Norma and I are scouting the neighborhood for photo-worthy vantage points. There’s going to be a Moon Trifecta: a full moon, a “super” moon, and a lunar eclipse! The next opportunity will be in 2033. Sometimes this is the way with photography: you get one chance so you’d best be prepared.
The day starts out overcast. A thick, grey cloud blanket fills the sky. This does not bode well.
The past two nights have offered breathtaking sunsets with striking cloud formations. I have been out both nights taking sunset photos, remembering always to look behind me to the east because there just might be something spectacular going on in that direction as well.
For the past two evenings, the moon has been rising in the east at close to 7:00 p.m., shortly before the sun sets in the west. This is what we are expecting tonight…if the clouds will only dissipate or move to another quadrant of the sky. Today, the day of the blood moon, the weather has shifted, and I wonder if we will be able to see the moon at all with this thick soupy sky.
Two hours before moonrise, Norma and I drive throughout Martinez looking for hills. Accessible hills. We want to be above the tree line and rooftops, and we’d like a view of Mt. Diablo. If the moon is low enough in the sky during its eclipse, and there is still enough light in the night sky to outline the mountain, this will make a lovely shot. Sure, getting a photo of the red moon will be satisfying, but something else in the frame (like the silhouette of a mountain) will add that extra context and oomph. One can hope.
The first two hills we investigate won’t work. They are on private property, but we are not deterred in our quest. We spot another hill and wind our way through a dense residential area to get closer. We keep the hill to our right, hoping a side street will get us closer and allow us access.
Two streets are dead ends leading to cul-de-sacs. The hill is just beyond these homeowners’ backyards. We are so close, and I’m feeling a tingly hopefulness. The street names are a total tease: Alps Court, North Peak Place, Pinnacle Drive, all promising elevation plus views of Mt. Diablo in the distance.
We are on a curved street which hugs the base of “our” hill. Suddenly, across the street from a children’s park is a trail head to a foot path that most certainly leads to the top of the hill.
Norma and I park and head up the path to investigate. Norma is my morning walking partner, and a former cop, and she is in great physical condition. I’ve been walking 2.5 to 3 miles every day for almost three months, so I’m not exactly out of shape. After what seems like one minute, we both feel like we’re at elevation 8,000 feet (we’re not; it’s more like 500 feet). We’re huffing and puffing and wondering whose brilliant idea this was and where the oxygen went.
We’re on a mission though. We catch our breath and keep heading up.
We are rewarded with an almost 360 degree view of our community and far, far beyond. This location is a photographer’s FIND, a dream come true. To the east, where the moon will be rising, there is still a thick layer of cloud cover, but the wind is blowing in that direction and the sky has already cleared considerably to the west. It’s going to be another gorgeous sunset. But will we be able to see the moon? We’ve got another two to three hours to go. Perhaps we’ll get lucky.
We return shortly before 7:00 p.m. and set up our tripods. Above the horizon is what looks like haze, although it could be thicker and dense enough to obscure our view. The shadow of approaching night has covered the communities before me and is creeping its way up the foothills.
The past two nights, the moon has risen over these hills just before 7:15. It won’t be long.
At 7:30 p.m. there is no moon. The sun has set and it is dark. The mosquitoes are buzzing around my calves, forearms and ears. I’m doing a little dance to keep them from biting. Our hilltop is now populated with four other “serious” photographers (they too have brought their tripods), another half dozen people with phone cameras, two couples who are just there to watch, and two dogs. Clearly, Norma and I are not the only ones who know about this brilliant location to watch the sky do its magic.
I’m new to nighttime photography. There are settings on my camera I’m having to play with for the first time. I’ve selected a super high ISO setting, which increases the camera’s sensitivity to light.
Finally, at 7:45 p.m. a burning sliver appears above the cloud line. All this time, the moon has been hiding behind a thick curtain. Nature has deprived this eager audience of Act I of this eclipse.
The moon is a dark orangey red. The earth is casting its shadow upon it, and the earth’s sunset reflects its colorful glow upon the moon. The Universe’s players are aligned.
From the looks of my first shot, I may have pushed the ISO a little too much; the sky looks a dirty blue rather than the black it already is to the naked eye. I also want a larger image of the moon, so I’m going to need a longer lens. I’ve never changed lenses in the dark, and that moon is rising fast.
Somehow I manage to get one lens off and the longer lens on without dropping expensive, delicate equipment to the ground. I allow for longer exposures (more light) since I’ve lowered the ISO (less light), and start shooting.
A typical full moon is tricky to photograph well. The sharp contrast of a big white ball against a black background confuses the hell out of the camera. The inexperienced photographer (that would be me) is likely to end up with something resembling a kindergartner’s rendering of a full moon with white and black construction paper: primitive, no detail and dull.
But this blood moon offers something altogether different and magical. And the camera loves it. As do I.