Red Moon over a Red Castle
On September 27, 2015, many people throughout the Western Hemisphere watched in awe as the Moon fell into the Earth’s shadow and turned blood-red. I’d been brainstorming ideas of an image I wanted to try to create for some time, but I had no idea of a location to shoot from. I don’t prefer to plan out my images and am more interested in the images being formed by the conditions present and the experience. The day before, I settled on a location that offered a view of Red Castle Peak in the Uinta Mountains of Utah. This quick trip to the Uintas was a little mix of both approaches, with a specific view in mind and uncertain weather conditions. The skies were fairly cloudy on the weekend and a far change from the crystal clear skies over the previous week. The location I wanted to shoot from was a long hiking approach (3 hrs) and with the clouds, I debated if I was wasting my time or not. So I started hiking and stopped thinking about it. Photos or not, hiking in the Uintas is bliss for me.
The trail gains 3000 feet and leads to a high alpine ridge at 12,000 ft over the course of several miles. It starts as a series of steep switchbacks in the hot afternoon sun, so my 3 PM start wasn’t ideal, but the fall colors on the way to the trail slowed me down. It was one of those day to just soak it in without the camera blocking the view. I made quick work of the hike, carrying a light overnight backpack, and was soon on the ridge above tree line. The ridge was so broad that the adjacent valleys aren’t visible and only the tips of the peaks stand out. Images of Iceland or New Zealand came to mind as I walked the final stretch of trail before stopping for dinner.
As the sun was setting and lighting up parts of the sky, I hiked to my spot at the edge of the ridge to find the right view. Red Castle Peak sits nearly 10 miles from the nearest trailhead and although not one of the highest peaks in the Uintas, it is among the best looking. It is flanked by 2 peaks over 13,000 feet and has 2 beautiful, large lakes near it. Recent snow still dusted the highest peaks and the golden valleys with red towering cliffs, made for a fairytale scene. The sky was getting darker and I’d found a few spots to shoot from, now to watch the eclipse. The clouds were clearing slightly but the sky to the east remained cloudy. The cold wind of late September quickly brought a chill as I sat contemplating whether to turn back or stay. I’m happy I stayed:)
At 8PM the sky began to clear quite fast and like clockwork, 8:11PM brought a total eclipse of the moon. The sky was still light to the West though so I waited and watched the light fade, with my attention still on the blood-red Moon. The image I was after was a shot of the Milky Way and eclipsed moon together in one frame. My favorite part of the eclipse is watching the night sky come alive with stars despite the full moon that normally drowns out the stars. With the moonlight blocked, Milky Way was especially bright in the clear mountain air. I looked through the camera with a wide-angle lens and could frame both together but the moon was a small, overexposed dot. I had a feeling this was going to be the case so I went with my other option, an in-camera double exposure. I took one photo of the moon with a long lens to the East, another of the Milky Way to the south with a wide-angle lens and estimated where I wanted the Moon to appear in the final image. With that set, I shot another photo of the red Moon, switched lenses, and shot another photo of the Milky Way. I was pretty surprised to see the red lights of a plane in the final image because I couldn’t see it with my eyes!
More of the same followed and I shot a photo of the view in front of me as a test shot. It was nearly black so I had to use a test shot to frame the final image. Once that was set, I waited for the eclipse to fade to allow more light on the landscape. The sky had other plans though and high clouds quickly began to fill the sky. I took one final shot of the Moon and framed it where I wanted it in the image, changed lenses, another test shot of the landscape, then a final 15 minute exposure that would add to the Moon shot to create the final image. Click and wait…
I’m sure you’ve seen many images out there of the eclipse with the phases of the Moon in sequence over the landscape. These images are heavily Photoshopped and personally, I don’t find this type of photography appealing. In fact, I don’t own or use Photoshop and don’t plan on using it. The reason for this is simple. I plan on transitioning to film at some point and I’m confident I could make this final image (the one I envisioned) on film. Everyone has their own approach and style to photography, that’s the beauty of it.
Thanks for reading along and I hope you got out to see the eclipse for yourself:)