The light side of the moon

Firstly, if you have seen my Facebook page you may not wish to read more about the lunar eclipse as seen from HK. If you are interested, here is some background.

I knew there was a lunar eclipse due last night but I have rarely bothered with such natural phenomena. I did see a solar eclipse once but was marginally underwhelmed. I did not therefore set out to take these photographs when I woke up yesterday. We had been out most of the afternoon and did not arrive home until nearly 8pm. By that time it was clear many other HK FB friends were getting their lenses ready. I therefore visited the splendid HK Observatory website to read up on what I might see. This is an excellent resource – do click the link. I decided immediately I wanted to see this. A few moments to check on the web for any tips on photographing a lunar eclipse and I chose my gear.

The recommendation was for a lens of focal length 500-600mm. Well I have 400mm or 800mm so I compromised and used a 400mm F4 DO (Canon lens) mounted on a 1D mk IV body and I added a 1.4x III TC. The whole shebang was attached to a Wimberley Sidekick on an Arca Swiss ball-head and supported by a Gitzo G1348 tripod.

This was my starting shot:


Now the really cool thing last night (apart from the temperature and the chilling wind) was that the sky was cloudless. This was the best star sky I have seen in Hong Kong. Orion was right in front of me and all around the stars shone. I doubt if there are many places in Hong Kong where there is so little light pollution as in Sai Kung and our small roof top terrace is as good for moon shots as it is for White-bellied sea-eagles. If you look carefully at the image above you can just see Alan Shepard’s golf ball nestling against the lip of the bunker on the par 5, 6th hole in the Jack Nicklaus designed Sea of Tranquility Golf Course.

I found it fascinating to compare what it looked like with the naked eye with how it appeared through the viewfinder. The naked eye seemed to pick up the shadowing more quickly. About 9.06 the moon looked like this:


And as the eclipsed progressed it seemed to accelerate so that by 21.43 this was all I could see:


And then the magic happened. From a tiny sliver of silver to a gorgeous, glowing, brick-red orb in barely twenty minutes.


During the latter stages I had switched from being lazy and relying on auto-focus to focussing manually as the light reduced. I hope my eyes were sharp enough.

This was quite breathtaking. Or was that the icy breeze blowing? I photographed for another 10 minutes but the images did not change significantly and they don’t look as sharp to me. I then decided that a hot shower and a warm bed were better than watching the exit from the umbra / penumbra. That would have been 3 hours more on the roof. I wimped out.

Despite the astronomical inaccuracy (this was a lunar not a solar eclipse) I had Pink Floyd’s haunting music in my mind most of the evening:

And everything under the sun is in tune, But the sun is eclipsed by the moon

I find it incredible when I consider it was released in 1973, nearly 40 years ago. We age and will pass on but the earth and the sun and the moon will hopefully be there for many future generations to gaze upon but will, I wonder, everything under the sun be in tune? For one night, in Sai Kung, it was.


4 thoughts on “The light side of the moon

  1. Hi Andrew, what an amzing post. I could not stop going through it. Such gorgeous images and so well written as usual. You have an incredible talent of making the ordinary seem amazing with your words. And with something like the lunar eclipse which is already pretty amazing, well your words add that touch of emotion that makes the viewer connect just that bit more. Wouldn’t the 800mm taken you even closer or would it have been too much?
    Anyway loved this post!

  2. Kaushal, you are too generous as usual in your comments. I write as I speak and find it flows easily (sometimes). I contemplated the 800mm but it has a very narrow field of view and if I knocked the tripod I would then be fiddling with trying to find the moon again, perhaps at a critical moment. Probably it would have been better but too late now until 2014, if I am spared. The 400 + 1.4TC + 1.3x crop factor gets me to 728m anyway so not too far off but of course there is slight degradation using the TC. I aspire to take street images like yours. I read the interview with you in the Leica blog. Very inspiring.

  3. Well, having seen your FB post and considering taking your suggestion of abandonment, I figured I would just read a word or two more. You may speak this way, as you said to Kaushal, but then much the pity we don’t get to speak to each other as the reading is most enjoyable. Add in some very nice shots by a less than enthusiastic (initially) observer and the whole post is quite pleasing. Your little asides relating to so many entertaining cultural footnotes are superb. 🙂

  4. Thanks Steve. Over 40 people read this post if I interpret the stats correctly, which is most pleasing. I regarded the experience of watching the eclipse as another learning experience that simultaneously reinforces my belief that the world is here for us to enjoy not destroy. There is just so much to do in our short tenure,

I'd be delighted to hear what you think

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