How to photograph a lunar eclipse

How to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse

How to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse

If you have never experienced a lunar eclipse before, there is truly nothing quite like it. And if you have never photographed a lunar eclipse before, it is a photography experience you truly do not want to miss. This guide will show you some basics on how to photograph a lunar eclipse .

lunar eclipse gif

Lunar eclipses occur when the shadow of the Earth blocks the light of the sun (which normally reflects off the moon). There are actually three different types of lunar eclipses; total, partial and penumbral. All three are really unique and fun to see in person, while the total lunar eclipse is by far the most dramatic of all these events.

For centuries, lunar eclipses have attracted a great deal of attention, especially when the total lunar eclipse turns the moon red—also known as the Blood Moon. While these lunar eclipses have sparked numerous tall-tales and horror stories, there is one thing that is for certain about the lunar eclipse: it is a great subject to photograph.

what causes lunar eclipse

image courtesy of:

The lunar eclipse will happen annually, typically in July and January, and where you are located in the world depends on whether or not you can see it. This phenomenon, doesn’t happen often, but when it does it creates a truly spooky and sometimes scary effect on the sky and on everything around it, and it makes for breathtaking photos.

Photographing a lunar eclipse can be a challenging undertaking, but one that can deliver outstanding results when done correctly. While a lunar eclipse is impressive in person, it can deliver even more outstanding photos if you capture the right shots. If you don’t you won’t see much besides a bunch of black.

This is why we have created a comprehensive guide to photographing the lunar eclipse, so you can get photos that are just as awe-inspiring as seeing the eclipse in real-life.

Preparing For Your Lunar Eclipse Photo

The first step in photographing the lunar eclipse, is to know when it is going to happen. Since you will only be able to see the eclipse once per year, if it is visible at all, you will need to plan ahead.

The lunar eclipse will only happen on one night and it will only last for a few hours total. If there is a full eclipse, this part of the process will typically only last about one hour.

Like many outdoor phenomena, there are always factors that can make your shot unpredictable. There is no way to truly prepare for this. All you can do is try to be as prepared as possible for shooting and work around any elements that may get in your way the night of.

lunar eclipse stages

The stages of a full lunar eclipse

Preparing For Your Lunar Eclipse Photograph

If you want to know how to photograph a lunar eclipse the right way, you need to start with the right equipment.

  • DSLR camera (or mirrorless) with full manual exposure control capabilities.
  • Sturdy tripod
  • Remote or electronic release
  • Timer
  • Headlamp or flash light

You should also have at least two fully-charged camera batteries. This is particularly important if you are planning on shooting in January. When it is extremely cold, like it often is during this time of year, your camera battery can end up dying more quickly.

In addition to having the right gear, you also need to be in the right place and the right time. Make sure that you are away from city lights and to know the timing of the lunar eclipse. You should be able to easily find this information online. You should know the following:

  • When the partial eclipse begins
  • When the total eclipse begins
  • The time of the maximum eclipse
  • When the total eclipse ends
  • When the partial eclipse ends

You can easily find this information online. Keep in mind, if you want a subject in your photograph, such as a certain building, you want to have a more accurate time scale of the eclipse to make sure it lines up perfectly.

Fortunately, there are a number of different apps that can help you do this such as PhotoPills or The Photographer’s Ephemeris. These will help you line up the shot, so you know just where to stand and at the exact moment, the eclipse will be working with your desired shot.

Lunar Eclipse Los Angeles

2018 Lunar Eclipse setting over Los Angeles

How to Shoot the Lunar Eclipse

Once you are all prepared for the evening, here is how to photograph a lunar eclipse and get the best results. You will want to take as many shots as you can and adjust on-the-go, because you will only have a few minutes with each position with the moon.

Know Where to Focus

This is where many people ultimately mess up their photo. The best rule of thumb to remember is that you simply need to focus on the moon.

The most accurate way to get a sharp photo during the lunar eclipse is to use live view and magnify the image to zoom in on the moon. You will need to focus manually, but it will be worth it.

If the moon is bright enough, you can use the autofocus. Before the eclipse begins either manually or autofocus on the moon, but then turn the autofocus off so your camera doesn’t focus on something else.

You can also consider using a long lens to zoom in on the moon. Don’t try to include too many foreground images.

blood red moon

Blood red moon. Actually just the shadow of the earth blocking the Sun’s light. Shot at 400mm

Use the Manual Exposure Mode

Make sure that you use manual-exposure mode and check the camera’s highlight alert. This will help you make sure that you aren’t over-exposing the moon, which will take away some of the effect.

You should always stick with an aperture of f/11. If you are dealing with a full moon, you want to start at 1/60 second and 200 ISO.

If you have a half or quarter moon, then you should speed it up to 1/30 second 200 ISO. With less than a quarter moon, you should go to 1/15 second and 200 ISO.

When you are fully eclipsed, is when you really want to start making some changes. If the moon is fully eclipsed at the beginning and end of totality your exposure should be 8 seconds at f/11, 800 ISO. If the moon is fully eclipsed at its deepest totality, it should be at 8 seconds f/11, 1600 ISO.

Of course, these are just suggestions as every camera and every photographer is different. But this is a great starting point an you can tweak it from there.

Once you have this set, it is time to shoot away. However, if you want to know how to photograph the lunar eclipse so you really get the full effect of the shot, you should try to keep it simple, especially if this is your first time.

Don’t put too much in the foreground. A simple tree is enough to cast off of, without making the photo seem too busy, you want the lunar eclipse to be the main focal point.

You can also time-lapse sequence a lunar eclipse to show the different phases and add movement to your capture, like below:

Other Tips for Shooting the Lunar Eclipse

While the best way to really get a feel for shooting the lunar eclipse is through trial and error, you really don’t have a lot of time when photographing this subject. This is why there are a few tips to consider that can help deliver the best possible results with your photos.

  • Use a tripod. Make sure it is a locked tight.
  • Use an electronic flash or a flash light to light-paint the foreground
  • Consider a wide-angle lens and capture the eclipse with something in the foreground.
  • To really see the dramatic changes made with the lunar eclipse, do a series of photos to see its progression.
  • Use a timer and a trip shutter to capture the eclipse at different times during the progression, just make sure that you adjust the exposure times.
  • A flashlight or electronic flash can light-paint the foreground to make a unique effect.

Finally, make sure to keep it simple. The thing to remember when learning how to photograph a lunar eclipse is that making it too complicated likely won’t pay off. Lunar eclipses don’t happen every day, so if you spend too much time trying to capture creative foreground shots or artistic angles, you may end up missing it all together.

Once you get used to photographing it the first time, you can always come back the next year to try something more artistic.

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