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A Composite Photo of the Longest Partial Lunar Eclipse of the Century

A Composite Photo of the Longest Partial Lunar Eclipse of the Century

A Composite Photo of the Longest Partial Lunar Eclipse of the Century 1

The longest partial lunar eclipse in 580 years occurred this week, and photographers around the world did their best to capture the once-in-a-lifetime event on camera. Photographer Andrew McCarthy went the extra mile by staying up until 4am and capturing thousands of photos to create an incredible composite of the eclipse.

“I planned this shot in May during the total lunar eclipse we had back then,” McCarthy tells PetaPixel. “Unfortunately, I was geographically limited so couldn’t see the eclipse in its entirety.

“For this image, due to the time of the eclipse starting and its position in the sky, I was able to capture the entire sequence from start to finish. That enabled me to get a detailed shot during every stage of the eclipse.”

Read also: How to Photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse

McCarthy prepared to capture the eclipse by setting up three cameras with three telescopes in his backyard in Florence, Arizona.

“At first I had a vision that each image would overlap just enough to create a round shadow showing the circular shape of Earth’s shadow,” the photographer says. “However, that has been done many times before and I wanted to try something unique.

“By positioning each image in these positions, I felt it gave the composition a greater sense of depth, and really helped illustrate what we are looking at, which is a shadowed sphere.”

After capturing a huge number of photos over the course of the eclipse, McCarthy combined thousands from various phases of the eclipse each into a high-definition photo of the Moon. The photos that went into each phase were a combination of images captured with the three different telescopes and using different exposure settings on the cameras (to capture as much detail as possible on both the shadowed and illuminated sides).

The final composite photo, titled An Evening in the Shadows, features 7 of the highly-detailed moon phases and has a massive full-size resolution of 356-megapixel.

Here are behind-the-scenes videos McCarthy captured throughout the event showing his setup and process:


The eclipse on November 19th was the longest partial lunar eclipse since the year 1440 and it will hold the crown until the year 2669.

If you’re interested in buying a print of McCarthy’s composite photo, you can do so over on McCarthy’s website. You can also follow along with his photography and receive great perks by signing up to be a patron through Patreon.

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This 2021 Solar Eclipse Timelapse Was Made from 50,000 Photos

This 2021 Solar Eclipse Timelapse Was Made from 50,000 Photos

In the morning hours of June 10th, a “ring of fire” solar eclipse greeted sky observers in the northeast United States, northern Canada, Europe, northern Asia, Russia and Greenland. While most photographers captured single photos of the eclipse, Göran Strand decided to show the entirety of the rare eclipse from his backyard in Östersund, Sweden.

Using 50,000 still images that equaled over 250 gigabytes of data, Strand was able to show the two and a half hour eclipse in just 10 seconds. While most people will only see photos of the peak “ring of fire,” Strand’s resulting timelapse is an incredibly smooth depiction of how the moon moved in front of the sun.

This kind of ring-shaped event occurs when the moon is close to its farthest point from Earth during an eclipse, making the moon appear smaller than the sun in the sky, which doesn’t block the whole solar disk.

This 2021 Solar Eclipse Timelapse Was Made from 50,000 Photos 2

To add to the remarkable achievement of capturing the movement of the eclipse itself, Strand also captured all of the solar prominences. A solar prominence is a large, bright feature extending outward from the Sun’s surface. Strand also shows a close-up of the largest prominence with a scaled earth graphic beside it. With this remarkable graphic, it’s easy to see how roughly one million Earths could fit inside the massive star.

This 2021 Solar Eclipse Timelapse Was Made from 50,000 Photos 3

With so many frames captured, Strand told PetaPixel about how he went about editing the solar eclipse timelapse.

“To capture the timelapse, I took a series of 200 frames every 30 seconds for 2.5 hours,” he explains. “From each 200-frame clip, I stacked, aligned, and calibrated the best 50 frames. In total, I ended up with 250 calibrated still images that I then did further processing with. First, I aligned all of the 250 images, sharpened the details, and then extracted the data that showed all the prominences. Then I had my finished images for the timelapse.”

As eclipses and other notable astro events occur rarely, less than ideal weather is always a challenge for those photographers hoping to catch the action.

“I’ve been doing astrophotography for over 25 years now and one thing I’ve learned is to accept bad weather and the frustration it usually brings during events like this,” Stand says. “On this day, the weather forecast was quite good but clouds were forecasted for later in the day. When it was just 10-15 minutes left of the eclipse, some clouds were moving in but they stayed clear of the Sun, so I’m really glad that I got a perfect eclipse this time.

“Eclipses like these are so exciting to follow. Even though I’ve seen three total solar eclipses, events like these always gives me some goosebumps when you realize you’re actually capturing it.”

With over a quarter-century of experience, it is obvious that Strand is an experienced astrophotographer. For those who wish to follow in his footsteps, he gives his advice to newcomers.

“If you would like to get started with celestial photography I would recommend going slow. Don’t rush out and buy a big, expensive telescope and go planet-hunting. Planet photography is really hard and takes several years to master. Start with your telephoto lenses and capture photos of the moon that you then stack together to get even more detail,” he says.

“This is a technique called Lucky Imaging and is a great way to get sharp images of planets as well as the Sun and the Moon even through very turbulent air. When you have your images, it is time to practice editing them. AutoStakkert! is my favorite software for stacking images of celestial bodies. Above all, have fun and take a moment to realize how small we are in the grand scheme of space.”


Image credits: Photos by Göran Strand and used with permission.

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How I Shot This Lunar Eclipse Sequence In Camera, On Film

How I Shot This Lunar Eclipse Sequence In Camera, On Film

How I Shot This Lunar Eclipse Sequence In Camera, On Film 4

G’day from Australia, my name is Jason De Freitas (@jase.film on Instagram), and I’m a photographer mostly known for my analog astrophotography. In this article, I’ll describe the process and decisions I went through to take this lunar eclipse multi-exposure sequence on medium format film.

The Aim

There are two common but very pleasing eclipse sequence shots that I’ve seen a lot. The first kind of sequence is the process where you take several different photos of the moon during different phases of the eclipse with a long focal length to combine them later in Photoshop. Usually you will wait for long periods of time to get big differences in partial eclipse magnitudes. Combining them with a composite in post allows you to bring each moon image closer together for a more pleasing composition with the moon appearing much larger. I had personally not seen this done in-camera before.

The second kind of sequence however is one that I have seen done in-camera several times. The method is to use a very wide lens and take multiple exposures when the moon has moved just past one diameter length. This creates a long sequence of very small partial phase changes with the moon’s movements as they actually occur in the field of view. In this kind of sequence, the moon is very small in the frame and it can be difficult to see the eclipse phases well however it gives you the chance to place the event in context with a landscape.

For my location on the east coast of NSW, Australia, the partial eclipse began too high in the sky to compose it with a foreground landscape. I decided I would therefore attempt a composite sequence instead and for a challenge, I would see if I could do it in-camera. I shoot with film mainly because I love the process but it also encourages me to try to get results straight out of camera so that I can view them as slides on a light table or project them.

I didn’t have the luxury of deciding the composition in post, so I used Stellarium (free planetarium software) to plan out the shot. It allows you to input your sensor size (or film size in this case) as well as your focal length to preview what your field of view will look like. I decided to shoot this photo with a medium format camera since the size of the moon in the frame is relatively small and grain could limit the size of prints. Medium format slides are also just incredibly satisfying to look at on a light table.

I used screenshots to generate this composite plan in Photoshop based on a 600mm lens that I have.

How I Shot This Lunar Eclipse Sequence In Camera, On Film 5

Creating a Custom Viewfinder Template

I used a Pentax 67II for this shot and if it had grid lines on the focus screen I could have possibly estimated each shot position. Instead, I came up with a simple way to make custom frame lines using inkjet transparency sheets. Using my Photoshop plan as reference, I sketched up a template using SolidWorks — it’s engineering CAD software, but I only used it because I work with it for my day job. Adobe Illustrator probably would make more sense to use instead! The end result was this template, scaled accurately to the size of the ground glass and predicted moon diameter in the field of view.

How I Shot This Lunar Eclipse Sequence In Camera, On Film 6

The next step was to print it out on paper to make sure it fit correctly on the focusing screen. Finally, after that, I printed out the template on inkjet transparency film with a regular home printer and cut it to size.

How I Shot This Lunar Eclipse Sequence In Camera, On Film 7

How I Shot This Lunar Eclipse Sequence In Camera, On Film 8

How I Shot This Lunar Eclipse Sequence In Camera, On Film 9

Exposure

Exposure settings change during different stages of a lunar eclipse but fortunately, it’s quite easy to plan for. Mreclipse.com has a very useful table to work that out beforehand. However, during totality (the blood moon part) the exposure can vary a few stops and isn’t predictable so you have to meter. I decided to bring a DSLR with me to use as a meter since slide film needs precise exposure, unlike negative film.

Execution

I had everything planned out, the times I would shoot each phase I wanted and the exposures I would need. I mounted my Pentax 67ii with the Takumar 600mm f/4 on a SkyWatcher NEQ6 equatorial mount. For short moon exposures at this focal length, you can get away without an equatorial mount especially with higher ISOs. However, totality can require exposures of a few seconds at the 100-speed film I was using so I wanted to make sure my shot was as sharp as possible.

How I Shot This Lunar Eclipse Sequence In Camera, On Film 10

I started shooting according to my plan, the template worked a treat. The moon appeared slightly bigger than my template circles so I could easily see them align the moon very precisely. Three shots in and everything was going great until I cocked the shutter. I was holding the multi-exposure lever as I needed to however for whatever reason it didn’t engage and my frame advanced! That is not what you want during a 9-shot multiple exposure. Fortunately, it was still pretty early on in the eclipse so I had to scramble a new plan in my head and start again on the next frame.

Instead of a sequence going from full moon to full moon, I decided to go for a sequence from partial eclipses before and after totality. This time all 9 multiple exposures worked successfully and I had my shot!

Result

As always with film, you’re forced to accept some delayed gratification — or mild stress about whether your shot worked or not. The next day I developed the film in E6 chemistry. I use a sous vide machine to regulate the temperature and it works a treat. I was thrilled that everything went perfectly to plan; well the new plan but I think I like it better than the initial one.

The next step was to digitize the frame for sharing online and printing. I use a DSLR with a 1:1 macro lens to stitch several images together into one very high-resolution file. Some of you reading might think that’s ironic to go through all that just to scan it with a digital camera and while that’s not lost on me the final step to me is to mount the slide in a projector for viewing. The end result is a hybrid between a full analog process and a digital sharing age.

I’m absolutely thrilled with the shot I achieved, the satisfaction of achieving it all in-camera is an obsession that I continue to chase with more complex shots.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this photo I have prints available on my website and please check out more of my analog astrophotography on my Instagram, @jase.film.


About the author: Jason De Freitas is a fine art photographer creating unique and experimental work through analog mediums. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Located on the South Coast of NSW, Australia, Jason is recognized for his analog astrophotography, Aerochrome infrared landscapes, and stereoscopic star trails. You can find mor eof De Freitas’ work on his website and Instagram.

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How to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse and Get Amazing Results

Every so often the Moon falls into the shadows of the Earth, resulting in a lunar eclipse. Although lunar eclipses take place more often than solar eclipses, you’ll still want to experience watching and potentially photographing this somewhat rare and stunningly beautiful phenomenon. I have been taking pictures of both partial and total lunar eclipses for a number of years now, and I decided to document my experiences and the challenges I encountered for the benefit of our readers. In this article, I will do my best to explain how to photograph a lunar eclipse in detail.

Supermoon Total Lunar Eclipse
Super Wolf Blood Moon (Total Lunar Eclipse of January 20, 2019)
NIKON Z 7 + 300mm f/4 + 1.4x @ 420mm, ISO 200, 10 sec, f/8.0

Photographing a Lunar Eclipse

What Time And Place Is the Lunar Eclipse?

Unfortunately, the upcoming lunar eclipse isn’t visible everywhere in the world. We recommend visiting this webpage and typing in your city name to see if the upcoming eclipse is visible where you live, as well as the time and duration when you can see it.

The Basics of Moon Photography

Before reading the information below, I highly recommend reading my “How to Photograph the Moon” article, where you can find plenty of information (including camera settings) on the subject. You will need that while capturing the beginning and the end of a lunar eclipse, when the Moon is partially lit by the Sun.

Photographing the Sequence

One thing you need to decide on, is whether you want to shoot the entire sequence of the lunar eclipse, or just the period of totality when the Moon is orange / red in color. I would personally recommend to document the whole process from the beginning to the end, so that you have pictures of the full Moon, then a partial eclipse, then a total eclipse, then a partial eclipse again, returning back to full Moon when the eclipse ends. The nice thing about having the entire sequence in pictures, is that you can later combine images together like this:

Total Lunar Eclipse - Blood Moon Phases
Total Lunar Eclipse Composite

You will have to be very patient though – it took me about four hours in total to capture the Moon from the beginning to the end of the eclipse. The night was quite cold, but I was out with a group of photographers and we decided to document all phases of the eclipse with our cameras. After we were done, we decided to drive to an overlook where we photographed the above scene separately as a panorama, in order to create a single composite you see above. It is important to note that the image has a much larger Moon compared to the reality. If I kept the Moon at its real size relative to the landscape, it would have looked minuscule. Some photographers choose to photograph real scenes with super telephoto lenses, without resizing the landscape or the Moon. Such photographs require a lot of planning and effort (often requiring a lunar eclipse to take place near the horizon for matching a landscape), but offer a much more rewarding experience. Proper planning is extremely important in such cases. Reliable tools and apps that allow one to preview the location of the lunar eclipse should be used for best results, as explained below.

Planning

Whether your goal is to simply photograph the Moon during an eclipse, or to photograph a scene with the Moon at the time of the eclipse, proper planning is important and should not be overlooked. There are plenty of great software and smartphone apps out there that you can use for planning purposes, but the two apps I use the most are PhotoPills and The Photographer’s Ephemeris. When doing night photography, I sometimes fire up Star Walk as well, but that’s only if I need to find a particular object in the sky. Being able to see exactly where the Moon is going to rise is very important – it will make the job of scouting for a location much easier.

While leading a group of photographers in Death Valley National Park, I really hoped that the sky would clear up during the total lunar eclipse on January 20, 2019. The weather was quite stormy for a few days at the beginning of my workshop, but the day of the eclipse looked promising, with the sky opening up in the evening. While checking for weather reports every few hours, I also used the PhotoPills app on my smartphone to find out exactly where the Moon would be located in the sky during the lunar eclipse. Using the Night Augmented Reality (Night AR) feature of the app allowed me to pinpoint the exact location of the Moon.

After realizing that I would not be able to find a subject tall enough in the vicinity to be able to use it as my foreground, I made the decision to skip the scouting process and only focus on photographing the lunar eclipse with my super-telephoto lens. However, if I found a very tall foreground subject, it could have worked to photograph the eclipse over it. Instead, I looked up where the Moon was going to rise from and decided to photograph a landscape scene facing the Moon as it rose up:

Moonrise Mesquite Dunes
Moonrise over Mesquite Dunes
NIKON Z 6 + NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S @ 24mm, ISO 100, 4 sec, f/8.0

As you can see, it was a pretty foggy evening – not particularly great for photographing a lunar eclipse! As the Moon rose over the distant mountains, the clouds in the sky were too thick, making it a problem to get a clear shot of the Moon. The weather forecast still insisted on a clear night though. I looked at the horizon and the sky indeed looked quite clear there. After about an hour the sky indeed cleared up for the most part – just in time for the beginning of the lunar eclipse!

So keep all this in mind. When planning for a lunar eclipse, always pay close attention to weather forecast – you might need to move to a different location with less cloud coverage.

Camera Equipment and Lenses

When it comes to photographing a lunar eclipse, the type of equipment you are using plays a huge role. Photographing a lunar eclipse is not the same as photographing the Moon for one major reason – lack of light. When you photograph the Moon lit by the Sun, it is typically so bright, that you can easily use fast shutter speeds and low ISO, without having to worry about noise and motion blur. Photographing a lunar eclipse is much more challenging, because the Moon gets very dim when it is in the Earth’s shadow. Not only will you have to drastically decrease your shutter speed, but you will also have to increase camera ISO to a much higher value, especially if you are shooting with long lenses above 300mm. Having a good DSLR or a mirrorless camera that can handle noise at high ISO levels will certainly help.

When it comes to lenses, longer lenses will magnify the Moon more and provide some good details for your shots. So, unless you are planning to capture the Moon with a foreground element, I would recommend to use the longest lens in your arsenal. But a longer lens presents another problem for Moon photography – you will have to use a fast shutter speed to get blur-free images of the Moon, since it moves so fast.

Without a doubt, the best thing you can do for lunar eclipse photography is get an equatorial tracker, such as the iOptron SkyGuider Pro:

Equatorial Tracker
Equatorial Tracker

I have previously attempted to photograph the Moon without a tracker and I always found myself struggling with camera settings at the time of the total lunar eclipse. Even with a very slow shutter speed of 1 second (which was barely enough to keep motion blur under control), I had to increase my camera ISO to 3200, at which point the amount of noise in the images was too much to deal with. With an equatorial tracker, once you set it up to track the Moon, you can take very long exposures without having to worry about shutter speed, since the setup automatically adjusts for the Moon movements. In addition, you do not have to constantly deal with readjusting your composition every few minutes. The biggest task is going to be proper and accurate alignment with the North Star – once you do that, the rest of it is going to be a breeze. With the tracker, I was easily able to take 10-20 second exposures at ISO 64 – ISO 200, which allowed me to take images with no noise issues to deal with in post-processing.

A good equatorial tracker is not just useful for photographing lunar eclipses. I used the same setup before for photographing a solar eclipse, as well as photographing the Milky Way and it worked amazingly well. If you are into photographing the night sky, you should seriously consider investing in such a device. In fact, instead of spending a lot of money buying expensive lenses designed for astrophotography, I would recommend to start out with a tracker!

If you have no plans for getting an equatorial tracker, you can still successfully photograph the lunar eclipse. See the instructions below for more details.

Camera Settings

When you shoot a bright Moon, a good starting exposure is typically around 1/125-1/250th of a second @ f/8, ISO 100. When an eclipse starts, this exposure should work great to expose the bright part of the Moon, while the dark side of the Moon is not going to be visible at all. At some point, you will have to change your shutter speed to expose for the dark side, while overexposing the bright side of the Moon, similar to this image:

Exposing for the dark
550mm @ ISO 400, 0.6 sec, f/6.3

I found out that the exposure difference between the bright and the dark sides of the Moon was a whopping 8 full stops! What does this mean? It means that if you were getting a great exposure of the Sun-lit Moon at 1/250th of a second at ISO 200, in order to capture the part of the Moon that is in the Earth’s shadow, you will have to shoot at 1 second @ ISO 200 (1/125 -> 1/60 -> 1/30 -> 1/15 -> 1/8 -> 1/4 -> 1/2 -> 1)!

This is the part where the focal length of your lens becomes your enemy. The longer the lens, the more you need to worry about two major problems – shutter speed and camera shake. A long lens (above 300mm) will make the Moon larger in your picture, which at the same time means that the Moon will move very quickly through your frame. Using a slow shutter speed is obviously unacceptable, because the Moon features will appear blurry due to motion blur. Therefore, your only choice (aside from getting a motorized equatorial tracker) is to shoot at maximum aperture and increase camera ISO to a large number. In the above example, to increase my shutter speed to just 1/15th of a second, I would have to shoot at ISO 3200, which would result in a lot of noise, especially if I were shooting on a small sensor camera.

So, what should your shutter speed be? It depends on the focal length of your lens. If you are shooting at 300mm on a 1.5x crop-factor camera body using a 70-300mm lens, shoot at shutter speeds faster than 2 seconds. If you are using a longer lens, you will have to use even faster shutter speeds to get a blur-free image of the Moon. I was shooting at 560mm (a 400mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter) on a 12 MP full-frame camera and I found that my limit was about a half a second (1/2) before the Moon started to get blurry. If you have a high resolution camera with a 30+ MP sensor, you might need to use even longer shutter speeds to avoid blurring the Moon.

Take a look at the below crop shot at 2 seconds to see how blurry the Moon got:

2 Second Exposure at 550mm
Motion blur @ 550mm, ISO 200, 2 sec, f/8

And that’s with me shooting on a tripod using a remote shutter release, plus Mirror Up with about 1-second interval after raising the mirror! So it is definitely not camera shake you are looking at in the above photo – that’s motion blur. Speaking of camera shake, you need to absolutely make sure that you are taking advantage of all the capabilities of your camera to minimize camera shake, especially when shooting with long super-telephoto lenses.

It goes without saying that your camera needs to be mounted securely on your tripod and you should not be releasing the shutter with your hand. Either use a remote shutter release in combination with “Mirror Up” mode to reduce camera shake, or if you have a more advanced camera that supports features such as Exposure Delay Mode and Electronic Front-Curtain Shutter, you can use those features to reduce, or potentially even eliminate camera shake. Lastly, don’t forget to turn off Image Stabilization / Vibration Reduction when your lens is mounted on a tripod.

Keep in mind that taking pictures of half-lit or quarter-lit Moon is relatively easy, since you still have quite a bit of light to work with. Once the Moon goes into Earth’s umbral shadow and totality starts, that’s when you will encounter the most issues. Depending on how bright the Moon appears during this phase, you will have to adjust your exposure accordingly. During the last total lunar eclipse event, those around me that did not have equatorial trackers had to open up their aperture fully and shoot between ISO 1600 and 3200, which added quite a bit of noise to their images. Always keep in mind that it is better to have noise than motion blur in images. While noise can be dealt with in post-processing, a blurry photograph cannot be saved.

Below are my recommendations for a proper setup and camera settings:

  1. Use the longest lens you can get your hands on. If it is compatible with a teleconverter, you might want to use it.
  2. When using a heavy lens, always mount the lens on a tripod instead of the camera.
  3. Use a stable tripod and a solid tripod head that can easily handle the weight of your camera + lens.
  4. If your camera has the EFCS feature, make sure to turn it on and use the particular camera mode that takes advantage of it in order to eliminate shutter shock.
  5. If your camera does not have the EFCS feature, use Mirror Up in combination with a remote shutter release or Exposure Delay Mode (if available).
  6. Make sure to properly focus your lens. Do it before the eclipse starts. Once focus is acquired, turn off autofocus (see #6 below for more details on focusing).
  7. Start at ISO 100 during the partial eclipse and increase ISO as needed during totality.
  8. Choose the sharpest aperture of the lens for partial lunar eclipse shots (typically between f/4-f/8). Open up the lens to the maximum aperture during totality.
  9. When it comes to shutter speed, start with the 500 rule (divide 500 by the full-frame equivalent focal length of the lens), review images at 100% zoom and adjust as needed.

Focus Accuracy and Sharpness

No matter what lens you are using, getting a very accurate focus on the Moon is extremely important. I know that some of you might suggest to shoot at infinity, but since many lenses now allow focusing beyond infinity, getting a true infinity focus is not that easy – a slight inaccuracy will make the Moon appear blurry. While using your center focus point to acquire focus might work fine when the Moon is lit by the Sun, your autofocus will most likely cease to function or might be grossly inaccurate when the Moon is in totality. Use your camera LCD screen to zoom into the Moon and acquire precise focus. If your LCD screen overexposes the Moon, making it impossible to see the details for focusing, see if you can turn off exposure simulation in your camera menu system. On some Nikon DSLRs, the solution is to press the “OK” button in Live View, which takes care of the problem.

Instead of dealing with refocusing every time you take a picture, I highly recommend to switch off autofocus once you get accurate focus on the Moon (ideally before the lunar eclipse starts). Take a picture and use the LCD screen of the camera to see how sharp the Moon is. Zoom in all the way and make sure that all the features of the Moon are visible. If the Moon appears blurry, go back and retry. If you cannot manage to get your camera to autofocus in Live View mode, try manually focusing with your hand while zoomed in all the way in the LCD. If you get precise focus before the Moon goes into the Earth’s shadow, you won’t have to touch your focus until the end of the eclipse.

One more thing I would like to point out: if you are using a lens with a teleconverter, or if you are using a consumer zoom lens, the optics are probably not very sharp when shooting at large apertures. Stopping down the lens aperture to f/8-f/11 should give you the sharpest results. Don’t use apertures smaller than f/11 (such as f/16 or f/22) – diffraction will kick in and make the Moon appear even softer.

Moon Movement Speed

So far I mentioned several times how fast the Moon moves when using long lenses. Take a look at this video and see for yourself where the Moon starts in the frame, and then ends up at the end of the 2 minute video. If you are impatient, simply look at the beginning of the video, then the end and compare the location of the Moon in the frame:

Now just think how many times I had to move my camera to photograph a 4 hour long eclipse!

Bracketing Partial Lunar Eclipse

Considering that the shadow and the bright side of the Moon are 8 stops apart, you might be wondering if there is value in bracketing the shots to capture detail in both. To be honest, after going through the process of bracketing during the last total lunar eclipse, I really struggle to see the benefits of doing it. First of all, you end up taking way too many images in the process and second, I don’t see how one can blend exposures 8 stops apart without making the resulting image look artificial. Take a look at the below photograph:

Lunar Eclipse Image
HDR Stack of Partial Lunar Eclipse
NIKON Z 7 + 300mm f/4 @ 420mm, ISO 64, 1/50, f/8.0

Personally, I find the image quite unnatural. During the partial lunar eclipse, our eyes cannot really see the shadow part of the Moon – we can only start seeing the details once the Moon nears totality. While it is cool to be able to see both with our digital cameras, I struggle to see the value of capturing all the shadow and highlight detail during the partial lunar eclipse. Plus, blending these images in post-processing software was rather painful. Lightroom was not able to do a good job, so I had to export multiple images into Photoshop and blend them manually, which took quite a bit of time and effort.

My recommendation would be to expose for the highlights during the partial eclipse. Once the Moon nears totality, you can switch your metering to the shadows.

Composition

Unless you are shooting at short focal lengths with a foreground object or some sort of a scene, don’t worry about composition – place the moon anywhere in your frame. The location does not matter, since you can easily crop the Moon out in post-processing, as long as it is exposed properly. When shooting without a motorized equatorial tracker, I often found myself re-centering the Moon in my frame, but as you saw from the above video, it was not an easy task. After I while, I started placing the Moon on my top left corner frame and let it move towards the right bottom corner. When it approached the bottom, I would move it back to the top left again.

If you want to have stars with the Moon in the final picture, the best way is to shoot stars separately, then combine both images together. If you want to have a composite image like the one I posted in this article, then your best bet is to photograph a night scene separately with a wide-angle lens, then use Photoshop to copy-paste the Moon into the image.

Post-Processing

The post-processing method I use for the Moon is described in detail in my “How to Photograph the Moon” article. If you did not use a tracker, the biggest problem is going to be dealing with all the noise in images due to high ISO levels. If noise bothers you, see my “Noise Reduction Tutorial” – there are plenty of tips in that article on how to clean up noise in Photoshop and Lightroom.

As for doing composite images (combining the various phases of the Moon with other images), the process is not that difficult:

  1. Pick a couple of photos with a dark sky, obviously shot at night.
  2. Open your Moon photos and using the “Quick Selection” tool, select just the Moon by itself. Make sure that you are grabbing the whole Moon, not just parts of it.
  3. Copy the Moon by pressing CTRL+C / Command+C
  4. Paste it into a corresponding image with a dark sky.
  5. If the Moon you copied has some black edges to it and your sky is not totally black, then try this trick: select the Moon once again with the Quick Selection tool, then right click the Moon, choose “Select Inverse”, then right click again, choose “Feather” and give it 2-3 pixels. Next, click on the “Add a Mask” button on the layers palette. Once this is done, click on the Mask itself in the layers window, then click “Apply Mask”. Repeat this process several times, if necessary, to make the edges of the Moon smooth.
  6. Experiment with copy-pasting several phases of the Moon and see how you like the final image.
  7. Don’t forget about sharpening the Moon. Do it before selecting the Moon with the Quick Selection tool, otherwise the sharpening tool will also sharpen the edges of the Moon.

Personally, I really like combining several phases of the lunar eclipse in a single composite. Take a look at the below image, which shows three total lunar eclipse phases:

Total Lunar Eclipse Phases
Phases of Total Lunar Eclipse
NIKON Z 7 + 300mm f/4 @ 420mm, ISO 200, 10 sec, f/8.0

Here is another composite that shows two partial eclipse photos and a total eclipse photo in the middle:

Lunar Eclipse Phases
Lunar Eclipse Phases
NIKON Z 7 + 300mm f/4 @ 420mm, ISO 200, 10 sec, f/8.0

I personally like the first version, but others like the second one better. Doing this took some time in Photoshop to cut the Moon and place it like this, but I like the end result and that’s what really matters.

I hope you found this article useful. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments section below!

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How to Photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse

How to Photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse

How to Photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse 11

You’re about to learn everything you need to photograph a lunar eclipse, including the upcoming total lunar eclipse on May 26, 2021. Everything!

Where to go and when, how to plan your total lunar eclipse photo idea, all the gear you need, and how to photograph the lunar eclipse step by step (including all camera settings!).

Ready? Keep reading!

What is a Total Lunar Eclipse?

How to Photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse 12

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth moves between the Sun and the Moon, covering the Sun’s rays and casting its strong shadow, called the umbra, on the Moon.

As the Moon enters Earth’s shadow, the eclipse goes through 7 phases or stages.

How to Photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse 13

  1. Penumbral eclipse begins (P1): The penumbral part of Earth’s shadow starts moving over the Moon. This phase is very difficult to observe with the naked eye.
  2. Partial eclipse begins (U1): The Earth’s umbra starts covering the Moon, and the eclipse becomes more and more perceptible.
  3. Total eclipse begins (U2): The Earth’s umbra completely covers the Moon. The Moon turns into red, brown or yellow. It’s popularly known as the Blood Moon.
  4. Greatest eclipse (Max): This is the central moment of the total eclipse.
  5. Total eclipse ends (U3): The Earth’s umbra starts moving away from the Moon so it’s visible again.
  6. Partial eclipse ends (U4): The Earth’s umbra completely leaves the Moon allowing the lunar surface to be visible again.
  7. Penumbral eclipse ends (P4): The Earth’s penumbral shadow moves away from the Moon. It’s the end of the eclipse.

How to Photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse 14

Depending on where you are on Earth, you’ll be able to see:

  1. All the phases of the lunar eclipse, including the amazing phase of totality.
  2. The partial lunar eclipse phase.
  3. The penumbral eclipse phase.
  4. Or no eclipse phase at all.

That’s why it’s key to know where exactly you need to go to see and photograph the total lunar eclipse.

And you can use an app like PhotoPills to figure it out in the blink of an eye.

When and Where is the Total Lunar Eclipse Visible?

The May 26, 2021, total lunar eclipse will be visible in the United States, Canada, Central America, South America, Antarctica, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea…

But as I said, depending on where you are within these locations, you’ll be able to photograph the total eclipse phase (the Blood Moon), the partial eclipse phase, or only the penumbral eclipse phase (weak eclipse).

So here you have a list of places where you can enjoy all the phases of the eclipse (including the phase of totality).

The table also shows the time the eclipse begins (total lunar eclipse phase begins U2), the maximum (Max), and when it ends (total lunar eclipse phase ends U3).

How to Photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse 15

To create the table above, I’ve used the lunar eclipse information that the Planner tool included in the PhotoPills app provides. The app allows you to plan your photos ahead of time so you’re always at the right place, at the right time to capture the scene you want.

In the app, to get all the total lunar eclipses info you need, all you have to do is to:

  1. Go to the Planner and choose the May 26, 2021, total lunar eclipse from the eclipse calendar. The eclipse info will appear on the map.
  2. Place the Red Pin in the location you want to photograph the lunar eclipse. You can use the Load button (at the bottom) to type the name of the place if you know it. Otherwise, you can drag and drop the Red Pin. Or just do a long press on the spot you want to place the Red Pin and it’ll be placed there.
  3. Get the local times each eclipse phase occurs from the eclipse panel above the map (Panel 10). Swipe the panels until you find it.
  4. Swipe the Time Bar (below the map) to change the time and see on the map where the eclipse occurs at all time (thin line).
  5. And if you’re right where the Red Pin is, you can also use the Augmented Reality (AR) button to visualize the position of the lunar eclipse in the sky.
How to Photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse 16
PhotoPills Planner – The Red Pin is located in San Francisco (USA) where the total lunar eclipse is visible at Moonset.
How to Photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse 17
PhotoPills Planner – On Panel 10 you have all the eclipse phase times for San Francisco. On the map you also have the position of the Moon during the eclipse for the selected time (using the Time Bar). Zoom in the map as much as you want to help you plan your photo.

Confused? Don’t worry: everything will become clear in the next section. I’ll show you how to plan your total lunar eclipse photo step by step in a video.

How to Plan a Photo of the Total Lunar Eclipse Step by Step

If you want to photograph the lunar eclipse, the first thing you need to do is to plan your shot. This means to find the right shooting spot and right shooting time the photo of the eclipse you wish to capture occurs.

So, first, decide what you want. Maybe you want to photograph a particular phase of the lunar eclipse, without a foreground.

How to Photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse 18
Nikon D500 | 700mm | f/8 | 1/15s | ISO 1250 | 6450K | 2x teleconverter

Or maybe you’re interested in capturing the eclipse aligned with a cool subject you know.

How to Photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse 19
Fujifilm X-Pro2 | 83.8mm | f/5 | 1/15s | ISO 400 | Photo by Joaquín Márquez.

No matter the photo you want to capture, watch this video and you’ll learn how to easily plan it.

So you can go and capture it!

In the video, you’ll learn how Rafa (the Bard of PhotoPills) plans to photograph the May 26, 2021, total lunar eclipse in San Francisco (USA). All you have to do is to follow the same workflow to plan your shot.

Now that you’ve planned your photo of the lunar eclipse. You know your shooting spot and shooting time.

Let’s see now all the gear you need to photograph the eclipse.

All the Equipment You Need to Photograph the Total Lunar Eclipse

How to Photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse 20

I love my lunar eclipse checklist. It’s the only way I make sure to bring everything I need for the shooting session. So, I thought you might like it too.

Long story short, this is the gear you need to photograph the lunar eclipse:

  • Telephoto lens
  • Teleconverter (optional)
  • Camera
  • Sturdy tripod and head
  • Shutter release or intervalometer
  • Memory cards and batteries

Lens

The lens choice depends on the photo you want to capture.

Go wide (14-35mm) if you want to photograph the path of the eclipse with a beautiful landscape. The Moon will be a small dot in your photo, but you can make it work in your composition.

Go long (200mm, 300mm, 500mm, or more) for a close-up view and to create a powerful image of the lunar eclipse aligned with a subject. Or to photograph all the phases of the eclipse without foreground.

To get an even larger focal length, use a teleconverter if you have one.

Camera

Use your own camera! You don’t need a special camera to photograph the eclipse.

The advantage of using a crop sensor camera vs a full frame camera is the focal length multiplier effect. For instance, using an APS-C camera with a 1.5x crop factor sensor, a 200mm focal length turns into a 300mm focal length.

Tripod and Head

The camera and the lens are heavy. Therefore you need a sturdy tripod and head capable of bearing the weight and which are as stable as possible on a windy day.

Shutter Release or Intervalometer

Don’t press the shutter button of your camera! If you do so, you’ll shake your camera and your images won’t be 100% tack sharp, and you want them crispy and sharp!

Always use a shutter release or an intervalometer.

Memory Cards and Batteries

Don’t forget to bring several memory cards and spare batteries just in case something goes wrong. And no, you don’t need any lens filter like you do when photographing a solar eclipse.

How to Photograph the Total Lunar Eclipse Step by Step

Photographing the total lunar eclipse will be lots of fun, and the good news is that you have plenty of time. So practice a bit photographing the Moon before the eclipse begins.

Just follow the steps in this section and you’ll nail the photo!

Go to the planned shooting spot

On the date of the eclipse, go to the planned shooting spot. And make sure you set up the tripod and head right where the PhotoPills’ Red Pin is in your photo plan. Being at the right spot is key, especially if you’re photographing the lunar eclipse aligned with a subject.

Shoot in raw

Don’t shoot in JPG, shoot in RAW to collect as much data as possible and have more creative possibilities in the post-processing.

Use a long focal length (200mm, 300mm, 500mm, or more)

If you want to center the attention of the viewer on the eclipse, use a long focal length. The longer the better!

Set the spot metering mode

Meter light on the Moon to nail the exposure.

Close the aperture (f/8)

Set the aperture to f/8 to get a nice deep depth of field. But get ready to open the diaphragm to f/5.6 or more to keep the shutter speed under 2s.

Don’t set a shutter speed over 2s if you want to avoid the motion blur in the Moon caused by the rotation of the Earth. It’d be ideal to keep it under 1s if you can.

Use ISO 100

Use a low ISO to prevent image noise. Use the nominal ISO of your camera (100 or 200). But again, get ready to push the ISO up to 400 or even 800 so you can keep the shutter speed under 2s.

Set shutter speed (1/125s-1/2s)

Now set the shutter speed that gives you the right exposure for the Moon.

For example, during the phase of the partial lunar eclipse, set a base shutter speed of
1/125s.

And bracket the exposure to make sure you’re getting at least 1 photo correctly exposed. 1-stop bracketing of 3 photos will be enough in most situations.

As the eclipse progresses, you’ll have to increase the exposure to get more detail in the shadows. So during totality, you should use slower speeds – for example 1/2s. But remember, don’t go over 1-2s if you can.

Bracket your exposure

After all the planning, the last thing you want is to fail to get the exposure right, so make sure you apply the bracketing technique. 1-stop bracketing of 3 photos will work.

Focus at the edge of the Moon

When you’re ready to start shooting, focus at the edge of the Moon, take a test shot, and use the Live View option on the LCD screen to double-check that the Moon is in focus.

If you’re photographing the lunar eclipse aligned with an interesting subject, I recommend that you focus on your subject.

If your subject is behind the hyperfocal distance, the eclipse will appear acceptably sharp in the photo.

And if your subject is in front of the hyperfocal distance, well, it’s better to have your subject tack sharp and a blurry Moon than the other way around.

How to Photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse 21
Nikon D500 | 500mm | f/5.6 | 1/10s | ISO 1250 | 6450K

Congratulations! Now you have everything you need to successfully photograph any other lunar eclipse in the future. Good luck!


Full disclosure: Antoni Cladera is an employee of PhotoPills, but this article was not sponsored by the company.


About the author: Antoni Cladera is a landscape photographer with commitment to the environment. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Cladera is an artist of the Spanish Confederation of Photography and a member of the Spanish Association of Nature Photographers (AEFONA). This article was also published here.

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