Pic of the Week 1/24/19
"2019 Lunar Eclipse: Mineral Wells, TX"
Date taken: 1/20/19
Location: Mineral Wells, TX
2019 Lunar Eclipse: Mineral Wells, TX © Ben Jacobi
Let's go ahead and address the elephant, or I guess wolf, in the room. This image is not a representation of reality, but is also not photoshopped. I'll explain more a little later. When it comes to photographing lunar eclipses it takes a lot more for me to get excited. Maybe its because I have photographed them for several years now, but those images of the blood red moon in a black void just bore me. Now don't get me wrong, there are some photographers whose work is just like this and you can see their dedication and passion for their craft in their images. But for me, its not much of a challenge any more. As a beginning photographer I thought it was so impressive that I could capture this and every beginner should try to photograph the eclipse, as it does take a lot of technical skill. But similar to my position on lightning photography, I became bored with the shots and started to expand more and challenge myself to more complicated compositions and compositing. One of my favorites is my 2015 Lunar Eclipse transition over Palo Duro Canyon which you can read about here.
So for this years lunar eclipse shot I was going to try the most technically pure and least post processed image of the eclipse. My location would be in Lake Mineral Wells state park and my composition would have me pointed in the direction of the moon. Considering the moon was going to be 65 degrees up in the sky it certainly presented its challenges. The shot I had imagined would be a photo looking up a tall elm tree in an area known as Penitentiary Hollow. This maze of conglomerated rock shelters the elm trees in the cracks and fissures between the stone. Because the rocks are fairly large the tress have had to adapt. They grow all the way past the rocks before branching out. These trees have very tall trunks and their branches spread out like an umbrella overhead. With the colder weather we've been having I knew the branches would be clear of any leaves and we would just be remained with the skeletal silhouette of the tree. My plan was to photograph the eclipse looking up through the branches of the tree to a perfectly framed blood moon. We arrived on location early and scouted out the composition. Overall, I was pretty excited for the shot and I knew it was going to be challenging to pull off. We explored the stone outcroppings and rock formations for a few hours before the sun started to set. Once the sun was down I started lining up my composition and planning my procedure for capturing the image. But mother nature seems to have a cruel sense of humor.
Clouds, thick, gray, ugly, and uninvited clouds started creeping their way over the sky. I noticed there were some clouds out earlier in the afternoon and all the weather models I looked at forecast the clouds to move out by sundown. But now they were completely blocking out the eastern horizon. I couldn't even make out the stars in the sky. Disappointed, we pack up our gear and started to head back home. As I looked off to the east I could see the faint glow of the moon behind the thick layer of clouds, above it was nothing but a dull gray sky. We decided since we were in town to go ahead and grab some dinner and catch the rest of the football game. As we were watching the game we could see out the window the moon slowly started to become more and more visible. By the time the game was over it was very clear in the upper parts of the sky. There was just one small problem, the park gates close at 10pm. We decided to abandon the original shot and instead look for ways to incorporate the iconic Baker Hotel with the eclipse. We searched for a while driving down the back roads and alleys of the town looking for a good composition and angle on the hotel. Unsatisfied with any of the options, we started to look for roads with higher elevation. Maybe one of those would give us the angle we needed. We drove up and down neighborhood roads catching glimpses of the Baker between the homes, but there was no place we could pull over and shoot. Finally we had one more road to try and we came around the very sharp corner I could see a pull off at the top of the hill with virtually no trees and a view of the Baker hotel. This would be our new location.
I pulled out my Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 VC lens and zoomed in tight bringing all the emphasis on the hotel. I had that composition lined up, but it was nowhere near the moon. The moon was hanging high above my left shoulder it was completely impossible to photograph both the Baker and the moon with this lens. "I'm going to do more of an artistic image than a realistic one" I thought to myself. I decided I didn't want to Photoshop in the eclipse because, once again, it wasn't challenging to me. So I opted for an in camera multiple exposure. If you are familiar with film, and more specifically older manual wind film cameras, then you know how easy it was to forget to wind the film before taking another exposure. So you would take a photo and then forget to wind the film reload the shutter and expose another shot--on the same frame. The result is two blended exposures on a single frame and this can create some interesting images. My particular camera will allow me to do a digital version of "double-exposing" the image. This quickly became much more challenging to me. I had to properly expose the foreground (hotel) and then tilt my camera up almost 60 more degrees and pivot to the moon. Then I would need to completely change my exposure settings to expose for the eclipse. Not only that, but I had to carefully consider the placement of the moon. Too low, too far to the right and the moon ended up directly in front of the Baker hotel. Another consideration was the time, I only had 20 minutes when the moon is passing through the Earth's umbra giving it that iconic "blood" appearance. I ran several test runs during the partial eclipse so I would have my movements and settings down in time for totality. Finally, it all came down to the moment.
Peak eclipse had been reached, it was a perfectly crystal clear sky, I just needed to make sure I didn't screw up my exposure, my focus, my moon placement, and not kick or bump my tripod during any of the exposures. I lined up my shot, exhaled a deep breath, and started shooting my 13 sec exposure for the hotel. After that finished I quickly turned my camera and attention of the lunar eclipse. I again, lined up my shot, and shortened my exposure time to 1/2 sec and opened up my f/stop and then took another deep breath and fired off the exposure. After the image was made the in-camera software had to process the image and even though it takes just a few seconds, it seems like an eternity when you're waiting to see the result. The image popped up on the back of the screen and I was perfectly happy to find a properly exposed foreground and moon in the same frame. So yes, this image is not a representation of reality, but it was done 100% in camera. Despite the fact it wasn't anything like the original shot I had planned, I was still excited for the result and the process it took to create the image. It was quite the challenge, but I'm glad I didn't "phone this one in".