Tips for Photographing a Lunar Eclipse

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Before you venture out to photograph your first lunar eclipse, you should get some practice taking photos of the moon. If lunar photography is varsity-level stuff, lunar eclipse photography is all-pro. There are some unique challenges to the art, and great ways to get creative results, but the basics of lunar photography apply. Unlike solar eclipse photography, you do not need gear to protect your cameras, lenses, or eyes. However, like solar eclipse photography, having the right accessories may help you get the best images.

If you are new to lunar photography and you missed the link above, or did not get the hint, pause here and head to this link with some tips for photographing the moon.

It should be known that you can take a "casual" and successful photo of a lunar eclipse with just about any camera, including your smartphone. But, if you want the know-how to grab a truly epic keeper, keep reading.

One personal note before we dive in: I have photographed several lunar eclipses and I have not always gotten the best results. Honestly and luckily, I get better at photographing lunar eclipses every time I do it and I am going to pass on the lessons I have learned so that you can, hopefully, get good results your first time out!

Photographs © Todd Vorenkamp

The October 27, 2004 eclipse. Nikon D1x and a Reflex-NIKKOR 500mm f/8 N lens + TC-201 2x teleconverter (1500mm 35mm-equiv.). Image softness courtesy of the lens, teleconverter, and 1/20-second slow shutter speed.

The October 27, 2004 eclipse. Nikon D1x and a Reflex-NIKKOR 500mm f/8 N lens + TC-201 2x teleconverter (1500mm 35mm equiv.). Image softness courtesy of the lens, teleconverter, and 1/20-second slow shutter speed.

3 Varieties of Lunar Eclipse

The Earth orbits the sun, and the moon orbits the Earth every 27.32 Earth days (the phase cycle is 29.53 Earth days). A solar eclipse occurs when our moon passes directly between the Earth and the sun in its orbit. A lunar eclipse is the opposite; the moon passes through the Earth's shadow as it orbits the planet on the opposite side of the sun. Because the moon's orbit is offset from Earth (5º), we do not get a lunar eclipse during every full moon. It is this same tilted orbit that keeps solar eclipses rare, as well.

Depending on what portion of the Earth's shadow the moon passes through determines the type of lunar eclipse we experience. If the moon passes through the penumbral (partial) region of the shadow, we get a penumbral lunar eclipse. Sometimes, the effects of the darkening of the full moon during a penumbral eclipse are so slight that you might not notice the eclipse. If part of the moon, but not all, passes through the umbral (inner) shadow, you get a partial lunar eclipse. And, finally, when the entire moon passes into the umbral shadow, we witness a total lunar eclipse.

And, opposite from the solar eclipse that happens only during the new moon phase, the lunar eclipse only happens on full moon nights.

The December 19, 2019 eclipse. FUJIFILM X-T2 and Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm-equiv.); f/13; 1/2-sec; ISO 6400. Here you can see the sunlight is still striking a sliver of the moon's surface.

The December 19, 2019 eclipse. FUJIFILM X-T2 and Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm-equiv.); f/13, 1/2-sec; ISO 6400. Here you can see the sunlight is still striking a sliver of the moon's surface.

Why is the total lunar eclipse moon a red moon?

During totality, the monochromatic moon will appear red because our own atmosphere acts like a colored photographic filter by bending red sunlight into the Earth's shadow and filtering out blue light. This is called Rayleigh scattering and is the same phenomenon that causes the deep red sunrises and sunsets that get all the Instagram likes. Also—fun fact—the next time a young someone asks you, "Why is the sky blue?" you can answer: Rayleigh scattering.

The February 20, 2008 eclipse. The moon is about to slip fully into the Earth's umbral shadow here, but the surface shows a bit of Earthshine-like illumination. Nikon D200, Reflex-NIKKOR 500mm f/8 N lens + TC-201 teleconverter (1500mm 35mm-equiv.).

The February 20, 2008 eclipse. The moon is about to slip fully into the Earth's umbral shadow here, but the surface shows a bit of Earthshine-like illumination. Nikon D200, Reflex-NIKKOR 500mm f/8 N lens + TC-201 teleconverter (1500mm 35mm equiv.).

How bright is a lunar eclipse?

Not all lunar eclipses are created equal. Due to atmospherics (humidity, clouds, dust, volcanic ash, pollution, etc.) and the moon's relative size and position within the Earth's shadow during the eclipse, you can get an eclipse that varies in its red hue and you can also witness blue banding at the edge of the eclipse. French astronomer André-Louis Danjon created the Danjon Scale, with five values total lunar eclipse of brightness:

  • L=0 — Darkest. Moon nearly invisible.

  • L=1 — Dark red/brown eclipse. Lunar details are difficult to make out.

  • L=2 — Orange/brown color with darker center. Possible bluish color at shadow's edge.

  • L=3 — Bright red/orange moon. Darker center and very bright border.

  • L=4 — Brightest. A very bright orange eclipse.

LUNAR ECLIPSE EXPOSURE SETTING GUIDELINES

(Extrapolated from Mr. Fred Espenak’s Lunar Eclipse Exposure Guide)

ISO200

Aperture (f/stop)

 

f/2.8

f/4

f/5.6

f/8

f/11

Shutter Speed

Full Moon

1/8000

1/4000

1/2000

1/1000

1/500

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse

1/4000

1/2000

1/1000

1/500

1/250

 

 

 

 

 

 

Partial Lunar Eclipse

 

 

 

 

 

Magnitude 0.00

1/4000

1/2000

1/1000

1/500

1/250

Magnitude 0.30

1/2000

1/1000

1/500

1/250

1/125

Magnitude 0.60

1/1000

1/500

1/250

1/125

1/60

Magnitude 0.80

1/500

1/250

1/125

1/60

1/30

Magnitude 0.90

1/250

1/125

1/60

1/30

1/15

Magnitude 0.95

1/125

1/60

1/30

1/15

1/8

 

Total Lunar Eclipse

(Danjon Scale Value)

 

 

 

 

 

L=4

¼ sec

½ sec

1 sec

2 sec

4 sec

L=3

1 sec

2 sec

4 sec

8 sec

15 sec

L=2

4 sec

8 sec

15 sec

30 sec

1 min

L=1

15 sec

30 sec

1 min

2 min

4 min

L=0

1 min

2 min

4 min

8 min

15 min

 

Winter solstice of December 21, 2010 eclipse. Nikon D300 and a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm-equiv.); f/13; 1/180-sec; ISO 200.

Winter solstice of December 21, 2010 eclipse. Nikon D300 and a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm equiv.); f/13, 1/180-sec; ISO 200.

Why is lunar eclipse photography more difficult than "standard" lunar photography?

In the first paragraph above, I mentioned that photographing the moon is much more difficult when compared to the exercise of lunar eclipse photography. Why is this the case? Simply, it is the lack of light. Look toward the bottom of the exposure chart above. During a dark total eclipse, your shutter speed for an image might be a minute or more—a recipe for a blurry disaster of a darkened moon.

Once the moon starts to enter the Earth's shadow, it reflects less sunlight to the point where, to get a decent exposure, you must open your aperture all the way, cranking up your ISO, and slowing your shutter speeds. The open aperture leads to a lack of sharpness, the high ISO gives you digital noise, and the slower shutter speeds, with the Earth spinning below and the moon moving at approximately 2,290 miles per hour in the sky above, creates motion blur in your image.

The January 21, 2019, eclipse. FUJIFILM X-T2 and a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm equiv.); f/13; 1/2-sec; ISO 6400.

The January 21, 2019, eclipse. FUJIFILM X-T2 and a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm equiv.); f/13, 1/2-sec; ISO 6400.

So, how do we combat these enemies of good lunar photography?

During the darkest portions of the eclipse, you will want to keep your shutter speeds sufficient to avoid motion blur.

The root of the challenge is that the Earth is spinning at a high speed and the moon itself is going nearly three times the speed of sound (approximately 2,290 miles per hour) as it orbits our planet. Although the distance between us and the moon is great, so is the relative speed of the satellite. I have found that 1/125 of a second is the floor when taking telephoto lunar shots. Anything slower, and you run the risk of getting (sometimes subtle) motion blur. As your shutter speed starts to slow below 1/125 sec, you can then start increasing your aperture opening and/or bumping up your ISO.

It is important to know that there is always a limit to how wide open your aperture can get and how high your ISO can go—limits that the dark moon cares nothing about, so don’t get frustrated if you run into these man-made limitations.

Of course, there are downsides to wide-open apertures and high digital ISO settings. A wide-open aperture can give you a lack of optical sharpness, but a slightly softer moon is better than a motion-blurred one!

In general, the higher the ISO, the more digital noise you get in the image. Newer cameras have much better high-ISO noise performance than older digital cameras. Know your camera's tolerable high-ISO limits and try not to go past those settings. Also, temperature matters. The warmer the ambient temperature, the more digital noise can build up. Winter lunar eclipses will be better than summer ones when it comes to digital noise—but maybe not the comfort of the spectators.

Photographers have one more tool to avoid the dreaded motion blur during a lunar eclipse—an astro tracking mount. These electronic devices turn your camera at the same speed as the earth’s rotation and moon’s transit speed to help you avoid blur with long shutter speeds. I recommend trackers like the iOptron SkyGuider Pro EQ, iOptron SkyTracker Pro, Vixen Optics Polarie Star Tracker, or the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini EQ camera tracking mount head.

January 21, 2019 eclipse. FUJIFILM X-T2 and a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm equiv.); f/13;1/250-sec; ISO 200.

January 21, 2019 eclipse. FUJIFILM X-T2 and a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm equiv.); f/13,1/250-sec; ISO 200.

4 Basic Varieties of Lunar Eclipse Photography and Tips

There are four basic types of lunar photography:

  1. Telephoto—A close-up view of the lunar eclipse where the eclipsed moon dominates the frame.

  2. Wide-Angle—A wide view of the night sky that may or may not include terrestrial scenery in the frame.

  3. Star Trail—A wide view of the night sky with a long exposure that allows the stars to trail in the frame.

  4. Multiple Exposures—Capturing different phases of the eclipse to later combine into a single image.

Moon bow! Winter solstice December 21, 2010 eclipse. Nikon D300 and a forgotten manual focus NIKKOR AIS lens. 20 sec; ISO 200.

Moon bow! Winter solstice December 21, 2010 eclipse. Nikon D300 and a forgotten manual focus NIKKOR AIS lens. 20 sec, ISO 200.

General Tips

  1. Tripods are required. A good tripod is mandatory.

  2. Use mirror lockup on an SLR or DSLR.

  3. Use a wired or wireless cable release, threaded release, or trigger the shutter with your smart device.

  4. Bring fully charged batteries. A lunar eclipse takes hours to progress and the cold(er) temps of the nighttime air drain batteries fast. Bring extra batteries and keep them warm.

  5. If you are going to be shooting a lot (not required for an eclipse), make sure you have enough memory cards. Lunar eclipses always happen at night, when B&H Photo is closed.

  6. Most autofocus systems will have no issues locking onto the full moon. However, once that moon goes dark, the focus might lose its lock. Before that happens, switch over to manual focus and don't touch that focus ring!

  7. Be patient. Unlike the relatively short duration of a total solar eclipse that creates a frantic minute or two of photographic craziness, the lunar eclipse is a much slower event, giving the photographer time to experiment with settings to get the best result.

  8. Bracket your exposures. If you're shooting digitally, each photo is free. Bracket, bracket, and bracket some more. Try different apertures, ISO settings, and shutter speeds to maximize your results. Later, take notes on what works best for you, so you won't need to do as much experimenting the next time.

Winter solstice, December 21, 2010 eclipse. Nikon D300 and a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm equiv.); f/13; 1/250-sec; ISO 200.

Winter solstice, December 21, 2010 eclipse. Nikon D300 and a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm equiv.); f/13, 1/250-sec; ISO 200.

Tips for Telephoto or Telescopes

  1. Choose your focal length. It goes without saying, but the longer the focal length, the larger the moon will be in the frame. And, the longer the focal length, the more you need to be concerned with camera shake and moniton blur. Prevent this with a sturdy tripod and remote release.

135mm

135mm
300mm

300mm
750mm

750mm
1500mm

1500mm
  1. As you can see from the exposure chart above, on the darkest eclipses, the shutter speeds drop to very long exposures and the moon is going to start getting motion blur. This is where a tracking mount like I mentioned above might make all the difference.

  2. Speaking of exposures, use your camera's spot meter and then meter on the lunar surface. There is no need to make the camera try to balance an exposure between the black of space and the "relatively" bright moon.

  3. Bracketing is most critical here, especially during the partial phases of the eclipse. The start of the lunar eclipse resembles a waning or waxing moon, but once the shadow starts to close over the entire moon, you are left with a very (relatively) bright sunlit section of the moon and what looks almost like "Earthshine" over the rest of the moon. So, be ready to adjust exposure and metering to get the results you seek.

Spot meter. January 21, 2019 eclipse. FUJIFILM X-T2 and a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm equiv.); f/13;1/125-sec; ISO 800.

Spot meter. January 21, 2019 eclipse. FUJIFILM X-T2 and a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm equiv.); f/13, 1/125-sec; ISO 800.

Tips for Wide-Angle Shooting

  1. Planning required. Unlike just pointing a telephoto lens at the moon, if you want to shoot a wide-angle photo of the lunar eclipse with an interesting foreground, you will need to do some pre-planning to ensure the eclipsed moon is in the frame when you want to capture the image.

  2. Each day/night, the moon is about 50 minutes late to the position it was near the previous night, so, if the eclipse starts on Saturday at 0000 hrs, check the sky at 2310 hrs the night before to see an approximate location of where the moon will be in the sky the next night.

  3. If it is cloudy the night (or nights) before, use a celestial observing app or a photo planning app to do your armchair calculations.

  4. When choosing a foreground, make sure it adds something to the image as far as aesthetics and/or by serving to provide location context.

Winter solstice, December 21, 2010 eclipse. Nikon D300 and another forgotten Nikon AIS manual focus lens. 8 minute exposure at ISO 200.

Winter solstice, December 21, 2010 eclipse. Nikon D300 and another forgotten Nikon AIS manual focus lens. 8-minute exposure at ISO 200.

Tips for Lunar Eclipse Star Trails

  1. Planning is required here as well—more than the wide-angle planning. Why? Because you are going to have both the stars and the moon moving through the frame. You wouldn't want the Earth to spin the moon off the edge of your image, so do some planning to ensure this will not happen by giving the moon room inside the frame.

  2. Plan the start and end points of your exposure to capture the period of the eclipse that you wish to get on the single frame. Also, consider the length of star trails you want to see. Generally, shorter trails aren't as cool as longer ones!

Winter solstice, December 21, 2010 eclipse. Nikon D300 and a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm equiv.); f/13; 1/4-sec; ISO 800.

Winter solstice, December 21, 2010 eclipse. Nikon D300 and a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm equiv.); f/13, 1/4-sec; ISO 800.

Tips for Multiple Exposures/Composite Images

  1. Decide if your image is going to contain a foreground or just be a sequence of moon photos. If you have a foreground planned, refer to the tips for the Wide-Angle and Star Trail images. If you are just stitching together shots of the moon, use the telephoto tips.

  2. Use the total duration of the lunar eclipse to figure out the interval of your images or shoot at a set interval (1, 2, 6, etc. minutes between shots) and then choose the number of moons and interval after the event. The latter option is your best for partly cloudy skies that may block the eclipse at the exact moment of one of your pre-planned interval shots.

  3. If you do shoot at a relatively short interval, you will have the option of creating a time-lapse sequence after the show.

  4. Be ready to adjust exposure throughout the event. For consistency, you may want to let the darker moon get darker in the frame so that your mosaic of moons shows a visually accurate portrayal of the event.

January 21, 2019 eclipse. FUJIFILM X-T2 and a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm equiv.); f/13;1 sec; ISO 6400.

January 21, 2019 eclipse. FUJIFILM X-T2 and a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm equiv.); f/13, 1 sec; ISO 6400.

What questions or tips do you have for lunar eclipse photography? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

Here is my $0.02 on sharpness of solar, astronomical, and lunar images:

The sun is a mean distance of approximately 93 million miles away and the moon is a mean distance of 238,855 miles away. Neither the moon’s cratered surface nor the sun’s explosive surface make them perfectly smooth spheres.

When I pixel-split my solar images, be it the ones captured with a sharp Nikon 300mm f/4, a sharp Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope, or any other optic, regardless of whether I am using a glass or metal-type solar filter, the sun is only, at its best, "kind of" sharp.

The same applies to images of the moon. I get sharp images, but never as sharp as I really, really want to get.

This got me thinking.

When you photograph something outside of our atmosphere, there is a fair amount of air between you and the subject. The thickness of Earth’s atmosphere is approximately 300 miles, with most of the dense air in the lower altitudes (obviously). Light is transmitted from the sun (or stars) or reflected from the moon (and planets) and it travels through the vacuum of space until it reaches earth. Once it arrives in the atmosphere, all your sharpness bets are off.

If you took a photo of a building, mountain, or person miles and miles away, especially on a hazy day, you probably wouldn't really expect a super-sharp image, right? Now, think about an image of something captured on the far side of dozens of miles of air. Sharp? Probably not.

So, if you are wondering what lens or filter is the sharpest to photograph distant things, or if you are wondering why your lunar craters or sunspots are not tack-sharp, even though you spent a ton of money on a super-sharp lens, just be grateful that earth has a protective shield around it that gives us air to breath and protects us from the harshness of outer space. And, also remember that there is a reason they try to put telescopes in dry places at high altitudes—or in orbit above the atmosphere!

The October 27, 2004 lunar eclipse, photographed with a Nikon D1x and a Nikon Reflex-NIKKOR 500mm f/8 N lens and Nikon TC-201 teleconverter. Image softness courtesy of the lens, teleconverter. The 1/205 shutter speed is plenty fast for what is needed for a sharp lunar photograph at that focal length, but the mirror lens, teleconverter, and maybe my focus kept the image from being super sharp.

January 21, 2019 eclipse. FUJIFILM X-T2 and a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope (1500mm 35mm equiv.); f/13, 1/1000-sec; ISO 200.

50 Comments

I read this article to get ready, but I got nothing. Sunday night, we were all set for an 8PM moonrise–into–eclipse spectacle with an 8:15 sunset. But instead we had wind and clouds. I watched TV and contemplated moving to New Mexico.
Honestly, I need to find a quiet, clear, non-eclipse night to test my lens at infinity. I'm not sure it's up to snuff. The lens + hood is longer than my forearm, and mounted on my tripod it struggles to deliver a sharp shot of the city skyline, some 1.5 miles away. There are too many variables: Shake-Reduction on/off? Lens tripod mount or camera tripod mount? Remote control or 2second timer? ƒ/4 for light gathering or ƒ/8 for sharpness? Hood extended to block flare or hood retracted to avoid wind? I can't methodically solve all of that while an eclipse is happening. But my absurd 300mm ƒ/4 Takumar is hardly a "walking around" lens, so I'm unfamiliar with it.
I live in San Francisco: We have fog, clouds, mist, wind—and that's on a nice day!

clarification: by "I got nothing" I mean that "I got no photos of the recent eclipse." I got a great deal of info from Todd's article, but all the know-how in the world can't hold up against San Francisco weather.

Hey Artie,

Having lived in the Bay Area for a short time, I know what you are talking about. We were socked in in Rhode Island as well. The day's forecast was for an overcast afternoon followed by fog. When the day was crystal clear I started hoping the forecast was wrong and, as soon as I plugged in my astro tracker to give it a full charge, the fog rolled in! #jinx!

Last night was clear, but 48 hours too late for this event. Maybe next time!

I am glad you liked the article!

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

Question: I have a Canon, EOS 7D, Canon 100-400 mm lens, I shot the Eclipse with the following settings: M, AP F:11, ISO 200, Shutter speed 1/200th, AF:off, on Tripod.  The results were that all of the beginning (partial advancing to full) came out beautifully.  BUT none of the red blood moon shots came out.  Why?  Was I supposed to change a setting at the time the moon turned red?  If yes, what should I have done please?  Thank you

Hi Brian,

That is a bummer! Sorry the blood moon shots didn't show up.

Without knowing why the photos didn't come out, and based on the settings you described, the issue was that you needed to open your aperture and/or boost you ISO for the darker exposures. The eclipsed moon is very dark and at f/11 and ISO 200, the exposure chart above shows you needed a shutter speed north of 60 seconds.

The biggest challenge in lunar eclipse photography is keeping the shutter speed fast enough to freeze the movement while letting in enough light to the camera to create a decent image—by opening your aperture—and by increasing ISO to boost the signal.

There is a bright side, Brian—you actually got to see a beautiful eclipse last night with your own eyes! All I got to see was fog. :(

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have more questions!

Best,

Todd

Is there a deck or terrace you could recommend in NYC for the eclipse tonight?

Hey Monica,

Sorry to not be able to get to this question until the day after.

I don't have a great location. My last apartment in Brooklyn had an awesome rooftop where I saw the Jan 2019 show, but I no longer live there.

Did you find a good spot?

Best,

Todd

I have been blessed/lucky captured the Oct. 2014 blue hour setting moon then the full Jan 2019 (20 deg cold) in Ms.. I did the whole start to finish inside a hunting blind with a buddy heater. I would suggest just using 600m or less if not on a tracker, a lot of adjusting in 5+ hours. You get stars also. One thing of note while the moon is "RED" and all is dark have a wide lens like a 35 or 50 on another camera using a remote control set at 5 min each shot, if wide enough you will get the milky way to the left and a great foreground, use Stellarium to see where, Yes will be small but if you use ISO/SS 125 and f/8 and a ISO like doing a bright MW like 6400 it looks awesome all sharp and in focus with detail not looking red and a dot like Mars. It will be dark like a New Moon Milky Way night but brighter than you think with stars and city glow, thank goodness for new white led lights.

Also it will be lower in the sky but still high enough where you maybe sitting on the ground if the tripod is not high enough and if you do not have articulating viewer you maybe on your back looking almost straight up, like high noon but high midnight!!!

Remember also from start to finish 5+ hours and the full eclipse will be an hour and half from 11:29 pm to 12:53 so time to play with settings also remember some full frame cameras have crop mode same mm but cropped at 1.5x to get an extended mm view getting a closer image that can be worked with.

In the end notice the wobble or the belly button crater going to another side, that is how you will tell a fake, you put a lot of planning, time in the cold or warm fighting bugs.

Pre planning dry clothes with fabric softener, Skin So Soft oil in a water bottle spray on clothes. This will be May so if in a grassy area put Vicks on yours legs (all the way up) and socks pants legs, red bugs are painful for months (if you get red bugs use Vicks daily). It is night and temps even in May down to 50's to 40's a time for wearing a mask and headgear as well as layers. If you have one a lens warmer. If using a long telephoto you maybe able to sit in your car. This is where planning for the not thought of, like coffee or hot tea and some happy non greasy snacks!!! If you have ever been out for an all night sunset to sunrise June/July Milky Way and morning sunrise (buggy time) you will know all about.

Remember you do not need a wide open 1.4/1.8 or 2.8 lens you will be at f/8 mostly and playing with ISO up and down and please use NR it will save time in post and lucky today with Noise AI programs that also sharpen and you are not so much in a hurry.

Just have fun!!

Hey Edwin,

Great tips there! Thank you for sharing!

Do you have any solutions for my less-than-ideal forecast of overcast and fog? :)

Thank you for reading!

Best,

Todd

 

Hi Todd,

I have a question on the answer you gave to Rob B below. You recommended to use the solar tracking mode on the 2i mount instead of lunar, why is this? Thanks for the article!

Hi Wendall,

Great question!

I can see why you were confused!

I assumed, maybe incorrectly, based on the date that Rob dropped the comment, that he was referring to an upcoming solar eclipse. That was a bold assumption on my part as he was commenting on a LUNAR eclipse article. Ugh.

Either I screwed him up and he is so mad he didn't reply, or he just banged his head into his computer marveling at my lack of intelligence.

Yikes.

Anyway...

LUNAR tracking for LUNAR eclipses. Solar tracking for solar. Although, if you had a hyper accurate tracker and started tracking the moon a few days before a solar eclipse, it would make for a cool video/time-lapse to track a new moon as it invisibly streaks across the sky to intercept the sun!

Sorry to both you and Rob for any confusion I caused!

Thank you for reading!

Best,

Todd

Thanks for the explanation, I see what you were saying now. ;)  I too could use a cure for getting rid of clouds if anybody has one. I think I will attempt to do a Time Lapse of the eclipse on Sunday, but I'm not sure what the results will be as I did my first time lapse last night.

Wishing Everybody clear skies!

Hey Wendall,

You are welcome! I got fogged in here. Did you have any luck?

Best,

Todd

For this Sunday's lunar eclipse would I be better off gear wise using a 5DsR or T6i with telephoto (400mm)?  I noticed you mentioned less ISO noise from fewer megapixels and as well as the effective 1.6 crop factor of 640mm with a 400mm lens would be a plus.  Also, should I be turning up the Low Light Noise Reduction option?  I tend to shy away from digital in-camera filtering.  

Excellent article too! Thanks for all that good info!

 

Hey Mark,

For Sunday's lunar eclipse the first thing you need to do is improve my local forecast! :)

5DsR vs. T6i...

Here is a bold suggestion: Use both. Lunar eclipses aren't fast-and-furious like a short solar eclipse, so you can swap cameras and lenses and experiment a bit.

The 5DsR probably has better low-noise performance than the T6i, but the telephoto has advantages as well. The resolution of the 5DsR might trump the telephoto gains of the APS-C camera as well.

If I were you, I would primarily shoot the 5DsR and swap the the T6i on occasion to see what you get.

Thanks for the kind words on the article and the cloud-free thoughts for Sunday night! And, thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

I like your thought process!  Let's hope the weather is good and thanks to Edwin for the situational advice as well.  we'll see what we can see...

Fingers crossed! Looks like overcast-to-fog here. :(

I shot the lunar eclipse back in January 2019 with the Nikon D500. I remember trying with the Sigma 150mm-600mm lens and having problems keeping the tripod steady (it was very windy). I may have switched to the 300mm PF lens (much smaller) for better stability on the tripod. Ultimately I got some good results but it took a while. As you noted in the article, you do have time to experiment during a lunar eclipse.  This time around, I will using a mirrorless camera and lighter lens, and hope for less wind. 

 

Hi Richard,

Not only was it windy when I shot the eclipse in 2019, but it was colder than a witches'...toes.

I am not sure what tripod you are employing, but you can add stability by hanging weight from the center column (if it has a hook) to help on windy days.

Good luck on Sunday!

Best,

Todd

PS. We do not allow external links, but feel free to paste images here, if you would like to share! Great shots, by the way!

I have one of those star trackers (Star Adventurer 2i Pro Pack).    Any suggestions on what camera settings can be used to maximize quality of the images captured?   this coming eclipse will be my first chance to test it out!!!

Hi Rob,

Great question!

First, the setting you will use is the solar tracking speed (not lunar and not star). Second, the challenge is aligning the tracker on Polaris—problematic during daylight hours.

Depending on where you are setting your gear up, you can align with Polaris one or two nights prior to the eclipse and then leave your gear outside waiting for the show. If you cannot setup beforehand you'll want to manually align your mount as close as you can to true north (not magnetic north) using an electronic compass (verify that it is in true north mode) or a magnetic compass (plus a correction for magnetic variation).

In my experience, the tracking wasn't super precise, so I had to "reset" my aim a couple of times during the eclipse to keep the sun in the center of the frame—but it was certainly better than not having a tracking mount at all!

Please let me know if you have more questions.

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

Thanks for sharing! I'm going to use these tips for the upcoming lunar eclipse

You are welcome, Jon! Wish I could see this one!

Good luck and let us know how the photos turn out!

Best,

Todd

Hi Todd

I was able to get some excellent pics of the past lunar eclipse by using a Nikon D7100 with a Nikon 300mm f/4, a 1.7 Teleconverter on a tripod.  This was my first time doing a lunar eclipse.

Hi Ken,

I hope my article helped a bit! How was the shoot and the images?

At the last minute, I tried to get a photo of this week’s lunar eclipse. Just as the eclipse started I clicked off a few shots with a full frame camera and a (too short) 200mm lens. First image was way over exposed, but it showed up a bluish orb to the left side of the moon (about 5 moon-widths away).  This "moon shape" was in half shadow.   As the eclipse progressed, the moon moved higher in respect to the orb.  I thought this might be a reflection or lens artifact, but in that case it should have moved along with the position of the moon (I did not shift the lens between the shots). During a shot of the 90% eclipse it is still there but hardly visible in my exposure. 

What is this???  (I don't see how to attach images to this post.)

Hi larry,

I am sorry we do not have a method here to post photos. If you'd like, please email me at toddv at bhphoto dot com and I can take a look.

In the absence of photos, my theory is that you had some flare/ghosting caused by your lens and/or filter due to an off-axis moon. But, it sounds like the "flare" was stationary regardless of the moon's position in the frame. Correct? That might destroy my theory...

May I ask what camera and lens you were using?

Thanks!

Hello. I like to keep ISO as low as possible but wondering how high you would recommend I go on a D850 for full lunar eclipse? Will be using a 300mm PF sometimes with a 2x. Thanks! Looks like cold weather and clear skies here in Florida!

Oh, and I will be using SkyGuider Pro. 

Hey John,

Sorry I didn't get to this before last night...I wasn't at work yesterday.

I hope you got some great shots. I personally was up to ISO6400 on my Fujifilm X-T2. I would have preferred to keep it lower, but I could not precisely align my mount (someone put a giant building in front of the north star!) so I was tracking, but not as well as I would have liked.

Cold weather in FL? It was single-digits in New York last night! I wrapped hand warmers around my SkyGuider!

How did the photos turn out?

Hi Todd, we had a "comment conversation" a year ago when I traveled to Joshua Tree to photograph the January 2018 eclipse, and this time I figured I'd go one step further, so I ordered the iOptron Skyguider from B&H and spent days trying to work with it, but it is just too difficult for me to set up, and there are too many manual obstacles to overcome (I am mechanically challenged). Plus then working in the dark with unfamiliar equipment, heavy uncooperative 400mm lens on my D810, polar alignment fiasco, glasses on, glasses off. Just couldn't do it so it's going back to B&H. So disappointed. Need a fully automated, software driven setup that arrives in one piece!! Let me know when someone makes one :)

Hi Vanessa,

I am so sorry that you got frustrated with the iOptron. I will say that their manual is well-written, but a bit difficult to follow, even for this nerd. If it isn't already on its way back, let me know if I can help you! Email me through my website, if you would like. [trvphoto dot com]

As an aside, I wonder if your D810 and 400mm lens would have been too heavy for the unit anyway.

Unfortunately, no one has developed a super-automated celestial tracking system for civilian use. Believe it or not, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird spy plane used to have a celestial navigation system on board (similar to that used by ICBMs) that would track 6 stars in broad daylight and give the aircraft's position to GPS-level accuracy. Unfortunately, no one has taken that system, made it inexpensive, and then attached it to some sort of camera tracking mount!

Regardless, stay tuned to B&H as, if such a system arrives, we will be all about reporting on it!

Hi Todd, congratulations, this is simply the best article on photographing lunar eclipses! So, according to your table and the 1/125-second limit exposure, the only way to get sharp images of total and near-total phases of the eclipse is to stack many 1/125-second frames? Also, have you ever tried "lucky imaging", using video or live view recording?

Hey Andre,

Thank you for the kind words! I certainly appreciate it!

To answer your question, stacking might be a good way to defeat the motion blur. The other way would be to use an equatorial tracking mount. Of course, to keep things at 1/125th and faster, you could also crank up the ISO and open your aperture all the way (if it is not opened to its maximum).

I have never tried "lucky imaging" or video or live view recording. What are your thoughts?

Thanks again!

Hi, We had a lunar eclipse last night in Australia and whilst I wasn't intending to be awake at 4am, I was, so got busy with my Nikon D20 and 200mm telephoto. The eclipse took about 1 hr from the first crescent to totality and I got some great shots every few minutes. In the first half hour I was getting a double image, the moon + a negative blue image of what appeared to be the earth. The camera was braced on a fence post, so reasonably stable but there may have been some movement. It crossed my mind it would be better to unscrew the UV filter from the lens and immediately the double image disappeared. Can anyone explain this phenomenon?

Hey Simon,

What you were experiencing was simply "lens" flare caused by the filter. Even with exotic coatings, filters and lenses can flare, especially when pointed at bright objects surrounded by the blackness of space. Even without a filter, this can happen if the bright object is off-axis with the lens. I experienced this during the total solar eclipse last year and even when shooting Mars last weekend.

With good glass, you are unlikely to notice this flare during day-time shots, but night really tests the optics of your setup. Good call on removing the filter! Just know that filter removal doesn't always work...depending on the lens and subject/scene.

Thanks for coming to B&H to solve the mystery! If anyone else has a hypothesis and solution, I would love to hear them.

I am curious of what you think of this approach to a total lunar eclipse timelapse.

I have done astronomical timelapse photography for years. In a shooting I can take hundreds of individual exposures and create a video in Light Room. I have learned that if the subject changes in brightness the only setting on the camera that can be changed between exposures and not create flickering is the shutter speed. I have done this successfully a number of times but the jump from one shutter speed to next can become noticeable in the video. I use a small but accurate equatorial mount drive to keep the moon centered. My approach for this lunar eclipse is to use a variable neutral density filter. I will set up the Fstop / ISO and shutter speed to be what it needs to be when the moon is fully eclipsed with the filter fully open. Then at the start of the shoot when the moon is full I will stop down the filter to an appropriate level. Then as the moon slides into the umbra I will gradually open the filter through the partial phase until totality when the filter will then be fully open, leaving all camera settings alone, then reverse the process. For something this long I will probably set my intervalometer to about 10 seconds between exposures, giving me ample time to make the filter adjustments.

Hey William,

Interesting idea.

I am trying to visualize what this might look like. I guess that your goal with the VND filter is to keep the brightness of the moon relatively unchanged throughout the progression of the eclipse. My concern (if that is the right word) is that the brightness of the moon changes throughout the process, and by evening your exposures, it might kind of defeat the purpose of showing the time-lapse.

Another thought...during totality, the moon is super dark...you may not want to have a VND filter on board, even if it is dialed back. You might be cranking your ISO to unacceptable levels even with the tracking mount.

It might be worth a try. Keep in mind that lunar eclipses are not super rare, so if you don't pull this one off, you will likely have another opportunity in the future....less than 2 years in the future...on 20/21 Jan 2019. :)

I'm happy to keep talking this plan out...let me know!

Hi Todd,

Thanks for great article.  I live on the east coast but am traveling to Joshua Tree CA to photograph the January 31st eclipse.  My equipment includes a Nikon D810 and D750 with Nikon 500mm F4E lens for telephoto close ups and either Nikon 24-120 F4 or Sigma 12-24mm for wide angle shots. I also have TC-14E II and a TC-17E II converters. I have cable releases and will use mirror lockup etc. and I have a great tripod/ballhead, but I am still worried about getting sharp images with the 500mm during totality.  With this equipment in mind, could you recommend which camera for totality (D750 or D810 for best low noise with higher ISO) and aperture/ISO/shutter speed settings for best results.  Also, would you use the converters or go with the wider aperture for sharpness and shorter shutter speed, and just digitally enlarge the moon?  Would really appreciate your input.

Hey Vanessa,

I am glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for the compliment!

Wow! You are fully equipped!

As far as the D810 vs D750....my guess is that the D750 might be slightly better with noise...a bit newer and less megapixels. I would use that for totality. Also, you don't need a lot of resolution during totality. Remember, you are photographing an object in shadow a couple of hundred thousand miles away.

Regarding teleconverters, I have never been a big fan. Maybe I just never had good copies, but I always regretted the loss of sharpness when using teleconverters. If yours are super-sharp, then go for it. Remember that, even in the clear airs (hopefully) of Joshua Tree, you are going to be battling atmospheric turbulence.

And, as you alluded to, you are going to be getting longer shutter speeds with the teleconverters...not always a recipe for good shots of the lunar eclipse. I might be tempted to skip them, keep your shutter speeds and sharpness up, and crop in post production if you want to "get closer." 

Lastly, unlike a 90-second solar eclipse, you will have a lot of time to mix things up and experiment during a lunar eclipse, so come up with a plan and shoot at different settings and with/without the teleconverters. You could actually swap bodies and lenses, too. Need an assistant? :)

Good luck! Let us know how it turns out!

I ended up using the D810 with the 500mm Nikon F4 no converters to save light.    Would I have preferred to use a D5?  Of course yes but I think we got the job done.  I tried to upload a composite that I put together, but I guess this page doesn't permit.  Looking forward to January 2019!!

Hey Vanessa! I'd love to see the results. Are you posting them anywhere on the web? You can email me through my personal website or find me on social media with a quick Google search!

Sorry for the delay...was on vacation last week!

Hi Todd,

Thanks for the information and tips.

In 2012, I had a "moon project" where I photographed the full moon rising and setting. I didn't have a cable release or a wireless release for my Canon A-1, so I used the self-timer to trigger the shutter; I now have a cable release and a wireless release for the motor drive. I did some research and found the "Sunny 16" rule was recommended for full moon photography. As the months progressed, I learned of the "Loony 11" rule; but I was already locked into using the Sunny 16 rule for consistency. I used an 80-205mm f4.5 lens at 200mm and a 400mm f6.3 lens. Since 2012 was the year that I shot B&W, I used the B&W contrast filters, yellow, orange, and red, on my 80-205; I adjusted the f/stop to compensate for the filter factor. I used ISO 100 and 400 B&W film for the series. I bracketed -1, 0, and +1 for each 200mm/filter combo and the 400mm for a total of 12 photos per rise and fall. Rain totally skunked me once where I couldn't photograph the moon, so I had to delay the shoot to the next night.

During the low humidity months of winter and the high humidity months of summer, I would leave the camera and lenses in my car to get them acclimated to shooting outdoors.

I recall photographing a lunar eclipse back in the 80's, but I'd have to go through boxes of film to find the eclipse.

Hey Ralph,

Always welcome! Thanks for reading and sharing your Loony 11 experience! Its time to update the metadata with keywords on those images from the 80's! :)

Yea, I have decades of film to scan to convert to digital. I tagged Paula in the #BHWishList contest with a Plustek scanner. She didn't buy me the scanner and I didn't win the B&H contest. But I need a workhorse of a scanner to convert the film that I shot into digital. When I started photographing, it was Intel 8080 personal computers and CP/M.

Sorry you didn't win the contest, Ralph! Bummer!

Thanks for the tips, but you are using the term "earthshine" incorrectly.  Earthshine is a phenomenon whereby sunlight is reflected from the earth and illuminates the moon at times near new moon phases.

Hi Frank,

You are 100% correct and I was 100% incorrect. I am running a diagnostic on my brain immediately and will have the text changed to remove the error. Thanks for checking on my alternative facts!