Oak Tree and Lunar Eclipse Sequence, December 10th, 2011

Oak tree and lunar eclipse sequence, December 10th, 2011

For me the hardest part about photographing last Saturday morning’s lunar eclipse was finding a good location. The fully-eclipsed moon would be close to the horizon in the west-northwest, so I needed a clear view in that direction, ideally with an interesting object in the foreground.

No place in Yosemite seemed to fit—too many mountains in the way. But I thought a remote region of western Mariposa County, with rolling hills and scattered oaks, might work. A week before the eclipse I scouted this area and found a photogenic oak tree on top of hill that seemed to line up with the projected path of the eclipse.

Friday night my student Erik and I got a couple hours of sleep, drove out to this spot, hiked up the hill, set up our cameras, and started our interval timers to capture a sequence of moon images ten minutes apart. We had a long wait, but it wasn’t too cold, and we enjoyed our peaceful, moonlit surroundings. A pair of great-horned owls serenaded us, and groups of coyotes howled at regular intervals. At one point Erik watched four coyotes climb a nearby moonlit hill, then saw one of them stop and howl.

As the earth’s shadow started to eclipse the moon we had to pay more attention to our cameras and adjust shutter speeds to compensate for the dimming moon. As the moon reached full eclipse we opened our shutters while I painted the tree with a flashlight. Then the dawn started to wash out the sky,the moon sank into a some low clouds, and the event was over. But we stayed and photographed a beautiful sunrise over the Sierra.

It’s taken me awhile to catch up on my sleep and process the images. The photograph above is a composite with 20 frames of the moon plus one frame of the light-painted tree and a hint of early-morning light in the sky. (I describe the basic procedure for assembling this sequence in this recent post.) I’ve also included one of the sunrise photos below.

Did you get out to photograph this event? How did it work out? I’d love to see some of your eclipse photos, so please post links in the comments!

—Michael Frye

Related Posts: Lunar Eclipse This Saturday; Monday Night’s Lunar Eclipse

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, plus the eBook Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom. He has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.

Sunrise over the Sierra crest

Sunrise over the Sierra crest




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45 Responses to “Eclipse”

  1. Daniel says:

    Hi Michael,

    I like your lunar eclipse sequence. Living in San Francisco, I went out to see the eclipse with the Golden Gate bridge. There were several hundred tripods out there. Reminded me of Horsetail Waterfall in February.

    I posted some pictures on my blog:


    • Michael Frye says:

      Thanks Daniel! I saw your images of the eclipse earlier – did you post them on Calphoto? Anyway, they’re very well done. Seems like a lot of photographers thought of the same location!

  2. I really like this one Michael!

    I stayed local in Merced and originally wanted to frame the old theater in Merced, but quickly realized that was a bad idea (trees/buildings). Quickly drove out to Lake Yosemite and hoped to frame the Tower, but the gate was locked, so I settled on a wider view of the lake and tower. Here’s the photos on my blog if anybody is interested:

  3. Susanne says:

    Well, not quite as good as yours…;-) But with your explanations in the email they turned out o.k. for a first try, I think…
    Thanks so much for that “reminder” email, I would have missed it otherwise.

    Here the results:

  4. Vivienne says:

    I thought about it, but then realized that by the time the eclipse was starting, the moon would be dipping below the tree line in the Chicagoland area. So I slept in, nice and warm! :)

    What a wonderfully shaped oak tree and a wonderful sunrise to follow! I’m saving April 15th, 2014 as a date with the moon.

  5. Adrian O says:

    I didn’t go out this time but would like to learn how to put the photo sequence together. Is it done in Photoshop and do you have a tutorial?

    • Michael Frye says:

      Adrian, yes I put the sequence together in Photoshop, but I don’t have a tutorial. Maybe one day. The short answer is that you use the Shift key when dragging one layer on top of another, so they line up exactly, and use the Screen or Lighten layer blending mode for all but the bottom layer.

  6. Patti says:

    Beautiful images, Michael. The sunrise shot was worth the extra effort, for sure!!

  7. Steve Gallow says:

    I was in the North East, and the moon dropped below the horizon before it started the eclipse.

    I just walked up the road from my house and took photographs across the field starting about 6:00 AM.

  8. Foster says:

    Great capture Michael. As always, thanks for sharing the info!

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Beautiful Michael!!! I did the opposite – I was scared of the fog in the valley and lower foothills so went up! (how does one become your student!?)

    • Michael Frye says:

      Thanks Elizabeth! Looks like Olmsted Point worked as well. You can become a student by joining one of my workshops, or taking a private workshop with me through The Ansel Adams Gallery:

      In this case I was doing a five-day private workshop. Since I wanted to photograph the eclipse I gave my student the choice of scheduling a different day or coming with me, and he chose to come with me.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Thanks Michael! Looks like I need to save a bit more! Yes, I loved viewing it at Olmsted, The high sierra’s under a full moon is breathtaking. I’m wishing I had shot some long exposures of Half Dome and Cloud’s Rest under the moonlight, but I was too captivated with all the meteors and eclipse! Always another time though.

        Love seeing everyone’s versions of the eclipse – we might all be looking at the same thing, but each is unique.

  10. Michael, nice work and nice concept – and props for getting up perhaps even earlier than I did! :-)

    I joined the throngs at Crissy Field in San Francisco to photograph the moon passing behind the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. I won’t bore you with the whole story, but I will say that knowing the geography of this area paid off, as I was able to figure out where to be to get what I wanted. The two following links go to alternate shots of the scene, and each has some accompanying text about the process and the event:

    In between those two posts in the stream at my blog are a couple of other photographs made by looking in other directions while I there in this beautiful location at dawn. (I was surprised by how many people “did the eclipse” and then packed up before sunrise and were gone!)


    • Michael Frye says:

      Dan, thanks very much. As I said on G+, your images with the Golden Gate Bridge are very well done. I looked in vain for the other posts you mentioned though. As for the people who packed up before sunrise, maybe they had to go to work? I know it was a Saturday, but… Or maybe they were headed for bed!

  11. Andy Benkert says:

    Great sequence shot Michael. That is one cool looking oak tree. And lots of good photos from other folks too. Great to be able to see other peoples experiences.

    I, too, was one of the hoards that descended on Crissy Field for an opportunity to line up the eclipsed moon with the GG bridge. For me, I was interested in the similarity of color between the two, it would provide a variety of shot possibilities, and the fact that as long as we didn’t get fog, it would offer a good view of the whole thing. I’m glad I went, and happy with this pic:

  12. Sharon Walls says:

    Wow, everyone’s photos are outstanding!! Being a beginner, I followed your outline Micheal for exposure, etc. and I am happy with how it turned out and not having a powerful enough lenses. We went to the Consumnes River Preserve on Twin Cities Road off I-5. I also took some sunrise photos. As I said, I am a novice with no training or knowledge of a camera, but I am enjoying what I shoot as I learn. I am on flickr as Sharon’s Gems. Thank you for the tips, some day I will have a stronger lenses for eclipses. I had a great time, wouldn’t have missed it for anything!!!

  13. Pete says:

    I wasn’t able to get out to shoot it. Here in Newfoundland we weren’t able to see the eclipse this time around. Nice seeing your work and the others who have posted here. Good work folks.

  14. David Eaton says:

    One hell of a photo Michael, combining it with the tree, my eye focused on the tree first, but a great combirnation.
    Unfortunately UK weather did not permit.
    Michael are you still doing the Critique on Mist.

  15. Joolz says:

    fantastic eclipse composite! Curious what the time interval between shots was?

  16. Pam Wolfe says:

    Michael, I am just beyond words at the photo you have produced. Thank you for the info you shared on how you captured it. It’s truly lovely!

  17. viju chavda says:

    Wow, amazing pics and clarity is also awesome.

  18. [...] I’d been to this spot before—in fact you may recognize one of these oak trees from my lunar eclipse image made in December. This time I looked east and photographed the moon rising over the hills and [...]

  19. Fascinating post and comments! I live in Beijing and the lunar eclipse took place around 10pm. My photos of the moon were not as striking as all the above (I was unaware and unprepared) but I had the opportunity to bond with my daughter that night.

    I was inspired to write this:

  20. [...] Posts: Eclipse; Tips for Photographing Lunar Rainbows; Juniper and Star [...]

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