Attempting the blood moon

The above image of the Blood Moon was shot at the start of a total lunar eclipse phase at 3.45am on 28 July 2018 as seen in Kuala Lumpur. The red moon was not perfectly clear due to slight overcast condition hindering visibility. I only had about 15 minutes of shooting time before heavy clouds completely covered the moon during the eclipse. I have not encountered a lunar eclipse before and this was my first time witnessing an actual “blood moon” phenomena, hence I thought it would be interesting to share my thoughts and shooting process to acquire that one shot, which I have come to love despite its apparent imperfections.

I did not plan to stay up till ungodly hours to capture the moon, but I happened to have the Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm F4 ISO PRO and the tele-converter MC-14 with me so I thought why not give this a try? Not so fun fact – I somehow managed to destroy my seemingly indestructible tripod recently (long story) and did not have the time to get a replacement yet, so I knew I was going to do the blood moon hand-held. I have anticipated that the light level will drop drastically when the full eclipse occurred but I could not predict how much the light loss would be to warrant a possibility of hand-holding the shot. I knew without having a reliable tripod (which I could not borrow in time) I might not be able to get a successful shot. However I decided to stay up and waited for the eclipse due to one simple reason: I have not seen an actual red moon with my own eyes. I wanted to see it.

The wait was easy but the sky was not perfectly clear. I was fortunate that the clouds did not completely shroud the moon from view during the full eclipse. I started with 1/10th second shutter speed, shooting at ISO6400 hand-held on an equivalent 840mm lens on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. The resulting image was severely underexposed, but the red moon was still visible in the image. Not satisfied with the results, knowing that ISO6400 spells disaster for an image with dominantly dark shadow in the entire frame, I decided to decrease the ISO to 3200 and slowed down the shutter speed to 1/5th of a second to gain cleaner result. At this point I was already mindblown that I could actually shoot a monstrous 840mm lens hand-held and get away with decent results.

I thought the ISO3200 was a keeper because, seriously, how much more can I push beyond 1/5th of a second shutter speed, hand-holding a super tele-photo lens with no other means of additional support? As powerful as Olympus’ image stabilization system can be, there is a practical limit which I dare not break. There was still this dissatisfaction inkling in me that made me decided to lower down the ISO to 1600 and set the shutter speed to an impossible 1/2 second. The practical me said, this was impossible, but the curious me said, why not? I have got nothing to lose. Thankfully, I managed to capture 3 attempts with the ridiculous 1/2 second hand-held at 840mm lens before the blood moon disappeared from my view. The sky was heavily overcast at 3.45am.

Imagine the shock I had when I reviewed the only 3 images that I had and one of them turned up usable! It was not perfectly sharp, you may find thousands of higher clarity, better contrast blood moon shots all over the internet, but this one flawed shot that I had was special to me! It was my first time ever seeing a blood moon, and a photograph serves as a memory marker and it preserves my personal emotions connected to this one simple image of a moon. It was such a majestic view.

Sometimes, photography is not about chasing perfection, we just have to find the deeper meaning and a compelling reason to photograph.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and M.Zuiko 300mm F4 IS PRO are available from B&H. 

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Images and content copyright Robin Wong 2018 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. your photo is awesome Robin. Cant take my eyes off that photo.

  2. Michael Petersen photography says:

    I did the same thing but used an old manual focus lend on EM1 got a pretty good result, also I own one of the rarest camera colections in Australia, so if your ever over this wau come and see me.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Sure thing Michael, would love to visit the land down under again some day! I still have many friends there that I miss dearly.

  3. I did a similar thing but with an old manual focus lens adaptered to EM1 and pretty happy with the results, oh and buy the way I own one of the rarest camera colection in the world, so if your ever in Australia come and see me please

  4. Yves Simon says:

    Along the years, I took more than 100 photos, mostly hand held, of the moon with 7 different cameras and lenses with focal equivalent from 400 to 1000mm. Amazingly, my best shot, very detailed, is with a Panasonic FZ200 (1/2.3″ 12MP sensor), at 600mm, f/4.0 and 1/1000s.
    As for the blood moon, I have 3 ‘good but not very detailed” shots, similar to yours, but the parameters are totally different. Olympus Pen-F, various legacy 200mm MF lenses (equivalent 400mm), f/4.0, 800 ISO, 1/40s. It is bizarre that your shot is not overexposed. Probably due to different atmospheric conditions?

    • Robin Wong says:

      Yeap, as I mentioned, the moon was already partially covered by clouds, and I only had minutes before it was completely shrouded. 1/40s sounds like the moon was very bright! Surely a lot brighter than what I had encountered.

  5. Some of my neighbors went to the roof of our eight story building. When they returned they were sure that you could see it much better up there. That reminded me of a student I once had who asked me if he needed a flash when photographing the moon. My answer was: Yes, but a very very very big one!

    • Robin Wong says:

      Hah, common sense is important, not just photography I think, but for everything else in life. It helps me a lot because I am a practical photographer.

  6. and it turned out beautifully!

  7. I really love your final thoughts about not chasing perfection. Great shot. Sadly we had a dense cover of cloud that night. It must have been amazing to watch.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks! Photography is more than just a technically perfect photo. And I am sure the next eclipse we will all have a better chance ot witnessing or shooting. Staying optimistic is the key!

  8. Beautiful image!!

  9. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    What’s the crop? I should have thought you needed something a lot longer than 300mm, plus converter, Robin. I managed to wake myself at the right time – but it was pointless, we had thick black cloud cover throughout the eclipse. So I have to rely on others around the world, like you, to show me what it was like. Great shot!

    BTW – isn’t the rule of thumb 1/300th for that lens? – or half that, if you used a 2x converter? I seem to be getting quite sloppy about shutter speeds on AUTO with my PowerShot – I’ve caught myself on the metadata opening up to speeds like 1/10th, and only realising it later. These newfangled cams have amazing stabilisation!

    • Robin Wong says:

      The equivalent focal length as stated in the article was 840mm (Olympus 300mm lens + 1.4 tele converter, Olympus 2x equivalent FOV). Yes, normally without IS I would need about 1/300 sec or faster to hand-hold such long telephoto length. In fact, according to the rule of thumb 1/focal length, it should be 1/840 second.

  10. I think you, Robin, and Olly made a great job. I would add that is impossible to achieve a crispy sharp shot of the moon with any camera and any focal length at 1/2”. Remember the moon is a moving subject and the critical spot for the shutter speed is 1/125. After that, everything is moving. Good Job!

    • Robin Wong says:

      I think half a second is the stretched limit, and anything slower than that, you will need a tracker to follow the movements to prevent blur.

      • No, Robin, I’m sorry but the blur is for the movement of the moon around the earth none the shake of the lens. You can ask to any astro-photographer. 1/2s is definitely too long. Anyway nice catch!

  11. How did you stabilize yourself for the shot? If the moon was low, you could pile sandbags on a table and sit on a bench. If it was high, sit way back in a comfortable chair with the lens held between your knees… I’m sure you came up with something like that, but you don’t say.

    • Robin Wong says:

      The blood moon was high in the sky and I was standing, with my back leaning/pressing on a fence. I was shooting on a road just outside my residence.

  12. Rev. Heng Sure says:

    Real world photography solutions, made possible by Olympus’s superior engineering accomplishments. Who could imagine a 1/2 second exposure taken in the dark could yield such a satisfying result?

    • Robin Wong says:

      Satisfying indeed, but honestly, it is prudent to use a tripod in this situation! I was not well prepared.

  13. It’s good to hear that someone else has some of the same internal dialogue I have when I shoot, and not always as prepared as I’d like to be.

  14. Wow, if my calculations are right, that’s about 11 stops slower than the recommended 1 / 2X focal length.
    Incredible.

    • Robin Wong says:

      not something I would recommend anyone to do, it was a lucky shot! Tripod is a smarter solution in this case.

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