Photographing the Lunar Eclipse - Braxton Johnson

Photographing the Lunar Eclipse

really love the night sky. The outdoors in general of course, but in particular, something about a starry night sky inspires and soothes my mind like nothing else. My first memory of really seeing the night sky in all its glory (I'm a suburban city boy) was on a Scout camping trip in Southwestern Wyoming. We had been canoeing down the Green River since Monday, and then Thursday we finally hit the top of Flaming Gorge. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday had all been easy, the river did most of the work. But Thursday morning I remember the water just stoppedOur strength was the only thing propelling us forward and it was difficult. One of the most difficult things I'd done to date. But we did it! And for our reward that night we had a beautiful cliff-side overlooking the river and expanding horizon. We ate some Crawdad chowder from some powder we brought, filtered and boiled water, and some unfortunate crawdads we had caught earlier that day. It was delicious. Anyway, later, as the sun fell and night set in, we all sat around the fire telling stories and having a great time. The fire started to die and our Scout Leader told us to look up.

Wow.

It was the first time I had been able to see why our ancestors named it The Milky Way. White bands of stars and stardust streaking across, surrounding the galactic core. Blues, purples, yellows, they all came together in such a perfect symphony. It was spiritual. 

After that, I was hooked. Since then, I've always loved what lies beyond.

This was years before I got into photography. I was still in the "I'm-headed-to-Hollywood" phase where I'd meet Steven Spielberg and he'd take me under his wing and I'd become the newest, greatest, most well-known-

Well, that didn't happen. In fact, that dream lasted until my first day on an actual set where I learned, "Hey, this sucks and actually ISN'T what I want to do." After that I picked up a camera, and, well, here we are.

All that is well and good, but you came here for a Lunar Eclipse. I'm sure if you were just interested in the shot you'd have scrolled down, looked at it, mumbled something about it being interesting, and clicked away. But if you're reading this, I assume you're interested in my ramblings in what exactly went into taking this shot. So let's get to it!

I found out about this eclipse two weeks before it happened. The world was still in awe of the Solar Eclipse that had captured the attention of everyone, everywhere (Not travelling the 4 hours to see totality is still one of the biggest regrets I have, but 2020 here I come!).

I had seen a lunar eclipse many years before. My mom let me stay up until like 2 in the morning so I could see the "blood moon." It was incredible, and the same feeling I had then was the same feeling that rushed through me when I found out that two weeks away was another Blood Moon.

January 20, 2019, my best friend Brendon and I headed two hours south to Little Sahara Sand Dunes State Park, a favorite place of mine for four-wheeling, dirt biking, and taking night sky photos.

We arrived an hour before sunset and went to scout around. Using my handy dandy app PhotoPills (not a sponsor but if you want to sponsor me PhotoPills feel free to email me I love you), I learned that the Eclipse would hit totality with about an hour to go before moonset.

That couldn't be any more perfect. A Blood moonset.

We scouted and found our location and then headed back to the car (It was January and freezing, we weren't about to be out of the car any longer than we had to) and waited. Two-ish hours later I started doing some math. We had three more hours before totality, but the moon was on the wrong side of the horizon. How was it supposed to set in three hours? Spoiler alert: It wasn't. I had turned off location tracking while I was researching for a trip to the US East Coast and had forgotten to change it back.

Crap.

There was nothing else to do. We went out and got the foreground shot for later compositing, but disappointingly didn't have the beautiful, natural, red tint to the sand and snow we were hoping for.

We hopped back into the car and decided what to do next. In the end, we opened up my sunroof to a perfect view of our gorgeous Moon. It slowly came into view and with half an hour left until full red, it was directly overhead.

I won't bore you with the cheesy "it taught me to spend more time in the moment and less time chasing the shot," (although I totally could, because it totally did), but I will say that we sat there, still getting the shots, but just talking, enjoying the atmosphere and viewing one of the most incredible views nature has to offer.

I got the shot and threw it all together. In the end, I was pretty happy with it, but it's a very mediocre photo. That's ok, because to me, these photos help me remember what I really went out there to do - see a Lunar Eclipse, and remember that boyish glee of seeing one before, and get excited for the ones I'll see in the future.

As always, thanks for reading.

Brax