Boulder County Transforms under the Enchanting Glow of the Blood Moon
photo credit: Lenny Lensworth Frieling
What is a blood moon? This pic is of the blood moon on Oct 7,2014. “Blood Moon” describes the rusty-reddish appearance of the full moon during a full lunar eclipse. This photo was of Blood Moon just before the start of the eclipse.
I have attempted taking a picture of the full moon. I have made the attempts over many decades. As my attempts continued, and as my technique improved, and as my equipment improved, as well as the capabilities of the hardware and software as it improved over the, my moon pics never made it off the launching pad.
For this full Blood Moon, taken just before a full lunar eclipse,accompanied by friend and photographer Thomas Walsh,we set out an an expedition.
Our plan was to take the best of our equipment, drive to the closest highest mountain parking lot, and attempt once again to take a full moon photo. To take this moon shot, we started by being in the right place at the right time. Boulder Colorado has been a center for astronomy interest. Local newspapers always reported the details of the “special” moons. We wanted the biggest brightest clearest moon pics we could take. October 7, 2014 was to be, per our Boulder County newspaper, a “blood moon” full moon. An eclipse was to follow immediately.
So we knew the right date and time. We had to cross our fingers and think happy thoughts filled with hopes that the sky would be clear. The sky was totally clear!
What did we do right?
We started by being at the right place at the right time. For shooting location, we chose the Brainard Lake parking lot in Western Boulder County. That put is at [altitude] with virtually zero ambient light. We wanted to be as high as possible so that we were shooting through the least possible distance through the Earth’s atmosphere. Altitude provided a more clear view of the moon since we had less air, fewer particles, and generally more clear air than we would have had down in town. Additionally, heat in the atmosphere makes ripples in the image. So we were in the right place at the right time.
Brainard’s parking lot sits at 10,300 feet, 3140 meters above sea level, just below the Continental Divide. That put us a mile above downtown Boulder. We picked this particular full moon because it was to be a “blood moon.” “Blood Moon” refers to a total eclipse of the moon, which results in a red cast to the color of the moon. This picture was taken just before the start of the eclipse. I’ll save the “bloody red” moon eclipse pics for another article on another day.
I was shooting with my (then) highest resolution camera, on my heaviest tripod, with my biggest best telephoto lens. I think the whole setup was over 30 pounds. I don’t recommend that for a hiking camera setup. Knowing that I was going to use my biggest telephoto lens, I knew that any vibration at all would degrade the image. That meant “use my heaviest tripod,” “don’t plan to walk far from the car while carrying my heaviest hardware.” Parking in the right place meant getting to the highest altitude we could easily drive to within Boulder. Brainard Lake is at the Western end of Boulder County. It sits two miles above sea level, or one mile above the downtown Boulder Mall. To avoid the camera shake caused by touching and pushing the shutter button, I used a remote shutter release (wired or wireless would be fine) so I could avoid the shake caused by touching the camera’s shutter button. This is the modern equivalent of a “cable release.” The goal is the same. Take the picture while minimizing any shake caused by touching the camera, the tripod, and even avoiding walking around to avoid the shake caused by our own footsteps.
Once set up, I had to time it so that the camera and tripod had enough time to settle down as the vibrations diminished. Since the moon is a bit far away, and the lens was “long,” the moon would move across the camera’s image field of vision rather quickly. If I waited too long, the moon would have already moved enough so that it was no longer fully in the frame. I let the camera’s brain set the exposure.
So I was set with the best location, with the best equipment I had for this picture, the right time and date, and great company. We were shooting the moon as it sat above the Western horizon just above the Divide.
A Lot of Effort For ONE Picture?
Of course not! Once I was set up with the right location, right time, right equipment, right company, (great friend and great photographer, and a physicist in a former life) and the great fortune of a perfectly clear sky, I kept taking pictures, taking advantage of the “free film and free developing” provided by digital photography. I figured that the more times I clicked the shutter, the better chance I had of getting a good picture. I also used the various adjustments on the camera to have images with varying exposures.
Then, working with the best of the images I got, I used photo software to improve sharpness, contrast, and the rest. For me that means working the sliders in the photo software until the particular slider was in the “best” position for the best picture. Then I moved on to the next adjustment slider. My final best picture had the benefit of computer sharpening, improved contrast, and the best adjustments I could find for the rest of my options.
So, I now had the best image I could get from my hardware, software, knowledge and experience.
How Does This Story End?
Happily!!! I finally, after working at it over a time span of almost 60 years, I finally had a moon picture that I was really happy with. It still amuses me that even with this rock-steady setup, things like walking around introduced enough shake to ruin the picture attempt. The decades of experience and experimentation (and shopping) provided the knowledge of just what caused and what minimized any blur from shake and other vibrations. I took all of the equipment and all of the knowledge, study and experience with me up the hill. While the scenery of Boulder Canyon, the road from Downtown Boulder to the Peak to Peak Highway, a mile further up, is truly magnificent. And of course that did not matter, since it was already dark when we were driving up.
Boulder County is quite large. At night, with no traffic, leaving from the Eastern part of the County, and driving due West, we arrived at the destination just below the Western end of the County. The drive took about an hour, across Boulder, up Boulder Canyon, turn right at Nederland (an old gold-mining town), and park across the “Peak to Peak” highway from the turn off to the town of Ward. Ward is famous for being one of the places where Patty Hearst spent some time while she was on the lam. Seems she’s robbed a bank, and even F. Lee Baily could not get her off. Literally. He represented Patty in her bank robbery trial. While the jury might have been impressed, they were not impressed enough to sign the verdict form on the line that said “NOT GUILTY.” Instead, they signed the line that said “REALLY REALLY VERY GUILTY.” I score it as “SLA 1, Patty Hearst Zero.
As the equipment improves, some of the aspects of shooting the moon become easier. Some things do not change! Some things simply matter less. So while vibration for example still matters, the “anti-shake” feature of many current cameras is a huge assist in dealing with vibration. While the basics do not change, the basics in fact DO change.
Enjoy! And remember that in October, at 10,300 feet, it can be a bit nippy. So very warm clothing is mandatory. Along with clear skies, hope for calm air. Wind up there is often truly impressive, and not helpful for moon shots.
So, since the moon, as is well known, is made of green cheese. The most important part of a good portrait picture is getting the subject to smile. So do you say to the moon “say cheese?”