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Blood Moon Over Red Square

Spoiler Alert! This is not the Blood Moon. Do not be fooled. I took this picture in August 2015, when smoke from the wildfires in Washington State turned the moon orange. PHOTO BY RYAN BELL

Act One: A Good Idea

The last time a Blood Moon shone down on Red Square, it was 1982. Soviet officials were strict about photography. You couldn't just traipse on down to the Kremlin and snap a shot. But thirty-three years later, photographers are a lot more free. I would set out to get that picture and make photographic history! (Or, so I told myself)

In Moscow, Russia, the lunar eclipse would occur early in the morning on September 28, 2015. That's when the earth's umbra would cast a red glow onto the moon. At least two people believed the Blood Moon was a religious omen. Another 500,000 believed it would make a cool pic on Instagram.

Here's my plan: The moon will turn bloody at 4:15 a.m. The fireworks will last for about two hours. Cool. That'll give me enough time to fill, like, 2 compact flash cards. 2,000 images? No problem. Whatever it takes to capture "the one."

It did not occur to the photographer to check the weather forecast.

What time should I set my alarm? The Metro doesn't run that early. I'll give myself 30 minutes to walk downtown. Add in time for brushing my teeth...

(1.2 minutes)

... guzzling a glass of juice...

(7 seconds)

... and obsessing over what gear to bring.

(24 minutes)

3:15 a.m. ought to do it.

The alarm went off and the photographer hit snooze for ten minutes.

Act Two: Walk in the Dark

Alright, let's get this show on the road. Time to make something amazing happen.

The photographer looked up at the sky. It was overcast. He ignored this fact, and donned headphones as he fast walked down the road.

This messenger bag I bought for this trip is awesome. Sure, it was an impulse buy. But I'm proud of it. That's the thing about impulse buys; once in a while they work out great! Lately, I've been making a lot of good decisions.

The bag was heavy. The strap pulled on the photographer's neck. His back started to hurt. Not until later would he admit that he'd overpacked. All the gear weighed 30 pounds: laptop, tripod, camera, 16-35mm lens, 50mm lens, 24-105mm lens, 100-400mm lens, notebook, audio recorder (for some reason).

Ufda, I'm getting sweaty.

Actually, it was sprinkles of rain.

The typical rain jacket weighs 14 ounces.

It can collapse into the size of a tennis ball.

The photographer did not pack one of these.

Act Three: Making Friends

I made it to Red Square! There are a few people milling around. Wait...they have cameras. What a coincidence! Told you this was a great idea.

That lady is propping her camera on a backpack on the ground. She's setting the timer to take a group picture with her friends. I'll go help them out.

"Where you from?" I ask.

"Utah. We're flying home from Greece."

Athens to Salt Lake City, by way of Moscow. Travelocity strikes again.

Check out that dude. He's packing a lens the size of a traffic cone.

Now, where IS this moon? Gosh, the sky sure is gray. Can't see a single star.

I've got an idea! I'll download that Skyview app so I can figure out the moon's location. Then, when the clouds part and it comes out...BAM! I'll be ready.

The photographer spun his smartphone around until the moon showed up on the screen. The Kremlin building stood in the way. Had he been on perfectly flat terrain -- say, the Great Salt Lake -- he would've seen the moon on the horizon. Instead, he saw a six-story brick wall. And above it, a layer of clouds.

Then it poured down rain.

What the...?


On the morning of September 28, 2015, it rained for three hours in Moscow, Russia. A photographer was stuck on Red Square, carrying a bag full of expensive camera gear, but no rain jacket. He found an alcove to hide under. To pass the time, he setup his camera and tripod. He took 1,000 pictures of people with brightly colored rain jackets and umbrellas. Some of them were colored red.

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Ryan Bell is a Fulbright-National Geographic Fellow, traveling through Russia and Kazakhstan for his project #ComradeCowboys. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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