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