How To Photograph A Total Lunar Eclipse | Light Stalking

How To Photograph A Total Lunar Eclipse

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The total lunar eclipse of January 2018 only seems like it happened a few weeks ago and we're are already looking forward to the next eclipse. This is a great eclipse as the totality will last for about 1 hour and 43 minutes making it the longest eclipse of the 21st century.
On the 27th of July 2018, the full moon will rise in the evening skies accompanied by an eclipse that will be visible in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the Indian Ocean area, Australia and Eastern parts of South America.
Residents in these locations are in for a treat as a blood moon will be caused by this total eclipse. And remember, this will be the longest eclipse of the century.
The whole event of the Lunar eclipse from start to finish when the moon will be crossing the Earth’s umbral shadow will be roughly about 4 hours (3h 54m).

Image by Liquidcrash

What Is A Blood Moon And Why Is The Moon Red During A Total Lunar Eclipse?

A blood moon happens when the moon is in full eclipse, that is when the earth’s shadow falls on the moon, completely blocking direct sunlight.
During a total eclipse, the earth’s shadow on the moon is red for the same reason why a sunset is red – scattering of light by earth’s atmosphere where all colours but red get scattered. Red colour gets refracted by the earth’s atmosphere.

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Schematic representation of the paths of light from the Sun past Earth causing the Moon to appear reddish during lunar eclipses
Image from Wikipedia

Note: Don't Forget Mars!

Ok, so there is also the Mars opposition (Mars opposite the Sun) happening the same night which is going to be the best one since 2003. Mars will be closer to earth in July than it has been since 2003.
Mars opposition happens when the Earth passes in between the Sun and Mars. Which means Mars and the Sun are exactly on opposite sides of the Earth. So when a lunar eclipse happens, you can see Mars near the moon exceptionally bright (five times brighter) and red in colour.

What Is The Time Of Eclipse?

The eclipse starts at 2:24 pm EDT and ends at 6:19 pm EDT. The total eclipse (totality) will last from 3:30 pm to 5:13 pm EDT (1h 42m 57s).
Here Are The Eclipse Times And Durations In EDT:

  • Penumbral eclipse begins at 1:14 pm EDT and ends  at 7:28 pm EDT – Total duration of 6h 13m (Penumbral eclipse is not so noticeable)
  • Partial eclipse begins at 2:24 pm EDT and ends at 6:19 pm EDT – Total duration of 3h 54m (visible)
  • Total eclipse (totality) starts at 3:30 pm EDT and ends at 5:13 pm EDT – Total duration of 1h 42m 57s ~ 1h 43m making it the greatest eclipse of the century (visible)

Note: Check out timeanddate.com for the eclipse start and end times in your local timezone. There is detailed information on this as you read further below in the “Planning for the Event” section of this article.

What Is A Lunar Eclipse?

The lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth is perfectly aligned in between the Sun and the Moon blocking light from the sun falling on the moon. In other words, a Lunar Eclipse happens when the moon passes through the earth’s dark shadow. This makes the moon look dark red or orange and this event can happen only during a full moon.

By Tomruen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Image by Johannes Plenio





Why Do You Not Get To See An Eclipse During Every Full Moon?

This is because the moon’s orbit around the earth is on a slightly different plane (tipped by 5 degrees) than the earth’s orbit around the sun and hence the alignment for a Lunar eclipse every month is not possible.

Details of the Earth–Moon system

Image By Earth-Moon.svg: Cmglee, PD-USGov-NASA; Americas (orthographic projection).svg: Martin23230, CC-BY-SA-3.0/GFDL; Earths Moon.svg: Gregors, CC0. [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

How To Watch The Lunar Eclipse?

Unlike the Solar Eclipse, the Lunar Eclipse is safe to watch and photograph without any glasses or filters on. We can look at the moon with our naked eyes for longer periods of time and for as long as we need without causing any damage to our eyes and photograph them without any filters as it does not cause any damage to the camera’s sensor.

Planning For The Event:

Planning for astronomical events is very important as they do not happen at the same time all over the world. When you look at news or announcements, they may mention universal times or local times depending on the source that makes the announcement. As a result, many photographers and viewers get confused with the times for the event.
There is a website that I usually refer to for current and future astronomical events called timeanddate.com that lets you enter your location and look for current and upcoming events with great accuracy.
Unlike other websites that use Universal times, timeanddate.com gives you information in your local time with detailed information and start/end times for penumbral eclipse, partial eclipse and total eclipse.
Here is the page for the Lunar Eclipse this week and this page lets you check the eclipse maps, the timeline for eclipse in each part of the world, any accompanying or future events for your area and planets visible in the night sky in your area. Here is a screenshot of detailed eclipse path map for 27th July 2018, from timeanddate.com.

Here is a screenshot of the event timeline for Perth, Australia for the July 27-28, 2018 total lunar eclipse, again from timeanddate.com. There is an animation that shows what the eclipse will approximately look like in your local area along with local weather suggestion. Quite a handy and interesting site.

Location Of The Moon In The Sky:

Once you know whether the eclipse will be visible and if the weather is going to be in your favour, you will need to plan out the location of the moon in the sky during the time of the eclipse. This is because you need to be in a location where you will be able to view the moon without anything like tall buildings or mountains obscuring your view. Moreover, this will be a necessity if you are going to be photographing wider shots of the moon with some foreground details.
For example, the eclipse on 27-28 July 2018 will be visible almost towards moonset time in some parts of the world, so viewers in each part of the world need to be in a location where they can see the moonset.
Popular apps are PhotoPills and The Photographer’s Ephemeris that will help you to plan your shoot as these apps give information regarding weather, the location of the moon and much more.
Any good sky app should help you trace the path of the moon, but there are two free apps for iOS that I have tried out personally Lumos: Sun and Moon Tracker and Sun and Moon Sky Finder AR that help you look at the location of the sun, moon or any planets for future dates and times.
 

Image by European Southern Observatory

Getting Ready For The Event:

  1. Research for a good location where there will not be much cloud cover and from where you will have a full view of the entire event
  2. If you are planning to photograph wider shots with the landscape in the frame you will need to be in a location where there is not much crowd or obstacles to obscure your view or cause interruptions while you photograph the event.
  3. You will be out in the dark for a few hours – so have a headlamp, flashlight in case you need them.
  4. Wear warm clothes if you are living in a colder part of the world. Especially with this Lunar Eclipse, it is visible to many parts of the Southern Hemisphere where certain countries are in the middle of the Winter season. Have the right clothing for the weather, wherever in the world you are.
  5. Have a blanket or mat or a foldable chair for you to rest in between as the eclipse can take a few hours from start to finish.
  6. Keep warm or cold drinks depending on the weather.
  7. Do not forget to charge your batteries and get the memory cards ready by formatting them and having enough space to shoot the entire event. Have spare batteries and memory cards.
  8. Make sure you have all the gear necessary for the event like a tripod, remote or cable release, one or two cameras, lenses of your choice, batteries, memory cards, etc.
  9. If there is forecast for drizzles or other wet conditions, make sure you have protective covers ready for the camera and lenses to keep them away from the rain. Even otherwise, it is always safe to carry rain covers with you for your gear and camera bag.
  10. Make a checklist of the above and cross off before you leave for the location.

Planning The Shoot:

As mentioned before, there are two ways in which an eclipse can be photographed.

  1. You zoom in and get close so you can get just the details of the eclipse and focus on the event happening in the sky
  2. You can go really wide and include the foreground or the surrounding to tell a great story of the eclipse.
You can zoom in and get close so you can get just the details of the eclipsed moon
Image by Temudjin

You can go really wide and include the foreground or the surroundings to tell a great story of the eclipse
Image by Ryan Hallock
Now depending on what you want to shoot, you need to plan your shoot, but of course, if you have two cameras, you can do both side-by-side.

  1. For zoomed in shots, you will need a camera that can shoot in manual mode and a lens with reasonable focal length. At least a minimum of 300 mm is a required to see some moon details.
  2. Beware of the long exposure (at least 5 seconds sometimes if the moon is very dark) during totality when using longer focal length lenses. You may record blur due to earth and moon’s rotation. In order to overcome this, you will need a tracking mount if you are shooting at longer focal lengths, narrow aperture and lower iso, which are all needed for a perfectly sharp image of the eclipsed moon.
  3. Wider shots are quite easier compared to the close-up ones as slight movements are not very evident in the image. You can mount your camera on a tripod and keep shooting the series of the event and later combine them to show the entire eclipse on one frame. On a side note, you may need to bracket exposures to compensate for the dynamic range in the scene, as the moon can be very bright compared to the foreground you are trying to capture.
  4. An important point to remember for composite wide angle shots is to plan and compose your wider shots in such a way that the entire event from start to finish will be in the frame that you have composed. You may need to use an app that shows moon transit path and compose your shots accordingly or plan the night before as to how further the moon moves along the frame within a certain period of time.


Image by Maomaochang

How To Photograph The Lunar Eclipse – Gear And Other Information:

  • Unlike solar eclipses, photographing the Lunar eclipse is relatively easy as you do not need to worry about special filters or glasses to protect your cameras or your eyes. Moreover, the eclipse happens at a slower pace giving you enough time to relax, watch and photograph. Depending on the time and date of the eclipse and your location the Milky Way may sometimes show up beautifully on the sky during the total eclipse.
Eclipsed Moon over the Australia Telescope Compact Array along with the Milky Way
Image by HuiChieh

  • For a wide angle image, especially if you want to stack multiple exposures, put the camera on a tripod and make use of the cable release to release the shutter. Switch off image stabilisation and use mirror lock up feature if you are using a DSLR.
  • When the eclipse begins, frame the image in such a way that the moon is in one end of the frame. This will give space for the moon to move across the frame that you have composed as the eclipse happens.
  • Have the camera in Portrait or landscape mode depending on how the moon will move across the frame and which one will accommodate the whole eclipse path in the frame. Practise a night or two before the eclipse to get this right.
  • To record all of the phases of the eclipse within the frame, you need to wisely choose a lens that has a wider field of view to accommodate the whole eclipse.
  • For example, the moon moves across the sky at a rate of 15 degrees per hour. If you consider a 35 mm lens, on a full frame camera, its diagonal field of view will be 63.4 degrees, vertical field of view will be 37.8 degrees and horizontal field of view will be 54.4 degrees.
  • That way, during a 4 hour eclipse from start to finish, the moon will move across the sky by roughly 15 x 4 = 60 degrees. So for a diagonal movement, a 28 to 35mm lens on a full frame camera should be fine, but for vertical movement, you can put your camera on portrait mode and have around 30mm lens on.
A composite photograph created from 13 images of the lunar eclipse through its phases as viewed from the ninth floor of Building 1
mage Credit: NASA/Norah Moran

  • For a crop sensor camera, you can have the 18mm lens to cover all stages of the eclipse in one frame or field of view.

Note: These pages herehere and here give you field of view values for lenses from focal length 10 mm up to 800 mm for both full frame and crop sensors. There is also a website that lets you calculate the Angle of View for each lens and sensor size.

  • Take a series of images from start to finish of the eclipse (preferably one every 10 to 15 minutes) and combine them using a post-processing app like photoshop.
This is the lunar eclipse of 8 October 2014. The sequence is from the start of the eclipse at top left, to end at lower right.
Image by Kevin Rheese

  • An important factor to take into account is that you need to keep your camera and tripod set up stable without any movements through the entire event.
  • You may also need to change the exposure times all through the event as the brightness of the moon varies as the eclipse progresses. Here is a rough Lunar Eclipse Exposure Guide.
  • For zoomed closeup images of the total eclipse, you will need to use a telephoto lens longer than 300mm. If you want to fill the frame with the moon, you will need to use focal lengths above 600mm. Use teleconverters if possible to get larger zooms.


By User Bartux on nl.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Settings To Photograph The Lunar Eclipse:

  1. Use manual focus as autofocus can be a real struggle or to be honest impossible during totality.
  2. When you set up the tripod and camera, for close up shots of the eclipse, turn on live view mode, zoom into the moon and manually focus on the moon. Do not change focus after that, in the sense do not touch the focus ring.
  3. For closer moon shots, it is always best to have narrow apertures in the range f7 to f11 if you need to photograph the details on the surface of the moon. During totality, if you do not have a tracking mount and you are really struggling with exposure settings, then use wider apertures to photograph the event.
  4. For wider shots where you will be photographing foreground details, you will need to focus using hyperfocal distance. An easier way to focus is to have the f value between f8 and f16 (depends on your lens' sweet spot) and focus one third into the scene, so you get the whole scene in focus.
  5. Turn off image stabilization because you are going to have the camera on a tripod. Use the mirror lockup facility for DSLRs. These will help you get a blur-free sharp image.
  6. Keep the iso as low as possible in order to avoid noise. Preferably around the 100 to 800 range.
  7. During a partial eclipse, you can have the iso around 200, have f values around f5.6 to f8 and with each progress of the eclipse, you can vary shutter speed from 1/500s to 1/8s. Check images after shooting and adjust iso and shutter speed values if necessary. You can bracket shots if shooting wider frames.
    By SteveB in Denver from Denver [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
  8. During the total phase, if you are making use of a tracking mount, you can use low iso of 100, aperture value f8 to f11 and have 4 sec to 15 sec exposure depending on f value and amount of light available (that is, how much light illuminates the moon). Available light depends on the amount of dust particles in the atmosphere, fog, haze, thin clouds and cloud cover along the earth’s limb.
  9. If you do not have a tracking mount for long exposure closeup images, you will need to compensate for that by increasing the iso and increasing the shutter speed. Depending on how well your camera responds to high iso values, you can increase the iso up to 3200 or even 6400 in some high-end cameras and that way you can reduce the exposure to 1/2s or 1s during totality.
  10. Do not hesitate to use the low light noise reduction facility in the camera if required. Refer to your camera’s manual.
  11. If you have a telescope with a tracking mount, attach your camera to the telescope and start shooting away.
The total lunar eclipse that took place on April 15, 2014. This 4 panel mosaic composite image was produced with an Officina Stellare PRO RC500 half meter telescope, an Apogee Alta U16M camera and Astrodon E-Series filters.

By Robert Jay GaBany [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Some Final Tips On How To Photograph The Lunar eclipse:

  1. Eclipses are not a frequent event and they are rare phenomena. So get your checklist crossed off and head to the location well ahead of time to get everything set up and ready in time before the eclipse starts.
  2. You can do a few test shots if required, especially if there is slight haziness or thin cloud cover in the sky as the exposure times will differ from when you practiced using clear night skies.
  3. Do not forget the tripod, spare batteries, and memory cards.
  4. Be dressed appropriately for the weather and have enough fluids to take you through the event.
  5. Make use of manual settings and manual focus to get sharp images.
  6. Do not use the flash and always shoot raw.

What To Do After The Eclipse?

  • Now that you have enjoyed the event and made some stunning images, once you are home, do not forget to back up your images
  • When ready, use your favourite post-processing application to edit these images. If you shot to create a composite image, make use of programs like photoshop and combine the images.

Will you be watching and photographing the Lunar eclipse of July 27-28, 2018? If you do so, please feel free to share your images with us. We would love to see it!
If you have any tips that you would like to share with us for photographing the Total Lunar Eclipse, please share them in the comments section below. It will help us and anyone who reads to make better images.

Further Resources:

  1. How To Photograph The Moon
  2. Photographing The Moon: 6 Useful Tips To Help You Capture A Unique Shot
  3. How To Photograph The Milky Way In 12 Steps
  4. How To Photograph Moonscapes
  5. 22 Tips For Photographing A Lunar Eclipse
  6. How To Photograph A Lunar Eclipse

About the author

Dahlia Ambrose

Dahlia is a stock photographer and full time educator at Light Stalking. You can find her on Gurushots and see some of her more popular articles at The American Society of Media Photographers. Get to know her better here.

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