Photography Field Trip; Shooting the Super Blue Blood Moon

This morning I jumped out of bed at the most nonsensical hour (for me anyway). Why would I subject myself to such distress? I was determined to get spectacular photographs of a rare astrological phenomenon, a super blue blood moon.

For those of you who weren’t exposed to the hype about this event, let me explain.

This early Wednesday morning, January 31, 2018, a lunar event occurred that hasn’t been witnessed in the U.S. since 1866. Over 150 years! The best view was in the western states, which is where I happened to be this morning, Los Angeles, CA.

This event is called the super blue blood moon because three lunar happenings were happening at the same time. Now, these events on their own are not uncommon. Except on this day, they were all happening together. At 4 a.m.!

Let’s take the descriptive term apart.

The moon is known as a super-moon due to the fact that it was especially close to the Earth on this day. This made it appear larger than normal due to its close orbit.

It was also the second full moon in the month of January. When the moon is full two times in one month it’s called a blue-moon. That doesn’t happen all that often. Which is where that term we’ve all heard came from.

The big part of this happening that made it more special was the fact that an eclipse was part of the combination. The Earth’s shadow blocked the sun’s light from reflecting off the moon. It doesn’t make the moon go black, but turns it blood-red. Hence the term blood-moon.

Super Blue Blood Moon event on January 31, 2018.

All of this was enough to make me want to get up at that ridiculous hour.

I had read about this event in the beginning of January. This being winter, I wasn’t quite confident that I’d even be able to see it. A few days before, I started keeping my eye on the weather reports. In L.A. we’ve been having some warm and clear weather which was forecasted to hold through the event.

Now I was set to rise to (for) the occasion. I needed to pick a good spot for the shoot. One that would give my photos some foreground perspective.

I used two tools to help me decide on the location and also some personal observation.

The first thing I needed to know was where would the moon be in the sky when the whole shebang was happening. My go-to for that information was the smartphone app Photo Pills. It is an incredible app for planning your photography that includes the sun, moon, and stars. It is an absolute necessity for so much of my image making. I could go on and on about it, but you can read more about it here and a full review here.

Now that I knew where in the sky I’d be shooting, I needed a location with that all-important foreground perspective. Although the moon in the sky is pretty cool to see in photos, having something on the ground to put it in perspective makes it a bit more dramatic.

For that part of it, I had to use my own knowledge of the local terrain.

My first thought was to have the high-rises of the downtown Los Angeles skyline in the foreground. Unfortunately, getting to a spot that would be ideal for that shot would mean I’d have to get up even earlier for travel time. Yeah, no.

I remembered a spot I’d been to a couple of weeks earlier (I’ll post about that trip soon) that had an impressive 180-degree view of Hollywood, downtown L.A., and the San Fernando Valley. I did a quick check and bang, it was right on the sightline of the super blue blood moon.

The spot I chose for this moon photography shoot was on a hillside right above Universal Studios Hollywood. I could tell from checking the path of the moon on the app that as the moon set it would give me a good foreground effect. It did. From where I was shooting the moon set behind some hills in the San Fernando Valley. There was also a high-rise building in Studio City that I was able to include in a few of the photos.

I think the biggest challenge different from making images of the moon under normal circumstances, was the low light cast from this night’s moon. The eclipse turned the moon blood-red, but it also reduced its brightness significantly. Techniques normally used for this photography subject were useless.

I tried a number of different exposure combinations; Longer shutter speeds just caused blurring. Increased ISO just made the image noisy. Opened aperture made practically no difference at all.

In the end, some unusual techniques did work, and I got a few keepers.

This subject is where I discovered the limitations of my lens. I have had great success with other subjects shot through it, but this time I couldn’t quite get the crispness I was hoping for. Since I haven’t used other long lenses, I don’t have a frame of reference.  But I have seen other images of a zoomed in moon that are super sharp.

Looking through the viewfinder, it appeared as though I had good focus manually. Only when the image came up on the display and zoomed, it wasn’t as sharp as I thought it would be. I got some images with detail, but the sharpness didn’t wow me. I suppose that is why you have to spend so, so much more than I did.

Overall though, I am gratified that I had the opportunity to take photographs of this rare event. I am also pleased with the images I made that are show-worthy. I am looking forward to the next opportunity for image making.

Did you shoot this event or other moon photography? If you have any tips let me know.

Bye for now

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