Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Shadow of the World

Sometimes I forget how beautiful a lunar eclipse can be. Then early Wednesday morning, 5AM, I see a reminder in sharp relief, blood red moon flying through the shadow of the world against a background of distant stars.

Backing up a few days, it was late Sunday afternoon and I found myself walking up this hill to see the nearly full moon rising in the blue sky in front of me. There it is, swinging its way around to eclipse. At this moment I knew I would be ready.

Now a word about being on time.

The solar system bodies are so massive, there's so much momentum balanced against so much gravity, that the inevitable wobbles of things flying through empty space are held minuscule in comparison to what is rightly called the celestial clockwork. Like clockwork, it is on time. It's important to get yourself in tune with the moon and the sun a few days in advance, prepare your circadian rhythms to coincide with the meeting of the two. If you're late, you miss it. Sleep in, you miss it. Running just a little behind schedule, and you miss it. It's been a long time since I woke up at 3AM to see something like this but as I woke up, got on my way, arrived, there was such excitement I wondered why I don't do this all the time.

Last year's solar eclipse happened on time, to the second, as did this year's lunar eclipse. Supermoon, blue moon, blood moon. What really mattered to me is that it would be low to the horizon, before sunrise, where I could photograph it framed with some landmark.

I wasn't the only one with this idea.

The moon went into eclipse high in the sky, and as I drove to my planned spot, I saw and stopped in front of the Palace of Fine Arts because the scene was just too perfect. Even handheld with a micro-4/3 compact camera.

Of course, when I got to the parking lot there were already people lined up with cameras. The late night photo geek community! I love it!

So... here's what went right...
  • Preparing my kit - I put everything I thought I would need in a backpack the day before. The plan was to wake up and grab this one bag as I walk, zombie-like, out the door. 
  • Not my first eclipse - Practice makes perfect! There are some tricks to photographing the moon, mostly around getting a precise manual focus and eliminating even the slightest vibration. You go out, you photograph, you go back home and see what you can improve. You get better each time. 
  • Planning ahead - It's easy nowadays to know exactly where the moon will rise or set from any location using a phone app. I was thinking about this in the weeks before and exploring different places I might want to be. In the end, I chose a spot where the moon would set behind the Golden Gate Bridge. As it turns out, a lot of other people had reached the same conclusion, as I learned when I looked for parking!
And... here's what didn't go so well...
  • Preparing my kit - I forgot a few small things, like attaching the cameras to mounting plates, bringing a multitool, and my headlamp wasn't where I thought it was. 
  • Not doing a practice run - I thought about Saturday night, waking up at 4AM, driving a short distance somewhere, and photographing the moon, but I didn't. I slept in. I was lucky I didn't forget anything critical, or anything that couldn't be improvised around. Mostly.
  • Condensation - As sunrise approached the lens fogged up something fierce, and I didn't even notice at first. So a bunch of photos in the middle of the series had fog blur. This is also when I realized I hadn't brought a lens cloth. Luckily many hiking shirts have one sewed in, and I had a small microfiber bag. But still, some of those photos had some blur.

    This is a great picture otherwise

These things are not easy. These things are worth it. We run around the surface of this spinning globe, chasing the sun, chasing the moon, chasing the shadow of the world.

Do the math. Know the time, place, and exposure.


Decisive moments.

Just paying attention and being, really being there.

Knowing these moments are what make up life.

And it's good to know I'm not the only crazy one out there.

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