Lunar eclipse

A few shots of Sunday’s lunar eclipse, in reverse order from totality back to the beginning of the eclipse about 90 minutes earlier. So happy we had clear skies!

Against all the odds, the clouds drifted away and we were left with clear skies for the eclipse. I was looking forward to trying out the new camera and after watching the Moon rise down at Boundary Bay, I headed home and set up the tripod and cameras (new and old) so that they were ready to use. We’re fortunate in that we have an open balcony with an unobstructed view of much of the sky which meant we didn’t have to venture out and hang around in the cold night to admire the eclipse.

In a thinly-disguised attempt at attracting eye-balls I posted my sequence of photos in reverse order, starting with mid-totality. I don’t think anyone was fooled 😉

We could make out the first suggestion of a shadow around 7:15 pm, which was clearly visible about twenty minutes later when I took the final picture in the sequence above. Another fifteen minutes later and the Earth’s shadow was casting a very clear arc across the face of the Moon (fifth photo).

By about 8:25 pm the Moon was reduced to a thin crescent (fourth photo) and by 8:40 pm – moments before totality began – the Moon was mostly eclipsed, turning a deep red with only a bright edge remaining lit by direct sunlight (third photo), almost like the diamond-ring effect of a solar eclipse.

Even after totality had begun, there was still a visible glow along the outer edge of the Moon (second photo) which lingered faintly even into the middle of the eclipse (first photo). After that I was too cold to continue taking photos and I convinced myself that the photos of the second half of the eclipse would probably look much like those from the first!

All in all I’m happy with the photos I took, though there are definitely some inconsistencies between the new mirrorless camera and the old SLR. For example, after totality began I couldn’t see the Moon on the screen of the mirrorless camera, but still had no trouble viewing it through the viewfinder of the SLR. Despite apparently identical settings, a 1-second exposure with the SLR showed the Moon clearly, while the same on the new camera showed barely anything. I’ll have to look into that more closely as that was a big surprise.

Most of all I’m just happy the skies were clear enough to see another lunar eclipse. I feel like we’ve been quite fortunate over the years here in Vancouver: this is the fifth we’ve seen for sure.

As the Oatmeal might say, THBBBBTTTT!

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Christmas skies

I didn’t see Santa but I did find comet 46P/Wirtanen and the moon before the clouds drifted back in. Hope you all have an enjoyable holiday season!

Ever since I first read about Comet 46P/Wirtanen a few weeks ago we haven’t had clear skies at night to allow me to get out and try photographing it. But tonight, finally, there was a gap in the clouds, and I hauled the (new) camera and (new) tripod outside onto the balcony to see what I could capture.

Thankfully the comet was close enough to a bright star which I could use to 1) focus the lens and 2) use as a pathfinder. I set up the camera as best I could before heading out into the dark, and was pleased (if not relieved) to find that I could focus at full zoom, then zoom out and the focus remained good enough for me to photograph a larger patch of sky to find the little patch of fuzz that marked the comet.

I managed to get half-a-dozen shots, trying to strike the balance between noise and exposure time: too long an exposure reduced the brightness of the comet as it was smeared out by the rotation of the earth, while bumping up the ISO value to bring the exposure down obviously increased the noise. I settled on 10 seconds at ISO 3200 and I’m quite happy with the result. (Alas I still have to wait awhile before I can edit the raw files from the new camera – I only learned that DxO PhotoLab didn’t support the Canon CR3 format after I’d bought it…)

For the moon shot, I borrowed our friends’ camera, hoping to get a comet photo with it (since it is supported by DxO). However, the clouds foiled that attempt which left me just the moon to photograph. I fiddled with the settings and rattled off a few shots, and I must admit the results have turned out pretty well. Though the lens isn’t the sharpest, the processed photo is plenty detailed enough.

Spending this time outside looking at the night sky reminded me of another Christmas Eve, way back in 1985 when I first picked up a book showing the night sky (no convenient phone apps in those days!), and I borrowed my Dad’s binoculars to find a few celestial objects such as the Pleiades, the Orion Nebula, and a couple of other star clusters. That was the evening that really launched my desire to become an astronomer, a journey that took me through the next 30 years.

Wishing everyone a joyful and peaceful festive season! Merry Christmas!

Another moonrise

Another month, another (almost full) moonrise, this time with the city as backdrop. We had seals for company (plus a few other photographers) on this clear, calm evening, perfect for picture-taking and kayaking…

I was hesitant to put in the effort to get yet another set of moonrise photos. After last month’s experience with getting less-than-sharp photos my hopes weren’t particularly high. Plus at the weekend I’d been reminded of how our telephoto lens has a sharp side and a very blurry side. With a city skyline as the likely feature of the moonrise photos, how could I work around this? Did I even feel like trying to work around it?

The weather and timing were in our favour though. I got home from work, we grabbed some food, and drove out to Locarno Beach with just enough time to spare. I ran over to the pier by the Jericho Sailing Centre, trying to undo the tripod as I went (not recommended, especially when on a sandy beach) as I could see the moon just clearing the tops of the condo towers.

I set up the camera and tripod as quickly as I could, remembering to take off the image stabilization but relying on autofocus this time as there was more light. I used the remote shutter release to take the photos, and I just kept pressing the button, changing the framing and/or focal length in between to capture different scenes. In retrospect this wasn’t the best idea as our tripod isn’t particularly sturdy and I ended up with more than a few blurry shots from camera shake. But thankfully enough turned out well enough, given the limits of taking distant photos towards a heat-hazy city, and I learned that the blurriness with this lens actually comes from the image stabilization mechanism; the lens itself is fine. Every single photo I took had uniform sharpness across the (important parts of the) frame. Yay!

  1. The moon just clearing the tops of the high-rises
  2. The moon on the edge of the belt of Venus, kayakers enjoying the calm evening
  3. The sun has set, the moon is getting brighter
  4. Set-up photo with my phone – I see a lot of these on Instagram and yes, I wanted to copy it 🙂

Well worth doing especially as the last couple of weeks of sunny weather has just given way to the first real taste of autumnal rain. Will I be able to make it three full (-ish) moons in a row? I guess we’ll see…

Harvest moonrise

Watching the Harvest Moon rise over Burrard Inlet.

A clear evening for a full-moonrise is not that common in Vancouver so I jumped at the chance to scope out a good place to set up my camera for this one. Using the Photographer’s Ephemeris I decided on the Stanley Park seawall with a clear view towards the Second Narrows bridge to the east and, with moonrise at around 7:25 pm, I knew I had just enough time to get home from work and get down to the park. I hoofed it down from the parking lot by the aquarium onto the seawall and walked along to my designated spot, pulling out the tripod on the way and extending the legs just as I reached a convenient bench.

I had only a few minutes to set up, check focus and exposure before the bright yellow limb of the moon rose over a distant ridge. As with my full moon shoot from January 2017, I was surprised at how quickly the moon appeared to rise for those first few minutes, even though I’m well acquainted with sky rotation (being a former astronomer and all). I snapped away for those minutes, alas making a fatal error and not refocusing as I changed the zoom setting on my lens. Of course I didn’t realized this until afterwards…

This moonrise wasn’t quite as good as the one back in January last year, because the moon rose after the sun had set. This meant that the sky was much darker as the moon brightened, making it much harder to balance the exposure. In the end I mostly exposed for the moon itself, but the reflection on the water was too good to resist. I also didn’t have such an impressive backdrop, and I think I might have been better off trying to get the moon to rise directly over the steel girders of the bridge, although I didn’t want the moon to disappear behind Burnaby Mountain too soon.

Still, I’m pretty happy with the results. The photos on Instagram were from a quick processing session immediately afterwards. I took my time a couple of days later and processed the photos slightly differently to put on Flickr, with different lighting adjustments, noise reduction, crops, and a half-baked attempt to remove some of the red fringing around the bottom half of the moon caused by the lens being slightly out of focus. See for yourself.

Harvest moon rise, 24 Sep 2018

Harvest moon rise, 24 Sep 2018

Harvest moon rise, 24 Sep 2018

Harvest moon rise, 24 Sep 2018

No time-lapse video this time, though. For reasons unknown, my phone and camera were most definitely not on speaking terms, and of course I hadn’t checked that out beforehand. So, another lesson learned from my meagre time lapse experiences! There’s always next time…