Magazine article Geographical

Shoot for the Moon: The Hundreds of Blood Moon Images That Poured onto Social Media Sites the Morning after the Latest Lunar Eclipse Demonstrates How Night Photography Has Become Far More Accessible to the Public

Magazine article Geographical

Shoot for the Moon: The Hundreds of Blood Moon Images That Poured onto Social Media Sites the Morning after the Latest Lunar Eclipse Demonstrates How Night Photography Has Become Far More Accessible to the Public

Article excerpt

During the evening of 27-28 September, millions of people across North and South America, Europe, western parts of Asia and North Africa were able to witness the phenomenon popularly known as the 'Blood Moon'. The following morning, social media sites were filled with photographs taken by members of the public who stayed up to the early hours (and were blessed with clear skies) to see what was, in fact, a total lunar eclipse.

During a total lunar eclipse, the moon takes on a reddish colour. Although lunar eclipses are fairly common--a minimum of four total or partial eclipses happen every year--the total eclipse on 27-28 September was of a 'supermoon', and is a much rarer event. According to NASA, such eclipses occurred only five times in the 1900s--in 1910,1928,1946,1964 and 1982. The total eclipse of the most recent supermoon was the first one of the 21st century and will not happen again for another 18 years.

But what is a supermoon? Simply, it is phrase given to a full moon that is closest to the Earth. When rising above the horizon, a supermoon can look larger and brighter than a typical full moon. Therefore the blood red hue of a supermoon in total eclipse will make a dramatic impression on the night sky, as the pictures of last September proved.

LOW LIGHT CAPABILITY

Not so long ago, taking a photograph of a lunar eclipse (or of the stars and the moon on any clear night), was regarded as the niche preserve of a well-equipped astronomer or astro-photographer. That is no longer the case, as modern cameras now possess extraordinary low light capabilities making it possible for anyone to photograph galaxies and constellations hundreds of light years away.

The breakthrough camera launch that made this possible was the Nikon D3 in 2007. Not only was it the first DSLR camera to use a 'full frame' (35mm format sensor), but it enabled photographers for the first time to make finely detailed exposures at night at ISO settings of 6400 or higher. Suddenly, low light and night-time exposures became far more accessible. Although Nikon's top of the range camera at the time--and with a premium price to match--it wasn't long before this sensor technology and high ISO capability found its way into more affordable cameras. Now, pretty much any digital camera can deliver incredibly fine resolution images at ISO 6400, 12,800 or even more. But even with this tech at your fingertips, there is still more to shooting a Blood Moon or the Milky Way than pointing your camera in the right direction and pressing the shutter button.

CLEAR SKIES AND DARK NIGHTS

Preparation is key and there are several important factors to fulfil before you even consider reaching for the camera. First and foremost, you need clear skies and a dark night, so refer to the weather forecast to find out if the coming evenings will be cloud-free. A night sky free of cloud provides a clear view of the heavens. Even better is if the night is still --gusts of wind can create problems by causing vibrations and movement to camera and tripod which will blur the image of a long exposure.

Of greater importance is a dark night, less so if photographing something as large as a full moon, but especially when trying to see constellations of stars or distant galaxies. Strange as it may sound, some night skies are darker than others. This is because a dark sky is largely determined by two things: the phases of the moon and your location. After sunset, the moon is the greatest light source in the night sky, but during the phase of a new moon no light is reflected and the moon cannot be seen, making the night sky even darker.

Light pollution from built-up towns and cities also blocks out much of the starlight to be seen from Earth, so the ideal location for seeing stars is far away from urban areas, in low lying country, or better still, remote deserts, mountains, or out to sea. This is why the world's great astronomical telescopes are found on high mountain tops, islands, or flat uninhabited terrain. …

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