Thursday, 1 February 2018

Super Blue Blood Moon


Early last evening, and after weeks of clear skies over Napier, wispy thin cloud cover looked to be about to put a dampener on my chance to see the latest rare event in the night sky- a Super Blue Blood Moon, last seen 152 years ago in 1866, and not to be seen again until 2037. So a pretty special event you'd say.

I'm sure I don't have to explain, but just in case you've been hiding under a rock during the media hype here's a quick description;

Super- when a full moon is at or near its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit.
Blue- when there are two full moons in the same month. This is fairly rare (happening approx once every 2.7 years), hence the term 'once in a blue moon'.
Blood- when the earth's moon is in full eclipse and the usually whiteish moon becomes red or ruddy-brown. A lunar eclipse lasts for quite awhile as the moon slowly orbits through Earth's shadow- last night the moon emerged 77 minutes after the start of the total eclipse.

Ever the optimist and hoping the cloud would clear in time,  I set my alarm for 12:40am, just 8 minutes before the eclipse was due to start. It felt like I'd only just closed my eyes when the alarm was buzzing me in the ear (not helped by the fact that I didn't go to bed until 11:30pm). Luckily I'd spent the last half hour setting up my camera and tripod ready for shooting the night sky because just about as soon as I'd clicked off a couple of test shots...

f/11, 1/400, ISO1250- 12.45am
...the eclipse started!

f/16, 1/30, ISO400- 12.49am
I'm no expert astro-photographer but I love shooting the night sky. I also love to trial as many settings as possible. Which isn't always a good idea because when it comes to processing the shots, I don't have a consistent look through a series of photos. So excuse the variation you may see between shots- click the first photo if you'd like to see the photos as a slide show.

f/11, 1/125, ISO500- 1.06am
I've put the camera settings and time underneath each photo- they may help you, then again they may not. Remember, while there are recommended settings for shooting the night sky, a lot of it depends on how you process the photo after the shot. I don't spend too much time post processing, when I like what I see I'm done.

A slight pink tinge appears as the shadow nears the beginning of the full eclipse...

f/8, 1/160, ISO1000- 1.18am
Photographers new to astro-shooting need to keep in mind that while the sky may be pitch-black the moon, and possibly the subject of your photo, is extremely bright, afterall it's being lit directly by the sun. Apply the 'Looney 11 rule' (just like the daytime 'Sunny 16 rule') as a starting point and go from there, the Looney rule is a method for estimating correct exposures. The 'Looney 11 rule' settings are f/11, 1/125, ISO100. As you can see from my photo selection I totally ignored this piece of advice!

A tripod is also a must when shooting the night sky, it's also good if you shoot remotely or put the camera's self-timer on (3 secs), this helps keep everything still, you've moved away from the camera after depressing the shutter so there's less chance of blurred photos. There are several other things you can do too but rather than bore the pants of the non-photographers amongst us, Mr Google will help you further.

A full eclipse approaches and the rudy red colour deepens...

f/5.6, 1/40, ISO2000- 1.39am
It very hard to manually focus on a darkened moon, select a single focus point and focus on the moon's edge. This provides the contrast for the focus point to pick up. Even then it's not always possible and again there are other 'Mr Google' ways of doing it.

f/5.6, 1/40, ISO2000- 1.41am
You may have noticed my ISO is extremely high-the higher the ISO the more light is let into the camera.This is not ideal as it creates 'noise' in the photo. Noise is that grainy texture you can see in some photos. I've managed to smooth some of that out in post-processing but really, I should have worked the settings a little better to achieve a low ISO. It's a frustratingly fine line sometimes, trying to balance the workings of the exposure triangle (ISO, shutter speed and aperture) at night.

f/5.6, 1/15, ISO2000- 1.43am
Here are some final shots of the fully eclipsed blue blood moon.

f/5.6, 1 sec, ISO400- 2.08am
The cloud stayed away long enough for me to capture some great shots, although I thought I was doomed just before the start of the total eclipse, a large group of wispy slow moving clouds were heading directly towards the moon. Luckily enough they skimmed by underneath and out of shot. 

f/5.6, 1/2, ISO800- 2.11am
Two hours after the start of the eclipse, the Blood Moon begins to lose its colour as it emerges from the Earth's shadow. It was time for me to head to bed.

f/7.1, 1/25, ISO1000- 2.38am
This special Super Blue Blood Moon was a awesome sight to the naked eye too, I had to share the excitement and wake David up to come and see it when I saw the red emerging. 

Here's one last photo- it's been a little over-processed (I call it artistic license), but I love it all the same.


  1. Envy you...we saw nothing due to the heavy rain and cloudy sky!!!

  2. Marvelous shots Shellie. There were plenty of clouds down in Christchurch too. Mind you, we didn't set the clock to check the conditions later in the evening.

    1. Thanks Jenny, you guys are really have a ball down South aren't you. Continue to travel safely.

  3. Nicely captured. We had cloud and no eclipse "up north". I love a bit of artistic licence too :)

    1. Thanks Tim, pity you missed it, it was an awesome sight. Pleased someone else likes to use artistic license too.

  4. superb account of this event Shellie, no chance of seeing it here in the Catlins so your shots are (as usual) fab.Reading this at Curio Bay.

    1. Seems like much of NZ missed this special event, glad I wasn't one of them. Just love Curio Bay, especially at the lookout overlooking the wild rock platform.

  5. Shellie, didi you see the Jacobs River Church was knocked of it's foundations in the storm. The damage looks very bad. Unsalvageable, maybe? :(

    1. Thanks for letting me know Carol, looks like it won't be replaces either. Very sad.

  6. I had a near perfect view from Perth WA but unfortunately my photographic skills need to be improved a whole lot more to produce anything like you did. I understand astrophotography is a whole other discipline. Loved your attempts. Michele Down Under

    1. Thanks Michele, and yes I'm afraid astrophotography is way beyond me too. I'm not very patient and I hate the cold nights! :)


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