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10 December 2011. A few photographer friends had begun, from 7 p.m., posting images on Facebook and I wasn’t even aware the lunar eclipse had started. What was I distracted by? Two things: I had to close shop at the end of the business day, and there were massive dark storm clouds in the western sky. I thought it was not going to happen.

Until about 9.15 p.m.  I went out and gazed into the clear, night sky… the moon was already progressively covered in shadow. You should know my next reaction.

The longest lens I have is the Sigma 50-500mm f4-6.3 APO HSM (fondly known to others as the Bigma). It quickly got married to my trusty Nikon D3. Loaded with a CF card, this union of gears was promptly mounted on a sturdy tripod.

First shot, was a tad overexposed by one stop. I yanked it to F11. That worked, on a setting of ISO3200 at 1/800s. This fast shutter speed was necessary to prevent shake because not only is the Bigma a very heavy lens, it was locked at its longest reach at 500mm.

This total lunar eclipse would be the last until 2014, sources say. And, this was my first lunar eclipse capture, actually. A few months ago, I captured some moon photos during the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, so I was quite confident the exposure parameters would work. It did, thank goodness.

Lunar Eclipse Over Kuala Belait, Brunei 10 Dec 2011

The moon was in total eclipse from about 10.28 p.m. local time. It would be about 50 minutes before light peeked to illuminate it again, so I took the opportunity to put together the composite image above, almost showing a time-lapse record of the events.

When the moon was in total eclipse, it glowed a little red. It was a beautiful spectacle to behold. I knew I would not be able to capture the scarlet hues if I shot it at 1/800s. So, I placed all trust to the sturdy tripod and dialed down to 1/30s, pushed ISO to 6400 and open the aperture to f6.3. While the lens was still zoomed to its extremity, I exposed the red disc using the camera’s timer release function. This, shown below, was the red moon.

The Red Moon during total eclipse. I adjusted saturation and added contrast.

From 11.15 p.m. onwards, I was out in the courtyard again, recording the stages of the passing shadow. Full moon returned at about 12.30 a.m., according to my camera’s clock. During this phase, exposure setting was different for each image because the moon was getting brighter and brighter. Aperture values changed from f11 to f16, f22, f25, f32. It was a fun experience, all in all. The image below illustrates this progression.

Part 2: Lunar Eclipse Over Kuala Belait, Brunei

I am well pleased with these composites.  And, I thank Providence for giving me this opportunity to capture one of nature’s wonders in the night sky.

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