Winter 1996-1997. I am on Sabbatical at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Hale-Bopp comet was hiding behind an everlasting winter cloud cast. It was a typical Michigan snowy winter, freezing cold, especially if your experience in winters is only in Israel and Arizona. I was frustrated enough for not being able to see Hale-Bopp, so you can imagine how I felt when I heard that there is going to be a full moon eclipse just above the clouds of Michigan, on March 24th.
On rare occasions miracles happen. Early that night the clouds suddenly cleared up for the first time in months to show a beautiful starry night, an amazing Hale-Bopp and a full moon. Excited, I took my camera out to the snow, mounted on a tripod, to photograph the moon eclipse. At that time I was shooting exclusively color slides. My longest lens was a 200 mm lens, which is pretty boring for moon shots with no option for a scenic view. There will be plenty of great shots of that moon eclipse, none of them will be mine. It is this type of a healthy frustration that makes me creative, and it fell on fertile ground: At that time I was experimenting quite a bit with long exposure photography while moving my camera, either panning or painting, as well as with multiple exposures.
However, before even thinking of being creative, I had to solve a purely technical dilemma: How can I read light? I had no prior experience of shooting the moon at night that I could remember, so I could only use a rough estimate. That is not good enough when you shoot slides. Luckily, however, there was a street lamp nearby, with the exact color of the moon. All I needed was to shoot for that color, and I knew exactly how to do that using the camera’s spot light meter reading mode.
I shot three or four photographs, and I got bored. I then decides, with freezing hands, to plan a careful three exposures shot, placing the moon on two corners of the slide, and painting a trajectory line with the third exposure. I took the first two shots on my tripod, using wide aperture, which gave me the fastest corresponding shutter speed I could use for that light to avoid vibrations. I then changed the camera shutter speed to half a second that will enable me a hand held painting. I maintained a relatively wide aperture, because the moon exposure time at each spot along the trajectory will be much shorter than half a second. The importance of the precision of a choice of an aperture width is shown in the photograph by the fact that the shaded area of the moon is hardly noticeable along the trajectory line, as it did not stay long enough at each point to have an impact on the emulsion. An aperture wider than that will overexpose the trajectory line made by the lighted area of the moon.
I intended to paint a trajectory of half a circle that begins below the moon at left and ends below the moon on the right. I rehearsed four or five times to make sure I am within the boundaries I planned for, knowing that when pressing the shutter, I will go blind. Then I made the third exposure, and hurried to my safe, warm home.
Another technical note on multiple exposures
Digital cameras that offer multiple exposure shots, usually give a choice between two modes, Average and Additive. The Average mode calculates a pixel average among all exposures, most likely by averaging RGB values. The Additive mode simulates better the multiple exposures shots made on film. In this mode, pixel values of the different exposures are added to each other. Hence, in the good old film days, if I wanted to give an equal value to two exposures while maintaining the intended amount of light on the emulsion, I had to half the light (i.e., the exposure value) in each. Using “Additive” is the only way to shoot a scene like that on a digital camera, otherwise the moon will average down with the black background of the other shots and, in a case of a three exposures shot, will have only a third of its targeted exposure value. In addition, as the background is pitch black, the exposure value of the object should be kept in full in each of the exposures, on both film and digital cameras, unless the object is expected to overlap among exposures.
The original slide looked like this:
The result was much better than I had expected, and I preferred the wavy trajectory line over the smooth precise half circle that I knew I will never able to produce. Had the trajectory touched one of the moons, or even got closer than it did to the moon on the right, the image would have been ruined.
Black and White
Years later I have decided that I prefer a black and white version of this photograph, because it gave it a cleaner look, almost like a silver precious gem. To create the black and white version, I simply used the Photoshop black and white adjustment tool, with a few moves in the sliders to keep smooth black-gray-white transitions. Finally, I used sharpening only locally, in some areas of the photograph, to avoid adding noise in the others.