Lunar Eclipse from Grand View Point
Lunar Eclipse from Grand View Point, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
A lunar eclipse is a rare and magnificent sight, but photographically, it’s a challenge. Although the moon looms large in our perception, it’s optically quite small, subtending an angle of only half a degree. Filling the frame with the eclipsed moon requires a telescope. As the lunar eclipse of September 2015 approached, I decided to take a different tack and shoot it by making a series of photographs five minutes apart, each with the same composition, starting when the moon rose, then continuing through the eclipse until the moon was full once more. I would then put all the images together in Photoshop to show the progression of the eclipse.
I knew such an image would be better if I could place my series of moons over some dramatic landscape. After a lot of planning, I decided the best shooting location was Windy Ridge, in the Mosquito Range near the hamlet of Alma. Unfortunately, the forecast called for cloudy skies, so I made a last-minute decision to head for Grand View Point in Canyonlands National Park. After searching along the rim of Grand View Point, I selected a composition with a twisted, weather-beaten Utah juniper in the foreground and Monument Basin in the background. The next problem was composing the image precisely. I knew the position of the moon in terms of altitude (angle above a level horizon) and azimuth (compass bearing) for each phase of the eclipse. I used a tripod-mounted Brunton pocket transit to position the camera so that the moon would rise near the bottom left corner of the frame, arc up and right across the frame without intersecting the tree, then exit the frame near the top right corner.
The moon was already partially eclipsed when it rose into a clear sky four minutes before sunset. Every five minutes, I fired off a bracketed set of images, varying the exposure as the moon moved through the phases of the eclipse. One thin cloud partially obscured the moon just as the total-eclipse phase was ending. Then the moon emerged from the cloud and sailed on, finally exiting the frame around midnight.
From moonrise at 7:04 p.m. to the end of the partial eclipse at 10:27 p.m., the eclipse had lasted over three hours. During that time the color of the sky varied from the pale blue of twilight to near-black. When I assembled this image in Photoshop, I chose an image taken shortly after sunset when only the brightest stars were visible to provide the background of land and sky behind the series of moons and created the image you see here.