~3AM to 5:40AM, just under 3 hours of lunar excitement mixed with a spectacular finish as the sun rose behind me. I've never seen a movie as visually inspiring as the 3 hours I witnessed here. I think Avatar or Dune might come close, but for a lunarphile like myself, this night was hands down the best birthday gift of my entire life.