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Shooting the Blood Moon

On July 27 2018 the world was dazzled by the longest lunar eclipse of the 21st century. The moon appeared to be red and the phenomenon is called Blood Moon. Of course I couldn't miss the chance to take some shots.

It wasn't the first time I tried to shoot the moon. In fact it was the first thing I tried to shoot when I bought my Nikkor 200-500mm lens. I didn't have a decent tripod, nor a remote release. Needless to say, the result was quite disappointing. To say the least...

A friend of mine, who's also a fellow photography enthusiast, invited me over for a barbecue, and you don't need to invite me twice for a BBC. So I grabbed my gear and drove about an hour to his place. What did I have in my gear bag?

  • Nikon D500 with 2 spare batteries

  • Nikkor 200-500mm

  • Kingjoy sturdy tripod

  • LensMaster RH-2 Gimbal head (One day I will write a review about this head, or better yet, make a video)

  • Remote release

It was cloudy that day and we were afraid it will interfere our photography, but come the evening and the skies were clear. Excellent conditions!

I set up the camera on tripod while still in the house and we went outside. Got a good spot right outside of his house. I set the camera to f/11, 15 seconds, ISO 100, found the moon on my Live View screen, zoomed in to 500mm and made the shot. The result was... Well, see for yourself:

Definitely not a keeper.

I tried to change some settings - get the ISO higher to 400, dial down the exposure to 4 seconds, but the image was still very shaky. And my friend wasn't doing any better.

We decided to get back in the house. My friend said he was giving up. But I wasn't! While I was sitting on the porch, I continued to try various settings while pointing my camera to the house across the street.

That's when I noticed that even though I'm shooting an entirely still object, the image is still blurry. So I realized the camera is a little bit shaking when the mirror goes up. I set up a 2 seconds delay, fired the shot and... It was sharp! Eureka!

So I told my friend we're back in business. This time we headed to the roof. I set the tripod, and as it was windy on the roof, I tied the camera strap to it, to prevent any other camera shaking. This time I set the camera to f/6.3, 2 seconds and ISO 200. I found the moon in Live View again, half-pressed the button and... discovered there's not enough contrast for the camera to focus. Switched to manual focus and pressed the shutter release.

Much better, but still blurry. This time I decided to add another delay - exposure delay of 1 second. I noticed that I can actually see the moon moving on the screen. Well, technically, of course, the Earth was rotating. I set the exposure to 1/20 of a second and ISO to 640. This time the image was tack sharp, but very dark.

I continued to crank up the ISO and went up to 2500. Then I also decided to slow down the exposure to 1/10 of a second and... BINGO! I finally had my winning shot!

After cleaning the noise, making some minor adjustments and cropping I had the image I wanted!

Alas, my friend wasn't doing so well. Unfortunately he had an inferior equipment: Nikon D7200 and Nikkor 200-400 with extension tube. His images were neither sharp nor clean. Even when we tried to put my 200-500 on his D7200 body, the image still wasn't good enough. It's OK, since he generally focuses on other types of photography. But he was happy for me!

Lesson learned:

Do everything you can to avoid camera shaking - use sturdy tripod, tie or even better remove the camera strap, set timer delay and exposure delay, use remote release.

So now I know how to shoot the moon. Of course the next time I try it might and most probably wont be during a lunar eclipse, so some of the settings will have to be changed accordingly, which means another play with them. The difference is next time I will have a much better foundation!

Until next time, keep on clicking!

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