On Friday afternoon, April 3, I read that there would be a total lunar eclipse visible from the Western United States, and I thought I’d try my hand at trying to capture the event. So after dinner, I moved the gear I thought I’d need from the Pelican cases into the ThinkTANK Retrospective 20, and put the gimbal on my tripod. I spent the the rest of the evening reading about the eclipse; when it started, where in the sky will it be, best practices regarding exposure, etc. I should have taken a nap! The eclipse wouldn’t be total until 5:00am!
Shortly before 3:00am Saturday morning, I packed everything into my truck and headed over to Joseph Whidbey State Park on the west side of Whidbey Island. The park is closed between sunset and 8:00am, but seeing that the gate was open and it was 3:00am on a Saturday, I didn’t see any harm in quietly entering and finding a picnic table by which to set up my camera.
Trespassing fears aside, I found a nice area with an open view of the Salish Sea. The Earth’s shadow had just started across the Moon’s surface, so I was hurrying to get the 200-400mm lens on the gimbal and the camera attached to the lens. I put the GPS tagger on the camera’s hot shoe mainly for the wireless shutter trigger, but also to geotag my ill-gotten location.
I put the D810 into DX crop mode to get a little more “reach” out of the super zoom. It’s questionable, but seemed like a good idea at the time. I set ISO to 400, and made sure electronic front curtain shutter was enabled to reduce vibration. With auto-focus disabled, I manually adjusted the lens to bring the moon into focus. I then enabled Live View in order to lock the mirror in the up position. This allowed me to see what the camera was seeing on the rear LCD panel to ensure I always had the Moon in frame, as well as take advantage of the electronic front curtain shutter feature.
Everything was going well. I was getting some nice images of the eclipse at 1/1000th and 1/500th of a second, and was pretty pleased with myself. But man, was the breeze coming off Puget Sound chilly. I was wearing jeans, a couple of shirts, and a hooded jacket, but that cold breeze made it feel cold! Our winter was quite mild this year, but I think Friday night/Saturday morning was one of the chilliest nights all season. My truck told me the temperature was 38°F (3°C) outside, and I’m sure the breeze made it feel colder. My hands and face were taking the brunt of the chilly night air, and I was starting to shiver. When I wasn’t adjusting the gimbal to “track” the Moon, my hands were in my jacket pocket. Thankfully I could still release the shutter with the wireless transmitter. Technology is awesome!
Technology is also heavily reliant on power. On the LCD panel of the D810, I noticed a flashing red icon. Battery power was getting low, and like a rookie I forgot to bring EXTRA batteries. A while ago, I thought of a situation where I might need to charge batteries while away from the power grid. So, I bought a Watson compact AC/DC charger specifically to keep in the truck. Can you guess where that charger was. If you guessed in my truck, you were wrong. It was back at the house, safe and warm in my Pelican, silently mocking me with the extra batteries. I tried turning the camera off and only turning it on to take a shot, but that flashing red icon kept up with it’s incessant blink blink blink. I had to do something.
So at a little past 4:00am — only an hour into my first luna foray — I quickly broke everything down and raced home for more battery power. But in that time, a cloud bank moved in and obscured the Moon. I waited what seemed like 60 minutes, but was probably only 15. My hands and face were warming up and felt hot. I was also beginning to suffer from lack of sleep. I was up at 8:00am on Friday morning, and it was closing in on 5:00am Saturday morning. Twenty one hours was becoming too much for my old bones, so I decided to call it a night (early dawn?) and reluctantly unloaded the truck.
There’s another total eclipse of the Moon in September 2015, and I’ll make a another attempt at capturing it… hopefully with the help of a friend’s telescope that can actually track the moon across the sky.
Lesson learned? Bring more power! Dress warmly!