Super Blood Wolf Moon over the Texas Hill Country – January 20, 2019

I’ve enjoyed many fun experiences as a professional photographer, from hiking in Rattlesnake Canyon in Colorado to standing on the South Rim in Big Bend National Park. One of those rewarding experiences that required a lot less work was shooting the moon – the Super Blood Wolf Moon.

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Blood Moon over a Windmill in the Hill Country 4 : Prints Available

At 11:12pm on January 20, 2019, the Super Blood Wolf Moon reached its peak over the Hill Country, glowing an eerie reddish-orange hue. Several events transpired on this night to create this rare view. The Super Moon was in view – when the full moon is closest to earth at ~ 223,000 miles; the Wolf Moon – a full moon in the month of January; and a total lunar eclipse – the earth coming between the sun and moon – causing the Blood Moon. This unique alignment of celestial events made for a great lunar show on this cold winter night. The next total lunar eclipse will not occur until May 26, 2021.


A few nights ago, January 20, the earth passed between the sun and moon, bringing on a total lunar eclipse. At the time, the full moon was closer to the earth than usual (~ 223,000 miles away). This occurrence is known as the super moon, and during this time the moon appears 14% larger and 30% brighter. Since these lunar events happened in January, the “Wolf” title was included, as well, since a full moon in January is called by this name (in American Folklore).

On this night, I didn’t have to travel far – just a few miles from my house in the Texas Hill Country. The walk from my car covered about 20 yards – a far cry from the 14 mile round trip to the South Rim in Big Bend!

I had scouted out this location earlier. Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris and Stellarium, both online apps, I knew when and where the moon would be when the eclipse reached totality. I nearly always include a foreground in my images – something to catch the viewer’s interested – and for this rare evening I chose an old windmill. I figured since I can shoot almost straight up to catch the blades of the windmill as well as the moon, I could find a composition that would capture both a portion of the windmill and the blood moon. I also wanted to have the foreground fairly far away so I could use my zoom lens, thus making the moon appear larger against the dark blades of the windmill. This effect is just changing perspective, but often makes the moon more dramatic.

So after checking out the location earlier in the day, I headed back a little before the peak of totality which was set to occur at 11:12pm. Practically laying on my back in order to shoot nearly straight up, I took several images, making sure I had everything aligned to my liking. I probably shot 50+ images over the next 15 minutes, keeping only four final versions.

Because the windmill and the moon were so far apart, while one appeared sharp the other would be a bit blurry. No amount of changing the depth of field on a long telephoto lens could overcome this difference. I ended up using two separate images for each final version – one with the windmill in focus and the other with the moon in focus. I blended the two together using Photoshop. I am pleased with the final versions, having captured and created something that our eyes can see but the camera cannot capture in one single image.

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Blood Moon over a Windmill in the Hill Country 2 : Prints Available

This blood moon image was taken at the peak of the eclipse. I used a windmill’s blades as the foreground – shot while basically on my back looking nearly straight up. I lightened up the foreground a bit so the blades of the windmill showed up a bit.

This photograph shows the rare Super Blood Wolf Moon as it turned a reddish-orange high in the Texas sky late in the night of January 20, 2019. With a windmill’s blades rising in the foreground, I used a telephoto lens to zoom in on both the windmill and the moon. This image is a composite of two photos, each taken to maximize clarity and sharpness. In the first image, the moon was the focal point. In the next image, the windmill was the focal point. Both were combined using Photoshop to show what the eye can see but the camera cannot capture, creating a sharp image of the windmill, maybe 50+ feet high, and the moon, about 223,000 miles away.


It was cold that night, and I am glad I did not plan on shooting the duration of the eclipse from partial to full to partial again. Here is how that full progression appeared back on April 15, 2014…
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Images from Texas – Phases of the Blood Moon – April 15, 2014 : Prints Available

In the early morning hours of April 15, the earth passed between the sun and moon, causing a total luner eclipse and resulting in a ‘blood moon.’

This image was a composite of the moon phases over the course of several hours over Austin, Texas.


Maybe next time. After all, the next total lunar eclipse in my area is only a few years away – on May 26, 2021!

In the meantime, stay warm out there. Bluebonnets are on the way.

Vaya con Dios, My Friends.

~ Rob
Images from Texas

Photographing the Milky Way in Texas

I am occasionally asked the process I use to photograph the Milky Way over different Texas landscapes, so I thought I’d take a few minutes in an attempt to explain my thinking process.
First and foremost, I’m a planner. And I also like my sleep. So when I do give up sleep and head out to capture the night sky, I want to leave few things to chance.

If at all possible, I always scout the area I plan on visiting. I like to take a few shots from the location during the day just to see how different compositions look. I don’t want to get home after all-night shooting event and be disappointed at lay of the land on my computer.
Next, a downloadable app called Stellarium really comes in handy. This free program lets you know where and when the Milky Way will appear at any given location and time. It also shows the moon, so you’ll know if the moon could be a hindrance to a dark sky. It has proven invaluable in my nightscapes, and I always reference it before heading out.

As a sidenote, the moon will not necessarily interfere with your night sky shooting, but you need to know what phase and what location it is in. If the moon is more than a quarter showing, I’d wait. If the moon (in any phase) is in the same half of the sky as the Milky Way, I’d again put off shooting until better conditions are available. Personally, I will not shoot the Milky Way if the moon is anywhere in the sky, but I have friends that do.

So with the preliminary work done, I head out. If I’m shooting after sunset (as opposed to early morning), I’ll often arrive at my chosen location just before the sun sets in order to photograph the location during magic hour. About 45 minutes after the sun sets I’ll take some foreground images using the bracketing function (taking several exposures of the same image to use later).

And then transition into night shooting mode. For this, I do a few things:

* switch the camera into bulb mode

* set the ISO initially to 2500 (this will move down to 800 when I’m ready to take the “real” shots”)

* hook up my IOptron Startracker (this entails knowing setting the latitude, aligning the machine with a scope to the North Star, leveling everything with the level-bubbles on both my tripod and Startracker.)

* plug in my remote that allows me to take long exposures

* calibrate my GPS/compass

After everything seems ready, I wait for the stars to appear. When I start seeing stars, I try to manually focus my camera on a star using the “LiveView Mode.” This is the most tedious portion of the evening. Sometimes even finding a star is difficult because you have to have the focus just right, as well as have your camera zoomed onto a bright star. Have patience, and keep plugging away until you finally find a star in your screen. (Make sure autofocus is turned off! I’ve located the star before but forgot to turn off Autofocus. When you press the shutter button, the camera then continues in vain to attempt to find stars. Then you have to repeat the process again.)

Using the compass, I know where the North Star appears, so when I finally do see it, I align the scope. Once finished, I point my camera (on manual focus) towards the Milky Way. With the ISO set to 2500 and the aperture to ~ f/2.8-4 (depending on which lens I use), I take a 20-30 second exposure, check the screen to view my orientation of the Milky Way, and adjust accordingly. At this point in the shoot, I don’t care about the foreground. I try to have a small portion of the horizon showing in my image, but that is strictly for reference. With the Startracker on, I reset the ISO to 800, then start shooting longer exposures. I’ll check the focus again after a longer exposure to make sure there are no star trails or tails, then gradually increase the exposure time up to 3-4 minutes, depending on the ambient light and how much it is lighting up your image.

During these long exposures, I’ll use my phone to time the shot. One very important thing here… while your camera is rolling, please take the time to look up and marvel at the night sky before above you. Sometimes I can get caught up in the technical aspects of this and forget why I’m really out there – to appreciate the beauty of the heavens and share this wonder with others.

One other thing I like to do that helps increase final size is take several images of the Milky Way in a horizontal orientation. I’ll take three images, moving my lens upwards after each shot. Back at home, I’ll stitch these images together producing a large and detailed photograph of the Milky Way.

From here, I’ll go back and blend the Milky Way with the foreground shot taken before dark. I’ll use masks, layers, refine mask, some lightening and darkening as needed, and work on the details until I have my final image. I usually like to leave the foreground pretty bright so the viewer can see the details of the landscape as well as the amazingness of the night sky. This is just a personal preference. Adjust the exposure to your liking.

Here is a finished image from Enchanted Rock State Park in the Texas Hill Country. It is comprised of several shots before dark, along with a vertical stitched panorama of the Milky Way.

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Milky Way over Enchanted Rock 915 : Prints Available

On a perfect September evening in the Texas Hill Country, the Milky Way rolls across the heavens over the inconic Enchanted Rock. This image was fun to make. It first required a walk to the opposite side of this granite rock in the Llano Uplift. The area from which I was shooting is a little off the trail, so just arriving here required some tip-toes through the cacti. After shooting several locations to use for the foreground – different angles of the Rock – I settled in and waited for the stars to appear. With soft clouds lingering on the horizon, the Milky Way did not disappoint. The distant clouds almost seemed like an soft orange version of the Arora Borealis. The exposure for the Milky Way was over 3 minutes, and it seemed you could reach out and touch each star. This image from the Hill Country was taken with a wide angle lense to show the grandness of the night sky across the Texas landscape. On a perfect September evening in the Texas Hill Country, the Milky Way rolls across the heavens over the inconic Enchanted Rock. This image was fun to make. It first required a walk to the opposite side of this granite rock in the Llano Uplift. The area from which I was shooting is a little off the trail, so just arriving here required some tip-toes through the cacti. After shooting several locations to use for the foreground – different angles of the Rock – I settled in and waited for the stars to appear. With soft clouds lingering on the horizon, the Milky Way did not disappoint. The distant clouds almost seemed like an soft orange version of the Arora Borealis. The exposure for the Milky Way was over 3 minutes, and it seemed you could reach out and touch each star. This image from the Hill Country was taken with a wide angle lense to show the grandness of the night sky across the Texas landscape.

And that’s it. There are details aplenty, but you’ll figure those out soon enough – it just takes time, trial, and error. And how you handle many of those finer points is dictated by your likes and preferences.

Enjoy your time outdoors!

~ Rob

Texas Images

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