On Sunday a total lunar eclipse was visible in many parts of the world, including our corner of California in the Sierra Nevada.
I’ve photographed many lunar eclipses before. I like capturing sequences of the moon above a landscape in various eclipse stages – if possible. But for this eclipse I couldn’t think of any nearby spot that would add a compelling foreground while looking in the right direction (southeast) for a sequence like that, plus it appeared that clouds might interrupt any attempt at capturing a long eclipse sequence.
Instead, I thought of a lone oak tree in the Sierra foothills that might lend itself to a different treatment: a telephoto view of just the tree and eclipsed moon at dusk. I had photographed this tree before, and it looked like the tree and moon would line up well. Using a long lens would make the moon look larger, plus capturing a single frame like this would require only a brief cloud-free interval to work, while a sequence would need several hours of clear skies.
Sunday evening Claudia and I had an early dinner and drove out to my chosen spot. And everything went more-or-less according to plan. The tree and moon did indeed line up well. Clouds were moving in from the north, but the view to the southeast, toward the moon, remained clear for long enough.
The biggest challenge was the wind. We were greeted by a gusty breeze when we reached the lower foothills, and the wind didn’t abate while we were there. Wind can shake the camera and blur images made with telephoto lenses at slow shutter speeds, even with a sturdy tripod. So Claudia held an umbrella to shield the camera from the wind, and I tried to time my exposures for moments of relative calm.
In the end I was able to get many sharp frames, though even in the sharpest images some of the smaller branch tips are blurred, as they moved during the one-second exposures. But that couldn’t be helped, and the trunk and most of the branches were sharp, as was the moon.
And it was nice just getting out and watching the eclipse from this serenely empty and quiet stretch of the Sierra foothills. When the moon first appeared just after sunset it was a partially-eclipsed crescent, but soon the crescent disappeared, and all that was visible was the dim, reddish glow of the fully-eclipsed moon. As the twilight grew dimmer, the moon stood out more. Eventually the moon passed behind some clouds, then re-emerged. Later, sunlight caught the edge of the moon again, and gradually more and more of the moon was illuminated, until it was full again. At that point it looked like just an ordinary full-moon night, with only the memory – and photos – of what the moon looked like earlier.
— Michael Frye
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael 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.