Red Moon September 2015

There was much hype around the Red Moon of 2015, so I am not going to go into too much detail here. One thing that I could not find was someone giving decent camera settings for an event such as this. I have taken pictures of the moon before, so I had a reasonable idea what to use for the starting settings. The problem was that I would be dealing with an eclipse, and then a very dim moon. The settings for this red moon would take me close to the realm of Milky Way photography.

A photo of the Milky Way taken at Mount Sheba. Camera Canon 40D; Lens: Sigma 24-135mm at 24mm. ISO: 1600; Aperture: f/2.8; Shutter Speed: 20s. Some brightening in RAW.

I started my preparations by finding out the timing of the various stages of the Red Moon in South Africa. This is not as trivial as it sounds as most of the information out there was focussed on the USA. I had originally planned to drive up to Klapperkop as this offers a pretty unobstructed view of the western horizon. (My cover photo above was taken from Klapperkop, as was the pic below of McNaught's Comet.)

McNaught's Comet (2007). Taken with a Canon 350D; Lens: Sigma 50-500mm at 50mm. ISO: 200; Aperture: f/8; Shutter Speed: 30s.

I woke up at around 02:00 and then wandered around my garden to see what the moon looked like at various spots. I decided to stay at home (more for safety reasons as those in South Africa would understand) as the moon was clearly visible. It also meant that I didn't have to get dressed, I could stay in my pyjamas!

My kit for the session was the Canon 7D body, the Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm, a Manfrotto 055CLB tripod and a Manfrotto 701RC2 head. For the Red Moon shots I also used a Canon RS80N3 remote.

I set up the camera on the tripod and then did a few test shots to test the lighting. As I knew the Red Moon was going to be rather dark, I started off with a highish ISO, and then worked down balancing the aperture and shutter speed until the playback image looked satisfactory. By this time it was closing in on the start of the eclipse.

All pictures were taken in manual mode, with spot metering on the moon. Post-processing was RAW conversion using UFRAW and sharpening using USM in Gimp. Please note that none of the images below have been cropped, they have merely been resized.

03:10 At this stage, the eclipse was already underway. ISO: 800; Aperture: F/6.3; Shutter Speed: 1/1600s.

The eclipse progressed reasonably rapidly.

03:42 Eclipse level of slightly more than 50%. ISO: 800; Aperture F/6.3; Shutter Speed: 1/1250s (brigtened slightly in RAW).

At this stage of the eclipse, I had to start compensating for the red moon, so the part of the moon in full sunlight is totally blown out.

04:10 ISO: 1600; Aperture: F/6.3; Shutter Speed: 1s.

I did experiment with Auto Exposure Bracketing, but that irritated me more than anything else, so I switched it off after a couple of shots. I woke Pat at this stage so that she could come and have a look at the spectacle.

04:33 ISO: 1600; Aperture: 6.3; Shutter Speed: 1.3s.

Notice that with the longer exposures required for the Red Moon brighter stars are now being picked up in the pictures

At this stage the moon was starting to get a bit low relative to the horizon, so I had to move the tripod as the trees were starting intrude in my pictures.

04:47 The trees now starting to show at the bottom of the picture. ISO: 1600; Aperture: 6.3; Shutter Speed: 2.5s.

The moon was now starting to disappear behind the trees, so I moved the equipment to the backyard for a final shot of the full Red Moon.

04:53 The final shot. ISO: 1600; Aperture: 6.3; Shutter Speed: 2.5s.

I decided that enough was enough, and it was now time to go back to bed. I was quite thankful that I hadn't gone up to Klapperkop!

More of the series here. Please note that I did take more pictures than those shown here and on Fotki.

I was quite disappointed at how grainy the pics from the 7D were. One of the reasons that I bought it was that the 40D was beginning to show hot pixels on long exposures. I will have to check my post-processing just to make sure that my UFRAW/Gimp combination is not causing the problem.