Hawaii-based photographer Marco Garcia recently photographed an extraordinary cosmic event where a supermoon coincided with a lunar eclipse. He covered the story for Reuters, a leading International multimedia news provider owned by Thomson Reuters. One of his images was selected as the top photo of the day when the news broke.
In this ultra-rare event, the first total lunar eclipse in more than two years coincided with a supermoon, and the Hawaiian islands had a front-row seat. Hawaii was considered the best location to view the event, which meant that Marco was ideal for capturing it. The unique event happened this past May and was an unusual occurrence that astronomists were calling a “super flower blood moon” due to the moon’s red hues and its May (flowers) timing.
Marco had covered Hawaiian news events like volcano eruptions and hurricanes for Reuters in the past, but this was his first time photographing the skies. Marco’s background is in news photography, and space events never interested him much, so he never shot anything like this before getting the assignment.
I’ve often thought of celestial photography as something left best for amateurs or scientists who have access to massive telescopes in observatories, so when Reuters asked me to photograph the blood moon eclipse, I found it to be a challenge.
However, Marco took on the challenge and produced images that captured the special event happening above and provided a distinctive perspective. By photographing the moon against recognizable landscapes and framed by the palm trees in Honolulu, Marco gave the images a sense of place.
They did not want just a simple shot of an eclipsed moon. My job was to capture the moon in relation to Hawaii. Everyone can see the moon, but how do I tell the story of the moon on this far away Pacific island?
To capture the shots needed, Marco had to understand where and what time the moon would rise in order to be prepared and accurately predict in which direction it would travel so he could plan his locations and angles.
I used a few apps specifically designed for photographers and celestial watchers to track the moon’s path. I then went out the night before to plot where the moon would be throughout the night.
After scouting locations and planning his route, Marco planned to wait until the supermoon rose in the east and landed close to the iconic Makapu’u Lighthouse in East Oahu so he could get what he thought would be the ideal shot.
The apps showed the moon would rise roughly behind the lighthouse, but to get to the right spot, I had to cut across a sandy field and perch myself atop old lava rocks perilously close to the shore where the waves were crashing just a few feet away.
As the moon rose about 7 PM behind the lighthouse, I started snapping away and got goosebumps! It was incredible to witness this scene and to know my planning had worked.
When it was time for the blood moon eclipse, which started around 1 am, the moon was in the center of the sky. The placement made it difficult to get an image with any perspective, so Marco and Chris Helgren, the editor at Reuters whom he was working with, had discussed trying to place palm trees in the foreground.
We had discussed trying to frame palm trees around the moon, but without light, they were mere silhouettes as it was nearly impossible to balance the brightness of the moon and anything in the foreground. My only hope was to go to Aloha Tower near downtown Honolulu and hope to line up the moon and the tower.
Marco switched gears to try and capture an image of the moon with Aloha Towers, another iconic Oahu landmark. When he arrived, the moon was in full view but not in the right spot to get his initially envisioned image. He couldn’t get the Aloha Towers in the shot with the moon, but this location presented a new opportunity to capture the moon against the palm trees.
Just as the moon began to turn red, I noticed the bright green lights illuminating Aloha Tower also lit the palm trees around it. I then framed the red moon with the lit palm fronds and captured the images that were seen around the globe.
When looking at Marco’s images, viewers are transported to Hawaii during this once-in-a-lifetime event. The photos were used in news sites throughout the world to offer observers a chance to take in a view that could only be seen when looking at the sky from the Pacific islands.
I walked away, realizing I shouldn’t think of celestial photography as the realm of amateurs or scientists. It wasn’t easy and took lots of technical work. The logistics alone proved to me this is a tough gig, but my years of experience allowed me to think outside of the box and helped tell the story of the moon in Hawaii.