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 (c) 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 (c) 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 (c) 2011 Josh Litwin

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