Total lunar eclipse of December 2010

6am, Tuesday 21 December 2010, I arrive on Scout Scar.  Minus 15 degrees might have been optimistic.  Camera, lenses, tripod, everything I can wear, plus a flask of hot ribena. All you need to know about when and where to see an eclipse is available from the Mr Eclipse website maintained by Fred Espinak.  I am deeply indebted (as many amateur astronomers must be) to Mr Espinak for the solid, reliable information that he chooses to share with anyone who cares to go and look.  Here are the details he provided for the 21 December 2010 lunar eclipse.  Totality will be at sunrise in Cumbria, which means the Moon will disappear into shadow and into light at the same time.

Earth shadow

500mm f/8, ISO 400, 1/640 sec.

At 7.02, the Earth’s shadow is obscuring half the Moon.  Despite the rehearsal, I cannot find reliable focus at 1000mm, so have to be content with 500mm.

500mm f/8, ISO 400, 1/60sec.

500mm f/8, ISO 400, 1/60sec.

As the Earth’s shadow moves across the lunar surface, the remaining illuminated area moves into penumbra – partial shadow – and the exposure has to be increased to compensate.  Here the exposure is around ten times the previous photo.

500mm f/8, ISO 400 2 sec.

500mm f/8, ISO 400 2 sec.

A further increase, this time by a factor of 120, reveals the shadowed part to be illuminated by light that has passed through the Earth’s atmosphere, giving the Moon a red glow.

500mm f/8, ISO 400, 1/30 sec.

500mm f/8, ISO 400, 1/30 sec.

Approaching totality, the last sliver of illuminated surface is in penumbra and a further increase in exposure is required.

500mm f/8, ISO 400, 3 sec.

500mm f/8, ISO 400, 3 sec.

As the eclipse becomes total, the Sun is rising behind me.  The sky is getting lighter and the image is becoming flat, showing almost no contrast. With the extreme cold, the flat, dim lighting and the awkwardness of focusing the 500mm lens, I have enjoyed watching the eclipse more than I have enjoyed photographing it, to be honest. However…

105mm f/5.3 ISO 1600 1/2 sec.

105mm f/5.3 ISO 1600 1/2 sec.

… almost as a last resort, I switch to the Nikon 18-200mm zoom lens (and switch the D90 to “Auto”) in the hope of capturing something of the context for this morning’s efforts.  Once again, the D90 does exactly what I ask of it, and “Total lunar eclipse over the Langdales” has become one of my favourite shots of the Moon.  Just a tiny warm up and a little extra saturation in Photoshop.

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