Good moon rising

On January 31 the country was witness to a rare celestial event and I was determined to photograph it. A so-called “super blue blood moon” occurred in the wee hours of the morning of the month’s last day.

The event was a heavenly hat trick of sorts. First, it was a “supermoon.” That’s when a full moon is at its closest to the earth in its elliptical orbit. The moon appears slightly larger and brighter in the sky than a normal full moon. Secondly, it was a “blue” moon, the second of 2 full moons in a single month. The first was on January 1, coincidentally also a supermoon. Finally, it was also a full lunar eclipse, also known as a blood moon for the orange-red color that it turns at the peak of the eclipse.

The eclipse started at about 3:45 a.m. and ended about 7:00 a.m. but the period of totality was from about 4:50 a.m. to 6:07 a.m.

I decide to photograph the moon away from the distraction of city lights, choosing the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. It’s relatively remote and dark but I wouldn’t have to travel for hours to get there. It also has a paved parking area were I wouldn’t have to worry about tripping over anything in the dark.

My biggest concern was the weather. If it was a cloudy night, then the moon wouldn’t be visible. Weather forecasts all predicted a partly cloudy morning. I went to sleep with my fingers crossed.

I opened my eyes around 4:00 a.m. and to my relief that sky was clear. The eclipse had already begun with about 1/3rd of the moon being covered by Earth’s shadow. I had gone to sleep on the living room couch and already dressed so not to disturb my wife when I woke up so, I was ready to go. But it turns out the clouds weren’t the weather condition I should have been worried about.

Once I was on the road I drove into a thick bank of fog. The further I drove, the thicker the fog became. At some points I only could see less than 50 yards ahead of me. It did not bode well that the fog would likely become even denser near the preserve due to all the standing water surrounding it, but still I hoped that luck would be with me and soldiered on.

When I arrived and got out the car, I realized the mist was tule fog: thick at ground level but less dense the higher you go. In fact, I could look straight up and see the stars. The moon, however, was at approximately a 45-degree angle from the ground right at the edge of the boundary between thick and thin. What’s worse it was setting, slowly descending into the fog.

Still, I held out hope. I set up my camera on a tripod and waited. The crescent slice of the white moon grew thinner and thinner. It was pretty cold but I had a nice heavy coat with a hood that kept me warm enough. I was surprise that a chorus of frogs also croaked in the dark coldness. A flock of what sounded white-fronted geese started their high-pitched honking about 200 yard north of my position.

After a little while I noticed that the fog was ever so slightly seemed to be ebbing away, almost imperceptibly at first. Then I could see the very top light of one of several TV transmission towers, which range from 1,000 to 2,000 feet tall, that were several miles eastward. A few more minutes and more of the towers’ lights could be seen.

Then the moon was completely enveloped in shadow. It grew redder as it the shadow deepened and stars that were obscured by the moon’s brightness became much more visible. Better yet, the fog continued to lessen.

I quickly got to work, getting telephoto shots at first then overall wide angle shots. I got photos with trees and water in the foreground and I thought to myself “what I need is to have people in the foreground.” As luck would have it, nearly as soon as that thought entered my head, a car pulled up and a young man and woman got out.

Siblings Angela and Samuel Tsubera from Elk Grove came out to see the super blue blood moon themselves. Samuel Tsubera had a camera and tried to take some photos but to no avail. He didn’t have a tripod so he could use the long exposures needed for the shot. I told him about a technique of nestling the camera on a bean bag in lieu of a tripod. Bean bags are something one normally has laying about, but you can use anything soft, like a wadded up towel or blanket to the same effect. He took off his coat and bunched it up atop of his car and nestled his camera in it, which seems to do the trick.

After a while the siblings stopped shooting and just stood by the edge of a flooded field to take in the scene. I got a shot of them as the fog dissipated even more revealing more stars and more of the towers in the distance.

By about 6:00 a.m. the totality was nearly over and the fog was starting to rise and thicken again. I could have stayed longer but I decided to call it a quits because I figured I had used up all the luck that I was going to get that morning.

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  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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