Dec 14, 2011 | Post by: Josh No Comments

Lunar Eclipse: Notes from the Darkside

Before our hon­ey­moon, many years ago, I asked an expert friend of mine which cam­era he thought was best. He used a phrase I’ve used many times since: “The best cam­era is the one you have with you!”

Well, as many of us have dis­cov­ered, mod­ern smart-phones have sur­pris­ingly good cam­eras. An iPhone 4s takes bet­ter pho­tos than a point-and-shoot cam­era from 5 – 6 years ago. I have to think this has resulted in more moments being cap­tured than ever before.

But some­times, even smart­phones won’t cut it. Last Fri­day, I read a snip­pet about the next morning’s lunar eclipse. Here in San Fran, the eclipse would be vis­i­ble (assum­ing no fog!) from about 5:30 to about 6:30 in the morn­ing. I did a quick web­search to see if there was more info out there about the eclipse than the news­pa­per put on their web­site. Lo and behold, an astronomy+photography enthu­si­ast pointed out that the moon would be RIGHT BEHIND the Golden Gate Bridge! This was a once-in-years (decades? life­time?) oppor­tu­nity to get the eclipsed moon along with a famous landmark.

2011 December Lunar Eclipse - approaching total eclipse

2011 Dec Eclipse — near total © 2011 Josh Litwin

As they say, it’s bet­ter to be lucky than good. A friend had loaned me his beau­ti­ful pro 400mm lens (big gray one like you see on the foot­ball side­lines) to shoot the Blue Angels this sum­mer. And I still had it!

My wife is great about let­ting me do these things spur of the moment. So the next morn­ing, at 4:30, I popped out of bed, and headed for Crissy Field. We knew exactly where to stand, by using this amaz­ing, nifty appli­ca­tion. They did a ter­rific job with it, fun to explore all the dif­fer­ent options.


Any­way, it helped me know just where to stand in order to catch this:

South Tower of Golden Gate Bridge at Full Eclipse

South Tower of GGB at Full Eclipse © 2011 Josh Litwin

Luck was with me in all but two ways:
1. It was much colder with the wind than I had expected.
2. My tri­pod was fine nor­mally, but was too wimpy for this huge lens+camera

Quick trips to the car to warm up helped with #1. But #2 was just a bum­mer. I could not take a really long expo­sure, with­out get­ting jit­ter. So only a few of the pho­tos came out sharp. Well, a few was enough I sup­pose. These shots got more “likes” and com­ments on my Face­book page than any I’ve ever posted.

Still, I know how much bet­ter they would have been with the right tri­pod. Now I just have to avoid the fea­ture creep: yes now I have a good tri­pod, but what I REALLY need is one of those lit­tle motors that moves the cam­era slowly to fol­low the stars! Next Christmas…next Christmas.


Tech talk:
Cam­era: Canon 5D MII
Lenses: 400mm OD f4 L series, 24-105m f4 L series
Tri­pod: some­thing I’m throw­ing away
ISO: wanted 1000 max, but had to use up to 6400 for some, since my tri­pod was jit­tery
Shut­ter speeds: 1/50 down to 1/2
F stop: wide open, f4 for both these lenses
Aut­o­fo­cus: dis­abled, leave lens set to infin­ity, saves bat­tery, avoids wrong focus. The moon is pretty far away.

What I’ll do with pho­tos: make some can­vases, give as gifts

Palace of Fine Arts at dawn HDR

Palace of Fine Arts at dawn HDR © 2011 Josh Litwin

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