Chasing the Shadowed Moon


The tradition continued of chasing clear skies to see a lunar eclipse.

It wouldn’t be an eclipse without a chase. Total eclipses of the Sun almost always demand travel, often to the far side of the world, to stand in the narrow path of the Moon’s shadow. 

By contrast, total eclipses of the Moon come to you — they can be seen from half the planet when the Full Moon glides through Earth’s shadow. 

Assuming you have clear skies! That’s the challenge. 

Of the 14 total lunar eclipses (TLEs) visible from here in Alberta since 2000, I have seen all but one, missing the January 21, 2000 TLE due to clouds. 

But of the remaining 13 TLEs so far in the 21st century, I watched only three from home, the last home lunar eclipse being in December 2010. 

The total lunar eclipse of May 26, 2021 here in the initial partial phases with it embedded in thin cloud. The clouds add a glow of iridescent colours around the Moon, with the part of the Moon’s disk in the umbral shadow a very deep, dim red. A subtle blue band appears along the umbral shadow line, usually attributed to ozone in Earth’s upper atmosphere. With the Canon 60Da and 200mm lens.

I viewed three TLEs (August 2007, February 2008, and December 2011) from the Rothney Observatory south-west of Calgary as part of public outreach programs I was helping with. 

In April 2014, I was in Australia and viewed the eclipsed Moon rising in the evening sky over Lake Macquarie, NSW. 

A year later, in April 2015, I was in Monument Valley, on the Arizona-Utah border for the short total eclipse of the Moon at dawn. 

But of the eclipses I’ve seen from Alberta since 2014, I have had to chase into clear skies for all of them — to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in both October 2014 and September 2015, to the Crowsnest Pass for January 2018, and to Lloydminster for January 2019. 

A selfie of the successful eclipse chaser bagging his trophy, the total lunar eclipse of January 20, 2019. This was from a site south of Lloydminster on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, but just over into the Saskatchewan side.

The total lunar eclipse on the morning of May 26, 2021 was no exception. 

Leading up to eclipse day prospects for finding clear skies anywhere near home in southern Alberta looked bleak. The province was under widespread cloud bringing much-needed rain. Good for farmers, but bad for eclipse chasers.

Then, two days prior to the eclipse a hole in the clouds was predicted to open up along the foothills in central Alberta just at the right time, at 4 a.m. The predictions stayed consistent a day later. 

Environment Canada predictions, as displayed by the wonderful Astrospheric app, showed Rocky Mountain House (the red circle) on the edge of the retreating clouds.

So trusting the Environment Canada models that had served me well since 2014, I made plans to drive north the day before the eclipse to Rocky Mountain House, a sizeable town on Highway 11 west of Red Deer, where the foothills begin. “Rocky” was predicted to be on the edge of the clearing, with a large swath of clear sky in the right direction, to the southwest where the Moon would be.

Fortunately, COVID restrictions are not so severe here as to demand stay-at-home orders. I could travel, at least within Alberta. Hotels were open, but restaurants only for takeaway.

The Starry Night desktop planetarium program provided a preview of the eclipsed Moon’s location and movement, plus the field of view of lenses, to plan the main shots with an 85mm lens (the time-lapse) and a 200mm lens (the close-ups over the horizon).

This was going to be a tough eclipse even under the best of sky conditions, as for us in Alberta the Moon would be low and setting into the southwest at dawn. The Moon would be darkest and in mid-eclipse just as the sky was also brightening with dawn twilight. 

However, a low eclipse offers the opportunity of a view of the reddened Moon over a scenic landscape, in this case of the eclipsed Moon setting over the Rockies. That was the plan.

Unfortunately, Rocky Mountain House wasn’t the ideal destination as it lies far from the mountains. I was hoping for a site closer to the Rockies in southern Alberta. But a site with clear skies is always the first priority.

The task is then finding a spot to set up with a clear view to the southwest horizon, which from the area around Rocky is tough — it’s all trees! 

This is where planning apps are wonderful. 

The Photographer’s Ephemeris app showed possible side road sites and the position of the eclipsed Moon relative to the site terrain. The arc of spheres is the Milky Way.

I used The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) to search for a side road or spot to pull off where I could safely set up and be away from trees to get a good sightline to the horizon and possibly distant mountains. 

A site not far from town was ideal, to avoid long pre- and post-eclipse drives in the wee hours of the morning. The timing of this eclipse was part of the challenge — in having to be on site at 4 a.m.

TPE showed several possible locations and a Google street view (not shown here) seemed to confirm that the horizon in that area off Highway 11 would be unobstructed over cultivated fields. 

But you don’t know for sure until you get there. 

The PhotoPills AR mode overlays a graphic of the night sky on top of a live view from the phone’s camera, useful when on site to check the shooting geometry for that night. The Moon was in the right place!

So as soon as I arrived, I went to one site I had found remotely, only to discover power lines in the way. Not ideal.

I found another nearby side road with a clean view. From there I used the PhotoPills app (above) and its augmented reality “AR” mode to confirm, that yes, the Moon would be in the right place over a clear horizon at eclipse time the next morning. 

The Theodolite app records viewing directions onto site images, useful for documenting sites for later use at night.

Another app I like for site scouting, Theodolite, also confirmed that the view toward the eclipsed Moon’s direction (with an azimuth of about 220°) would be fine from that site. 

As a Plan B — it’s always good to have a Plan B! — I also drove west along Highway 11, the David Thompson Highway, toward the mountains, in search of a rare site away from trees, just in case the only clear skies lay to the west. I found one, some 50 km west of Rocky, but thankfully it was not needed. The Plan A site worked fine, and was just 5 minutes south of town, and bed!

My eclipse gear at work with the eclipse in progress in the morning twilight at 4:30 a.m.

I set up two tripods. One was for the Canon R6 with an 85mm lens for a “time-lapse” sequence of the Moon moving across the frame as it entered the Earth’s umbral shadow. 

The other tripod I used for closeups of just the Moon using the Canon 60Da and 200mm lens, then switched to the Canon Ra and a 135mm lens, then the longer 200mm lens once the Moon got low enough to also be in frame with the horizon. Those were for the prime shot of the eclipse over the distant mountains and skyline. 

A composite “time-lapse” blend of the setting Full Moon entering the Earth’s umbral shadow on the morning of May 26, 2021. This shows the Moon moving into Earth’s shadow and gradually disappearing in the bright pre-dawn sky. I shot images with the 85mm lens at 1-minute intervals but choose only every 5th image for this blend, so the Moons are spaced at 5-minute intervals.

It all worked! The sky turned out to be clearer than predicted, a pleasant surprise, with only some light cloud obscuring the Moon halfway through the partial phases (the first image at top). 

The other surprise was how dark the shadowed portion of the Moon was. This was a very short total eclipse, with totality only 14 minutes long. With the Moon passing through the outer, lighter part of the umbral shadow, I would have expected a brighter eclipse, making the reddened Moon stand out better in the blue twilight.

As it was, in the minutes before the official start of totality at 5:11 a.m. MDT, the Moon effectively disappeared from view, both to the eye and camera. 

The total lunar eclipse of May 26, 2021, here in the late partial phase about 15 minutes before totality began, with a thin arc of the Full Moon at the top of the disk still in sunlight. The rest is in the red umbral shadow of the Earth. The same pinkish-red light is beginning to light the distant Rocky Mountains in the dawn twilight. This is a single 1.3-second exposure with the 200mm lens and Canon Ra, untracked on a tripod. I did blend in a short 1/6-second exposure for just the bright part of the Moon to tone down its brightness.

My best shots were of the Moon still in partial eclipse but with the umbral shaded portion bright enough to show up red in the images. The distant Rockies were also beginning to light up pink in the first light of dawn. 

The total lunar eclipse of May 26, 2021, taken at 5:01 a.m. MDT, about 10 minutes before the start of totality, with a thin arc of the Full Moon at the top of the disk still in sunlight. The rest is in the red umbral shadow of the Earth but the eclipsed portion of the Moon was so dim it was disappearing into the brightening twilight. This is a single 0.8-second exposure with the 200mm lens and Canon Ra.

My last view was of a sliver-thin Moon disappearing into Earth’s shadow just prior to the onset of totality. I packed up and headed back to bed with technically the Moon still up and in total eclipse, but impossible to see. Still I was a happy eclipse chaser! 

It was another successful eclipse trip, thwarted not so much by clouds, but by the darkness of our planet’s shadow, which might have been due to widespread cloud or volcanic ash in the atmosphere of Earth. 

The other factor at play was that this was a “supermoon,” with the larger Moon near perigee entering more deeply into the umbra than a normal-sized Moon. 

A preview using Starry Night of the November 18/19, 2021 near-total lunar eclipse from the longitude and latitude of Alberta, with the Moon hight in the south west of the Milky Way.

The next lunar eclipse is six months later, on the night of November 18/19, 2021 when the Moon will not quite fully enter Earth’s umbral shadow, for a 97% partial eclipse. But enough of the Moon will be in the dark umbra for most of the Moon to appear red, with a white crescent “smile” at the bottom. 

As shown above, from my location in Alberta the Moon will appear high in the south, in Taurus just west of the Milky Way. The winter stars and Milky Way will “turn on” and fade into view as the eclipse progresses.

We shall see if that will be a rare “home” eclipse, or if it will demand another chase to a clear hole in the clouds on a chilly November night. 

— Alan, © 2021 amazingsky.com 

Alberta Skies – A Music Video


Alberta Skies TitleI am pleased to present my latest music video featuring Alberta Skies in motion, set to the music of Ian Tyson.

My 5-minute video features time-lapse imagery shot over the last three years in the plains, badlands, and mountains of Alberta.

Do click through to Vimeo and view in HD for the best quality.

The footage is set to the music of Alberta singer/songwriter Ian Tyson, and his superb rendition of Home on the Range. It is used by kind permission of Ian Tyson and Stony Plain Records. Thanks!

It was hearing Ian’s version of this song on CBC one day in 1992 when his album And Stood There Amazed came out that inspired me to move back to Alberta and the great landscapes of the west that I knew I wanted to capture.

Little did I know at the time how it was going to be possible in the 2000s to do it in time-lapse.

Enjoy!

— Alan, July 7, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

Red Rock Canyon by Starlight


Red Rock Canyon by Starlight

The Milky Way illuminates the trail at Red Rock Canyon, in Waterton Lakes National Park.

Last Sunday night was incredibly clear. I trekked around Waterton Lakes National Park, taking panoramas at various sites. This is Red Rock Canyon, a popular spot by day.

By night it is one of the darkest accessible places in the Park. Here the landscape is lit only by the light of the stars and Milky Way.

This is a composite of two exposures, both on a tripod with no tracking of the sky motion:

– one exposure was 60 seconds for the sky to minimize star trailing.

– the other exposure, taken immediately following, was 3 minutes for the ground, to bring out detail in the dark, starlit landscape.

I blended the two exposures in Photoshop, creating a single image with the best of both worlds, earth and sky.

– Alan, September 25, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Cameron Lake Lit by Starlight


Milky Way Panorama at Cameron Lake (Equirectangular)

The Milky Way spans the sky and reflects in the calm waters of Cameron Lake, in Waterton Lakes National Park.

This week I’m spending a few nights, at dark-of-the-Moon, back at Waterton Lakes, at a stunning time of year. The aspens are golden, the sky is blue, and the nights are even warm.

Though it is officially autumn, the weather is better now than we had it some weeks in summer. Plus, the Park is now quiet as businesses wind down, preparing to close up for the winter.

I’m shooting night sky panoramas in Waterton, with Cameron Lake one of the wonderful sites I visited last night in a whirlwind tour around the Park to take advantage of a stunningly clear night.

In summer, Cameron Lake is home to docks for canoes and paddle boats. But all are gone now. By winter this lake is home to huge snowfalls, as its location in extreme southwestern Alberta catches the full onslaught of moist Pacific air.

But now, with the early onset of darkness and fine weather, the lake and the Park are superb places for nightscape photography.

I shot this Sunday night, September 21. This is a stitch of 8 segments, each shot with a 15mm lens at f/2.8 for 1 minute at ISO 4000 with the Canon 6D. I used PTGui to stitch the panorama.

– Alan, September 22, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Rocky Mountain Nights – A Time-Lapse Collage


 

My new 4-minute video presents time-lapse and still images shot in the Rockies this past summer.

It’s been a busy summer for shooting. Since July I’ve spent a week each in Banff, Jasper and Waterton Lakes National Parks shooting nightscape stills and time-lapse videos of Alberta’s famous Rocky Mountain landscapes by night. 

This compilation includes some of the best footage, plus some panned still images, set to a wonderful piece of royalty-free (i.e. legal!) music by Adi Goldstein. 

For many of the sequences I employed “motion control” (MoCo) devices that incrementally move the cameras during the one to three hours that they are taking the 200 to 450 frames needed for a time-lapse sequence. 

I used the compact single-axis Radian, the 2-axis eMotimo, and the Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly, now equipped with their new Stage R single-axis panning unit. This was the first summer with the eMotimo and Stage R, so I’m still learning their best settings for speed, angles, and ramping rates. 

In recent blogs you’ve seen many still images shot as part of these sequences, or with other cameras dedicated to shooting stills. Now you get to see some of the time-lapse videos that represent many nights of shooting, and many hours sitting in the car waiting for the automated camera gear to finish its shooting task. 

Time-lapse shooting is an exercise in dedication and self-denial!

I hope you enjoy the result. Do click on the Enlarge button to go full-screen. Or visit my Vimeo site to watch the video, and others, there.

– Alan, September 10, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Meteors and Space Stations over Mt. Cephren


Perseid Meteors over Mt. Cephren, Banff

A couple of Perseid meteors streak across the moonlit sky above Mt. Cephren in Banff National Park.

The night before the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower was very clear for the first couple of hours. On Monday, August 11, I positioned myself at the shore of Lower Waterfowl Lake, at a roadside viewpoint on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta.

I had two cameras going, one on a fixed tripod aimed west in hope of catching some meteors in a few frames. Two did, and the main image is a composite of those two frames, as the Perseids shoot over the pyramid peak of Mt. Cephren.

Space Station over Mt. Cephren, Banff (Composite)

Later, the Space Station also flew over, accompanied by the European ATV cargo ship, captured here in a stack of 18 frames from the 555-frame time-lapse, showing their pass from west to east (bottom to top) of the composite image. The gaps are from when the shutter was closed for 1 second between the 15-second-long exposures with the 14mm ultra-wide lens.

In all, it was a warm and beautiful night, with the normally busy viewpoint all to myself all night, under the light of the nearly Full Moon.

The mountains by moonlight are truly magical.

– Alan, August 13, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Andromeda Rising


Andromeda Rising over Bow River

The stars of Andromeda and Perseus rise over the Rockies and Bow River in Banff.

It was a beautifully moonlit night last night, in Banff National Park. I shot the images for this star trail at a well-trodden viewpoint overlooking the Bow River. We’re looking east to the stars of the autumn sky in Andromeda and Perseus rising over the Front Ranges of the Rockies.

The waxing gibbous Moon behind me lights the landscape and sky.

The photo is a stack of 5 images: one a short 40-second exposure at ISO 1600 for the point-like stars, followed after a gap in time by a set of four closely-spaced 6-minute exposures at ISO 100, to give the long star trails.

Shooting a handful of long exposures is the alternative to shooting dozens or hundreds of short exposures when you’re after star trails, and you don’t have any desire to collect a set you can turn into a time-lapse movie.

Indeed, shooting any time-lapses from this spot would have been futile – the location was a busy rest stop on the Trans-Canada Highway with cars and trucks pulling in, their headlights lighting up the foreground from time to time. But for still images, the site worked fine.

– Alan, August 9, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Planetary Dawn


This was the stunning scene in the dawn sky last Sunday — Venus, the Moon and Jupiter lined up above the Rockies.

Orion is just climbing over the line of mountains at right, while the stars of Taurus shine just to the right of Jupiter at top. I shot this at the end of a productive dusk-t0-dawn night of Perseid meteor photography. Being rewarded with a scene like this is always a great way to cap a night of astronomy.

— Alan, August 15, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Athabasca Moon


I’ve spent the last couple of night in Jasper National Park, home to the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve, dedicated to maintaining the darkness of the natural night sky.

This is a scene from Friday night, taken well before darkness, as the waxing Moon shone in the twilight above the Athabasca River and the peaks of the continental divide. For many years in the early 19th century fur traders plied these waters. Now rafters do.

Jasper is far enough north of me that I don’t get there very often. I’ve been spending most of my mountain time in Banff. I realize it’s been a decade or more since I’ve driven all the way up the Icefields Parkway to visit Jasper. But I was happy to be back. It has some great sites for nightscape photography.

I got two clear nights this past weekend, so a few more shots will hit the blog in the next few days.

— Alan, July 29, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

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