Very recently was a night of momentous occasion as far as lunar cycles go. It was the first time a Super Blood Moon appeared since 1982, not to be seen again until 2033. What is the Super Blood moon? The Super Blood Moon is when the moon goes into full eclipse from the Earth’s Shadow giving it kind of a blood red tint, while also physically being the largest us humans will possibly see it as because it’s the closest it will be in it’s orbit. (It was actually second closest this year on this pass, not first). So Basically, biggest moon we’ll see (Supermoon)+ Lunar Eclipse (Blood Moon) = Super Blood Moon. This all happened at around 10pm on September 27th too, which is fantastic since the last time we had a moon I wanted to shoot as I recall it was at 3am or so. Anyway, I get really tired of seeing all the photos of the moon on a black frame as it’s pretty much what 95% of what anybody who shoots the moon gets and posts. Being as I wasn’t shooting for anybody other than myself I decided I was going to be a little different, and Shoot a Double Exposure to help make the moon a little bigger over downtown Indy. Since I wasn’t shooting for an editorial news outlet there was no reason to stick to the Editorial guidelines, but of course I was going to post that the frame was a Double Exposure to avoid any confusion about whether this is what the Super Blood Moon looked like here in Indy (Which I did). That said, there was STILL some confusion and a little bit of name calling/nasty email for one reason or another, and that’s why this blog is being written. (And now subsequently being read by you).
My shot of the Super Blood Moon, Nikon D4s, Double Exposure Mode to create one frame out of two.
That’s the photo in question. With film cameras, you could expose a frame of your film twice (or more) to create different effects in the image. This is called a Multiple Exposure, which was very common when using film. When Digital SLR’s came around only a handful of digital cameras could do it. My Nikon Digital SLR’s have ALL been capable of making multiple exposures, but it’s not something that gets used a whole lot as honestly I feel like it’s difficult to do. That said, there advantages and disadvantages to doing a shot like this as a double (or multiple) exposure. One advantage is that you get a Single .NEF RAW file as opposed to multiple files to blend together so the shot is in fact all done IN camera. No Photoshop required. The photo is definitely surreal, and while even though it’s still done all in camera if you are shooting for journalism you need to make sure you describe the process used to shoot it (Double Exposure as opposed to composite, or photo illustration). In today’s day in age if people don’t know what something is, they tend to google it however some folks usually decide they want to complain, scream fake! or or pick apart why the photo doesn’t make sense to them despite reading the description explaining that the photo was indeed a creative take on the event using an antiquated in camera technique. (Example being that the moon was in the South Sky for the photo, but was a little more East in real life, or that the moon did not in any way look this big in person). While that’s all good and fine, the photo was my artistic interpretation of the Super Blood Moon, shot for myself and definitely described as a Double Exposure, shot without using any photoshop to show the event as I’m sure lots of folks wanted to see it vs the impending white dot on a black sky photo many took with their cell phones. One disadvantage to a Double (or multiple) exposure especially obvious in this case is that it is essentially not a real life representation of the event, meaning that even though it was done completely in camera and it isn’t a photoshop composite or photo illustration; it’s still got to be explained to the viewing public whom as I learned will complain whether it’s explained to them or not.
So what does it mean to shoot a double exposure and how did I really shoot this? It’s exactly like it sounds. With Film You shot one part of the frame, and then you immediately shoot the other part of the frame without advancing the film so that the image is imprinted onto one 35mm section but was two shots. Digital works the same exact way except you have a Digital RAW file after the fact instead of a 35mm piece of plastic and chemistry. There are a few old school Film rules to follow, but to get started you just have to tell your camera what you are doing.
When this is turned on, every two shots makes a single file on your camera’s memory card. You can either set it to do the deed once, OR you can set it to do it subsequent times. Normally I like to set it to do this once, otherwise I’d likely end up shooting a football game with a bunch of double exposures… While that may be interesting once, isn’t so good for getting re-hired. Once the camera is set you need to plan your exposures carefully. Once you take a shot, you can’t un-take it until after the second shot is done. You can look at the shot on your screen to see where you are starting, but you have to finish the sequence in order to move on. In this particular case, I needed to shoot two things of different sizes, and I wanted to make one look really large. That would be the Moon so lets start with that. My camera settings for shooting the Moon with my Nikon D4s were: 12,800ISO, Nikon 400mmF2.8VR2 with TC20e3 Teleconverter making 800mmF5.6. The final shutterspeed was 1/13th at F5.6. HAND HELD. Hand held? Well you know, because as it turned out the tripod I took with couldn’t handle the combined weight of the 400mm and D4s at the angle I needed it so I had to balance the thing on the railing of a bridge we were at and hold my breath to make the frame. Not many turned out sharp, the photo at the top of this post was the lucky one. The ISO of 12,800 was to make sure I had a fast enough shutterspeed to shoot the shot with the VR to give me a sharp image. I would then shoot the Moon once followed by a change of lens, shutterspeed and aperture to shoot the City.
One big rule for a multiple exposure is that you can’t change your ISO. It’s digital so you would think that you could, but no just like film you can’t. (the ISO was the actual Film’s speed so obviously that couldn’t change in a film camera multiple exposure). SO once I shot a photo of the moon, I would remove the 400, and put the camera on a Tripod with the Nikon 24-70F2.8N. I would change the shutterspeed to 1/2 of a second with a slightly deeper aperture (F7.1 I think it was) , and zoom out to 35mm giving me a nice big space in the sky above the city. After several tries, Presto. A sharp double exposure. I REALLY wanted to have an ISO lower than 12,800 but the lunar eclipse at a F stop of F5.6 was pretty dark; especially without a super heavy duty tripod. Normally shooting a full moon is pretty easy, usually you can actually hand hold the shot with a lens long enough because the moon is pretty bright. It’s not always recommended, and it is most definitely not recommended doing it the way that I did; but I’m still happy with my frame.
So after that it’s just back and forth. Shot of the moon, change lens and settings, shot of the skyline. Shot of the skyline, change lens and settings, shoot the moon. Rinse, wash repeat. Back and forth. Really after a few frames there was another cloud coming back in, but I kept shooting. When done, this screenshot below is how the RAW file opened, straight out of camera with only a little exposure brightness added:
So there you have it. Shot of the Super Blood Moon over the City of Indianapolis, larger than life without using Photoshop. Hopefully this explanation helps clear up any confusion that may have existed for anybody, or just helps show people how this photo was made so they can be inspired to go make some of their own. I want to apologize for anybody that got frustrated with this photo as that was not at all the intention. I did after all label it as a Double Exposure, and in fact I even went back later and added it a second time to the description to help avoid other confusion. I have learned however that if someone is going to be upset, they are going to be upset no matter what. I had someone I have known for years get upset enough about this to unfriend me from my personal facebook page and that’s fine; it’s on them. While that makes me a little sad, I also feel like it’s a bit Absurd since it’s not like I tried to pass this photo off as reality. In the end I had a lot more people than the upset ones messaged to ask me if their camera could do such a thing so they could make their own photos like this; and a lot of them can. The point I guess is that you should think outside the box, try something a little different and maybe you’ll get something a little different that you can really enjoy. Honestly, this was the easiest double exposure I’ve ever made. Including the folks that were upset about it. More Soon.