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Blood moon & Bush Fires

The end of September 2015 saw the rare occurrence of the total lunar eclipse giving us what is known as a “Blood Moon”. This event was simply too good to miss and I had to photograph it, no matter what. I wanted a location as far away from any light pollution as possible and I decided to shoot the moon from the WW2 German MP3 tower on Jersey’s north west corner. Being a rather spooky location, this seemed rather appropriate for an eclipsed full moon. And so I headed out (actually hobbled out - but more on that later). 

Now, to shoot a detailed shot of the moon, you need an extremely long lens. I have up to 300mm courtesy of a Canon EF 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS USM.  On a full frame sensor this is just not enough.  So, out comes the small but brilliant Canon M3 mirrorless marvel.  The smaller sensor in  the M3 gives me more focal length for any lens. The same is true for all other ‘crop’ sensor cameras such as the 750D. So, mounting the 70-300 lens on the M3 gives me 1.6x more zoom than on a full frame, which works out to be 480mm (35mm Equiv.)

So, 480mm will have to do, the moon will not fill the frame as much as I’d like it to, therefore a heavy crop in post production will have to happen.

While hobbling along from my vehicle at 0100hrs towards my chosen location, I thought to myself how clear the night was and how it would be  the perfect night to do this - brilliant!  But then I saw an orange glow on the horizon and smoke coming my way.  I stood there in disbelief, watching, cursing the smoke billowing over the area.  In fact, I was watching a bush fire growing, and it was heading my way. So my near perfect conditions were being scuppered by a bush fire.  The fire was a few hundred metres across and the flames were very, very high.  Being so visible, I assumed that someone had dialled 999, surely someone had?  Just in case, I picked up the phone.  To my amazement, they had no idea, so I was glad I called them! 

Despite the fire, I thought I’d chance it and press on at my temporary crawling pace, having slipped a disc in my lower back a few days earlier. When I got to my location, another odd situation presented itself - there was a Canon 6D on a tripod just sitting there on a clifftop, and a speedlight on another tripod a few metres away, eh???  “Hello…..hello, anyone here??”  

How odd. The night of the full moon was starting to become as spooky as the location I had chosen. I told myself that if no one shows up I’ll take the kit home and start a Facebook campaign to find the owner.  Luckily, a few minutes later a chap and his girlfriend appeared, and he was happy to see his camera kit was still there! They had rushed off to move their car as they thought the bush fire may have had it! At this stage, the fire service had begun to get the blaze under control and the smoke in the sky was lessening.

Anyway, back to the shooting.  I mounted the 70-300 lens on the Canon M3 and secured it on the tripod, nice and firm. I was early for the eclipse so I could watch it go through all of its stages. Now, the moon only appears red while it is completely in the earth’s shadow due to the optical phenomenon known as Rayleigh scattering (or the scattering of light off of molecules of the air). This is also the reason why our sunsets are colourful.  But when the moon is “blood” red, it’s also very dim and hard to photograph.  As the moon is moving through the sky during the night, you need a fairly quick shot of it otherwise it will blur and lose all the fine detail we are trying to capture! I photographed the moon through the entire eclipse and decided that the photographs of it with the earth’s shadow across it were the best.  There was more light at this stage meaning I had no need to ramp up the ISO to silly levels. I was bracketing the exposures. Three shots:  -1EV, 0EV & +1EV.  This is necessary to capture the full range of tones on the moon’s surface.  I then blended the images as layers in Photoshop to get a nice even exposure to work with.  

Now, it does appear that the moon is filling the frame, but I have cropped this image very heavily.  The image you see at full size is 1000 pixels across.  To get it to fill the entire frame on a full frame sensor you would need and 800mm lens with a x2 teleconverter, which would give you 1600mm.  

Everything came together in the end! Nothing was going to stop me photographing this rare astrological event - not even a slipped disc, a bush fire and insufficient zoom. As the saying goes - you have to suffer for your art.