Steampunk and Photographing the Lunar Eclipse

I have photographed two solar eclipses. So when I saw all the hoopla on the web about the lunar eclipse on the twentieth I decided to photograph it.

What would photographing a lunar eclipse have to do with writing Steampunk? The experience and the problems of photographing a lunar eclipse could add so much to your story. Problems lead to tension and your story needs more tension.

So let’s start out with your spunky heroine. She has photographed two solar Eclipses. One under the wing of a famous photographer (which didn’t give her any credit and the next one she did on her own). She now is going to photograph a lunar eclipse in her own back yard.

Lunar eclipses are more common than solar eclipses. They can happen twice a year and cover a much larger area of the earth (like one quarter of the surface of the earth). But you can have a gap of ten years between eclipses visible in one spot. Since people were outside more often in the Steampunk era most everyone would have seen a lunar eclipse. You will need a reason for her to photograph it. It is not enough for her to want to photograph it. She’s busy and has too many other pressing things to do than to photograph something that everyone has seen.

The reason could be to discover a scientific fundamental. Or it could be money. I’ll go with money. People understand money. Readers, deep down inside want money so they can identify with a heroine that needs money.

Standard trope is the heroine needs money to build copies of her recent invention so she can sell copies and make money to pay off the loan and keep her business from being for closed by the greedy banker. There’s a rich industrialist behind the banker that wants the rights to her inventions to make more money. Women shouldn’t have rights or money, in his opinion. Or better yet make the banker and the industrialist both women.

To photograph a solar eclipse you often have to travel to a foreign place, sometimes a dangerous country, population, terrain. Photographing a Lunar Eclipse in your own back yard is a piece of cake, except.

  1. Lunar eclipses happen at night. Solar eclipses happen during the day. For a lunar eclipse you have to be able to operate your camera in total darkness. This is hard with new digital camera, many have a keyboard worth of buttons all over them. You have to practice in the dark till you can operate the buttons with your eye closed. What if the heroine doesn’t practice? What if it’s a borrowed camera because someone sabotaged her camera or she just bought or designed and built a new camera just to photograph this eclipse, and hasn’t had time to practice or use the cameras before the eclipse.
  2. What f the new camera is a new technology? The camera uses celluloid in place of glass wet plate technology. She knows how to sensitize wet plates blindfolded. But celluloid is very different. Think of it is like having used a 1990s film camera then rushing out with a brand new digital camera you never used before and you have to get a good photograph or you lose your house. What if she forgets to have a light or lantern with a red filter over the lens. She looses her night vision every time she shines the light on the camera’s controls. When she turns the lantern off she is blind for a minute. She has to invent a red light lantern on the spot. What if the first batch of photographs come out blank or very over exposed. A lunar eclipse last much longer than a solar eclipse so she would have time to make more photos, but she would have to guess or figure out what is wrong, fix the problem and make more photos.
  3. Totality for solar eclipses happen fast, they last usually two minutes or less. Lunar eclipse totality can last for 30 or more minutes. Your old camera battery can run out of power in thirty minutes when it will last just fine for a solar eclipse. Refilling a battery (usually done at a drug store or by a chemist) can take an hour and the old batteries needed to form for minutes and up to an hour before they could be used or they will not output enough voltage.
  4. It can get cold at night. You and your heroine will need proper clothing. May not think of it if it is nice during the day. I had to hunt up my old east coast jacket in the back of my closet because it got so cold. The night before when I practiced for the eclipse it was mild and nice. Also the cold can cause the battery to output to drop to a low voltage, cause gears to bind, thing stick (not slide), nub hands.
  5. Clouds can muck everything up. The weather bureau said that it was cloudy at my place 48 percent of the time for that date. It was cloudy that day and when the moon rose it shined through clouds. The wind came up and the clouds opened up. Still there were times clouds blew across the moon.
  6. There were a heck of a lot of airplanes flying around at nine to ten o’clock that night. None of them flew between me and the moon. It would have made a good photograph. Your heroine could have the problem of airships flying between her and the moon, too close where they block out the moon completely. This could be doing it on purpose. She could change locations and get a good shot of the airship silhouette by the moon. This could end up being her prize photograph or a photo she hated but everyone else loved.
  7. Moon tracking mounts are hard to use. The heroine can have lots of trouble getting the camera mount to track the moon to take a blur free photo. The moon moves across the sky and the camera has to follow the movement or the picture is blurred. Have to improvise. An alarm clock, string, pulleys and gears for a quick track mount.
  8. The totally eclipsed moon is dim, very dim. It’s hard to focus on. My camera’s auto focus did not work for a totally eclipsed moon. The heroine’s patented Thomson photo electric eye tube may not focus the camera on the totally eclipsed moon. Have to improvise. The batteries for the electric eye may run down and when she gets the batteries recharged the electric eye will not focus on the dim moon.
  9. Tripping over the camera mount/tripod is always good. My camera never hit the ground but I tripped good a couple of times. It’s dark out, and during totality it’s very dark.

The above are all based on mistakes I have made or problems I had. Not all at this eclipse.

So, go out and try photographing the moon one full moon night. Find out that the moon is very small in the picture you took with your camera. Figure out you need a big lens or to take the picture through a telescope to get a decent size photograph of the moon.

Figure out that the auto exposure of the camera makes the image of the moon too bright and figure out how the heroine would over come this problem.

Figure out how the heroine would keep from freezing while taking the photographs.

Stay strong, write on, and go and do what your heroine does then write about it.

Professor Hyram Voltage

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