Pic of the Week: 9/28/16: Lunar Eclipse Transition Palo Duro Canyon.
Location: Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Date taken: 9/27/16
It was a year ago today (9/27) that I was out shooting the annual lunar eclipse in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. This was second time I came to PDC during that same year. The first time was to document the Perseids meteor shower at the Lighthouse. When my good friend Jim Livingston (http://www.jimlivingstonart.com/) approached me about reuniting and shooting another night event in Palo Duro Canyon I instantly said yes! Palo Duro Canyon is a very unique location to Texas and I’ve always come back with some amazing photography. We had to plan the shoot out a little bit more than usual. I knew I wanted to capture the eclipse transition over the Lighthouse, and I knew it was going to be challenging trying to find the right composition. We spent weeks talking back and forth about different locations and angles that could work for the shot, drawing out maps and diagrams, and carefully examining data on the moon trajectory, eclipse timing, and weather data. We decided to shoot the eclipse through the gap between the Lighthouse and Lighthouse Rock. This angle would be directly facing the moon and should be just right to capture the whole transition sequence.
Fast forward to the day of the shoot and we arrive to Palo Duro Canyon late afternoon to give us plenty of time to scout out our location. We had received special permission and obtained a permit for the park to camp out there all night to record the eclipse. After a quick and steep climb, we made it to the base of the Lighthouse. It’s strange to think I was just there the previous month and everything looked familiar, but also very different. It’s a constantly changing landscape in the rugged, rocky territory. We eventually reach out destination and look for a place to set up camp. No tents for this shoot just some good ol’ cowboy camping under the stars. After some time, the sun began to set and this lit the canyon up in a beautiful golden light. We shot the sunset until the light was gone and then we moved to our location for our lunar eclipse photos.
When the blue hour came it was time to start shooting our base image. I knew the final image was going to be a composite, but instead of having a silhouette as the foreground I opted to shoot a blue hour exposure for details in the Lighthouse and the surrounding terrain. Shortly after blue hour the moon began to peak over the canyon. The actual eclipse had already started before sunset and the moon was starting to pass through the earth’s shadowy umbra. Our first exposures revealed a dingy dark spot on the bottom of our moon, this would only grow as the moon passes through umbra and eventually turning the rust color we call the “blood moon”. The whole eclipse lasted for 1hr and 15min and we shot off exposures during each phase giving us plenty of photos to choose from. This eclipse was different from all the others that I shot in that this was also during a super moon. So not only were we watching an amazing cosmic event in a remote and interesting location, we were also seeing the moon at its largest, fullest, and brightest. This meant We could have incredible detail in all our moon photos. After the eclipse finished we stayed up shooting the moonlit canyon until finally dozing off to get some precious moments of sleep. We woke up just before sunrise to find the moon gracefully hanging just above the canyon rim to our west. We shot the moonset and the sunrise and couldn’t have ended in a more perfect way.
Once I got back home it was time to start creating the final image. I used a total of 23 images (15 of the moon) to create this final composite. I started by layering in the blue hour exposure and then adding the stars, and carefully positioning the moon to make sure the trajectory was as accurate as possible. I will say that I did take some creative license and made the arc of the transition a little more noticeable. It took a little over 6hrs to create the final image. The whole shooting and editing process was long and grueling, but I believe I came back with something truly unique. It goes to show that planning, patience, and a little bit of luck goes a long way in nature photography.