Night Lights of the North Coast: Super Blue Blood Moon Eclipse
Post by David Wilson
Earth was treated to a magnificent total lunar eclipse Friday, July 27, with the longest duration of totality that we will see in this century. Unfortunately, it wasn’t visible in our part of the world. But we can’t really say we’ve had the short end of the celestial stick, for we were blessed with a spectacular total lunar eclipse of our own back on January 31, 2018. Not only was ours a total lunar eclipse, giving it the name blood moon — it was a supermoon besides, and a blue moon to boot! How often does that happen?
What do the terms “super moon,” “blue moon” and “blood moon” mean? A supermoon is when either a full moon or a new moon occurs at the moon’s perigee, or closest point in its orbit around Earth. (Because the moon’s orbit around earth isn’t a perfect circle, there’s a point in its orbit where it is closest to us, called the perigee, while apogee is the farthest point). A blood moon is what a fully eclipsed moon is sometimes called, which makes some sense since it appears red to our eyes when it’s totally eclipsed. A blue moon is what we call the second full moon in any given month. I know of no logical reason to call it “blue.” All of these came together last January 31 to give us our Super Blue Blood Moon. Note that from those words you know: the moon was at its closest approach (super), it was the second full moon of the month (blue), and it was a total lunar eclipse (blood).
On that cold morning, my alarm woke me at 3:45 AM. An hour later I was out at Moonstone Beach, my favorite Humboldt beach. The moon was already partially eclipsed, and there were a few folks out experiencing it. I wanted to photograph it at totality, so while I waited I found a good location near some rocks where I had a view of Camel Rock and Trinidad to the north, with the moon hanging over the Pacific. The low tide permitted the occasional tiny wave to slide up the shallow beach, laying a sheet of toe-high water across the sand, just high enough to wet my feet. It left behind a glossy surface perfect for reflections.
By totality the blood moon was a dull red orb of rock amongst the stars, its reflection dancing in the changing waters on the sand. Trinidad blazed in the distance beyond Camel Rock, and the foreground rocks were dimly illuminated by light from buildings behind me. My eyes could see detail in the darkened moon and the landscape around me and make perfect sense of the scene, but only with the help of my brain, that great photo processor we all have that makes sense out of the visual information our eyes collect.
Alas, the camera lacks a brain like ours, and it sees things differently. My eyes could glance at the brighter moon, or the darker rocks, or blazing Trinidad and see each of them exposed consistently, and my brain could put it all together into a whole as I looked around. But unlike our eyes, the camera has no brain to balance the exposure across a scene with such immense contrast as this one. It can only expose for a narrow range of brightness at a time. Thus to make the landscape bright enough, the brighter moon went white — even though the moon was eclipsed and dimmer than usual. Conversely, to expose for the moon left the landscape dark: a single exposure could not capture what I saw with my own eyes.
I took numerous photographs, and for most of the them I balanced the exposure for the landscape, allowing the moon to become too bright. The first photograph you see here is one of these, a single exposure the way my camera captured it. It’s not how my eye saw it, though, for my eye could see the dim moon as a reddish orb, while the camera picked it up as overexposed white.
But I also wanted to make a scene that did look the way my eyes saw it. That would require two exposures. To that end I took some darker photographs so that the moon would appear the way my eye saw it, like a blood moon. The landscape was very dark in those photos. To show the eclipse as close as possible to the way I saw it with my own eyes, I combined the blood moon from a darker photo with the landscape from a lighter photo. The result is very close to how my eye saw the whole, a balanced scene, with detail visible on everything: the Blood moon, Moonstone Beach, Camel Rock, and Trinidad. This is what the second photograph shows.
If you follow my work, you’ll notice I’m not always constrained by reality in my images. However, for this eclipse it was my intention to create something to share that did match my experience in person. I was only able to accomplish that by combining elements from two different exposures.
If you’d like to always keep abreast of my most current photography or peer into its past, you can follow me on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx . I update my website mindscapefx.com less frequently.
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