In the From the Vault series, I feature an older image which hasn’t been seen here before and I talk about the capture and processing and hopefully highlight why this image is special to me.
The feature image in From the Vault this week is the Total Lunar Eclipse that occurred on the 28th August, 2007. The total lunar eclipse was one of the most accessible astronomical events for a long time – you didn’t need any special equipment and you didn’t need to stay up late or get up very early. The eclipse started just after sunset and the deepest part of totality was at 8:37pm, a convenient time for families and friends to congregate and observe the eclipse.
It was my first Total Lunar Eclipse, and while I knew it was going to be a special event, the scale leading up to it, and the awe I felt while viewing the blood red Moon during Totality really took me by surprise.
The Australian media gave the eclipse a lot of attention and airtime, making it a very popular event across the country. IceInSpace had an enormous surge in traffic as people searched for information about the eclipse. It was probably one of the most photographed eclipses in recent times, as the proliferation in affordable digital cameras gave almost everyone the chance to record the moon’s parade into and out of the shadow of the Earth.
Please read on to see more images from the Total Lunar Eclipse, and also to read how and why this event was huge for me and for IceInSpace.
Initially I wasn’t sure where I was going to photograph the eclipse, or what equipment I was going to use. I knew I wanted to create a widefield eclipse progression image, like the fantastic ones I’d seen by Fred Espanek. My Canon 350D and tripod were going to be used for that. Then of course I wanted some up-close telescope views of the Moon at various stages during the eclipse, but I didn’t really have the equipment for those type of shots.
I didn’t have a second DSLR but thankfully my friend Andrew Catsaitis allowed me to borrow his Canon 300D. At the time, I didn’t have my ED80 or any prime focus adapters – all I had was the 12″ Newt, EQ6 and my 80mm f/5 guide scope.
So for the telescope-views, I was limited to afocal photography and with no adapters or camera brackets, it was hand-held as well.
For the partial phases, the Moon was still very bright so exposures could be kept short and being hand-held afocal wasn’t so much of a challenge. The partial phase images were taken through the 12″ newt on the Dob base, with the Canon 300D and a 28mm eyepiece with exposures 1/400s and faster. But as we reached Totality the dimmer Moon required a longer exposure and it became impossible to keep the camera steady for the long exposures, especially without tracking on the dobsonian base.
To be able to photography the Totality phase, where exposures required were 8-10 seconds, I had to use my EQ6 to allow me to have tracking. With no camera adapters though, I couldn’t attach the camera to the guide scope so I had to put the 75-300mm lens on the 300D, put it on a tripod, and rest the tripod on top of the guidescope which was on the EQ6! It was literally resting on top, as secure as I could make it, to allow the long 8 second tracked exposures on the EQ6 (no guiding).
It was very primitive, but it was all I had, and fortunately it worked and I was able to capture the whole eclipse sequence to make the montages above. For future eclipses, I’ll at least have the ED80 and camera adapters to do prime focus photography – but even then, the short 600mm focal length of the ED80 won’t have the Moon fill the frame. Ideally I’d like another newtonian, maybe around 8″ aperture with a 1000mm focal length which will have the Moon fill the frame at prime focus. Something for the future 🙂
The Eclipse Progression image above (“The Path to Totality”) was much more challenging than I expected. I had the Canon 350D and Sigma 17-70mm lens sitting on a tripod set up for the sequence. The first challenge was that the Moon rose further North than I expected to I had to re-compose the shot. The next challenge was the early cloud which hampered the beginning of the partial phases. Lucky it cleared off to reveal a beautiful sky for the rest of the night.
The image below is a 20 second exposure during the early stages of the eclipse to capture the foreground part of the progression image as the bright Moon lit up the wharf and the water. You can see the clouds we had to contend with early on, too.
Another long exposure shot was taken during Totality to capture the background stars which were now revealed thanks to the dimming of the Moon as it was entirely within Earth’s shadow. The image below is a 25s exposure, f/4 @ ISO1600.
The resulting progression image is a composite of the foreground shot, the background stars shot, along with individual short exposure shots for the Moon during the eclipse phases. The individual shots were timed for every 7 minutes, simply using the countdown timer on my watch. Because of the changing intensity of the light during the eclipse phases, each shot had to adjusted for exposure, ranging from 1/20s to 8 seconds so the phase could be revealed and not over or under exposed.
I was literally running back and forth between the Canon 350D and my 12″ Newt, EQ6 and Canon 300D every 7 minutes – it was stressful but worthwhile. In the in-between times, I had my family there viewing the eclipse with me, and was also speaking to Terry (my IceInSpace partner) about the hive of activity on IceInSpace as Terry battled to keep the server online as it struggled to cope with the 1400+ people all trying to view the website at the same time.
2 months out, I wrote an article previewing the eclipse, detailing the local viewing times and providing observing and photography hints. Little did I know at the time how important that article would become, as it became a source of information for over one hundred thousand people leading up to the night of the eclipse. Over 70,000 people viewed the article in the 12 hour period before the eclipse, and was even mentioned on Triple J national radio, as the source of their information about the eclipse.
I was interviewed by a journalist from the local paper (Express Advocate), once before the eclipse and again after. It was great coverage for me and for IceInSpace. On the edge of Tuggerah Lake where I was set up to observe and photograph the eclipse, one of the locals came out and recognised me from the article in the paper!
The event was huge for IceInSpace! It was our busiest day ever, and we broke our own previous records in every department. A few stats:
- In the week around the Total Lunar Eclipse, we had over 80,000 visitors – more than half of those (over 41,000) were on the day of the Total Lunar Eclipse.
- The IceInSpace forum had over 260 new user registrations 24 hours, and over 1400 people were on the site at the same time which brought the server to its knees
- My lunar eclipse article, which previewed the event and gave local times and viewing/photography tips was read over 120,000 times (over 70,000 times on the day of the Total Lunar Eclipse alone)
The scale of the event, the leadup and the aftermath taught me a lot of lessons about handling promotion and coverage of celestial events – especially ones that may generate media and public interest!
The Eclipse was fantastic in the way it got people outside and looking up. My personal highlight was seeing the ingress and egress of faint stars as they were occulted by the full, but dim, moon. Seeing the milky way, previously hidden by the glare from the bright full moon, was now visible overhead and faint meteors streaked from all parts of the sky. Only a total lunar eclipse allows us to see these sights during a full moon.
Thanks for allowing me to take you through my memories of this remarkable event. You can see more of my lunar eclipse images in my Lunar Eclipse Gallery.
Thanks for reading.