How to photograph a lunar eclipse


Lunar eclipses are more common than perhaps better known solar eclipses, but they are no less spectacular from a photographic point of view. Instead of capturing the blocked outline of the sun, photographers can point their cameras at a moon tinted red by the shadow of the earth.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to take great lunar eclipse images. We’ll walk you through what kind of gear you’ll need to bring, what settings to use, and how to focus your camera.

Camera equipment

Female photographer wearing a backpack looking at the sky with a tripod and a camera next to her

(Image credit: Getty Images)

While there are a few dedicated kit pieces you’ll need, most of your gear should hopefully already be in your camera bag.

Camera
Photographing the moon in general is a time when an APS-C or micro Four Thirds camera is actually an advantage, due to the different field of view you will get with the crop factor, making it look like you have longer focal length on your lenses. Whichever camera you use, however, you should have full manual control.

Lentils
Your choice of lens will depend on the photo you want to capture. Most people will want to use the longest telephoto lens they can afford for a close-up view of the lunar eclipse. You can also add a teleconverter for an even longer focal length. But it is also interesting to use a wide angle lens, which we consider to be the best lens for astrophotography. Using this variety, you can photograph the path of the eclipse in a beautiful landscape.

Tripod
If you are using a long telephoto lens such as a 400mm, you will need a sturdy tripod and a head that can support weight even in windy conditions. For added stability, you can also add a monopod to support your lens (most longer telephoto lenses come with a tripod collar). We’re big fans of Manfrotto and Gitzo, who make some of the best tripods on the market.

Supplements
Pack lots of memory cards and extra batteries – keep these in your coat pockets close to your body to keep them warm. You’ll also need a shutter button or ideally an interval timer to prevent any camera shake from hitting the shutter. If you decide to take lunar eclipse photography (or indeed any night sky photography) seriously, you will probably want to invest in an equatorial tracker. Once configured, the tracker will automatically adjust to the movements of the moon and save you from having to readjust your composition every few minutes.

Preperation

The secret to all good astrophotography is planning and preparation! Before you even leave the house, make sure all of your gear is cleaned and packed, ready to go. An application such as Photopills makes it easy to know where the moon will be in the sky during the lunar eclipse. It is also important to monitor the weather forecast very closely, as cloud cover could spoil your shots. It is advisable to have a few locations in mind for working around the directions of the clouds.

Once you’ve found the right point of view and know what the correct shooting time for the lunar eclipse is, make sure you’re in place early with plenty of time to get settled in. Make sure your tripod is placed in a stable, level place without the risk of it being shaken halfway through a shot. If the tripod doesn’t have a built-in bubble level, be sure to attach a laptop to your hot shoe initially to get your shots level.

Camera settings

Camera with attached telephoto lens

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Film in RAW to collect as much data as possible and give yourself as many options as possible in post-production. Set your aperture to f8 to give you good depth of field and start with an ISO of 100 (or 200 if that’s the lowest on your camera). When photographing a bright moon, you will probably need a shutter speed of around 1 / 125th to 1 / 250th of a second. At the start of an eclipse, this will work for the light side of the moon, but it will mean that the dark side is not visible at all. Thus, the exposure becomes a balance between exposing the dark side of the moon and not overexposing the bright side to the point of losing all definition.

Using a longer shutter speed may result in motion blur because the moon is moving fast in your frame. You can open your aperture to around f4 (no more than that means the whole moon won’t be in focus), but without a motorized equatorial tracker you will likely need to increase your ISO significantly. The exact slowest shutter speed you can use will vary depending on the focal length of your lens. A telephoto lens of 300mm and less should be shot at speeds greater than two seconds. But a longer telephoto lens will only allow you to shoot at speeds of around half a second – slower and the moon will be blurry. Remember, however, that it’s better to have noise in your image than motion blur.

While it’s probably a good idea to frame your shots with a single three-shot bracketing so that you have multiple shots to choose from, mixing different shots in post-production can feel really contrived when it comes to post-production. these are images of the moon. Instead, we recommend exposing highlights during a partial eclipse, and once the moon approaches fullness, toggle the metric to shadows.

Focus

Phases of a lunar eclipse

(Image credit: Getty Images)

You don’t want to refocus on the moon every time you take a photo, so we recommend turning off autofocus and using manual focus to get a sharp moon pin in your photos. Take a picture and use your LCD screen to zoom in on the moon and acquire precise focus. Zoom in as much as possible and make sure all of the features of the moon are in focus. You can try using autofocus to take that initial shot before the onset of the lunar eclipse – focusing on the edge of the moon will likely make it easier for your camera to focus.

Of course, if you are shooting the lunar eclipse next to an interesting landscape or subject, we recommend that you focus on that subject. Remember, if your subject is behind the hyperfocal distance, the eclipse will still appear sharp in your photo.

A lunar eclipse is not the easiest phenomenon to capture. We therefore recommend that you practice with other photographs of the night sky before an eclipse to be comfortable with the shot. Try our guides for photographing the moon, star trails or the Milky Way to improve your photography skills before the next lunar eclipse.

Composition

Full blood moon lunar eclipse over the mountain in Thailand

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you are just shooting with the moon to fill the frame, you don’t have to worry about the composition as you can easily crop the moon in place in post-production. What matters most is proper exposure and a clear moon. To make shooting easier, we recommend that you place the moon in the upper left corner frame to begin with and let it move to the lower right corner. As it gets closer to the bottom, you can move it to the top left again.

If you are photographing the moon in the middle of a landscape, look for guidelines to direct your viewer’s gaze into the image and help them point towards the moon. You can also consider using the rule of thirds to balance your image.

And if you want to have stars in the photo next to the moon, we recommend that you shoot them separately and then combine the two images.

Lunar eclipses explained

During a lunar eclipse, the Earth blocks most of the sunlight that normally reaches the moon.  This NASA illustration is not to scale.

(Image credit: NASA)

So, what is a lunar eclipse? Lunar eclipses occur when the Earth moves between the sun and the moon, blocking sunlight that would otherwise reflect off the moon. There are three types of eclipse: total, partial and penumbra. A total eclipse is the most dramatic, as the darkest part of Earth’s shadow (known as the shadow) completely covers the moon.

A lunar eclipse actually goes through seven phases or stages in total:

Start of penumbral lunar eclipse (P1): The penumbra part of the Earth’s shadow – which is the outer part – begins to move on the moon. This phase is extremely difficult to observe with the naked eye.
Beginning of the partial eclipse (U1): The shadow of the Earth begins to cover the Moon, making the eclipse more visible.
Beginning of the total eclipse (U2): The Earth’s shadow completely covers the Moon, making it red, brown or yellow. This is popularly known as the Blood Moon.
Biggest eclipse (Max): This is the central moment of the total eclipse.
The total eclipse ends (U3): As the Earth’s shadow begins to move away from the Moon, it begins to become visible again.
The partial eclipse ends (U4): The Earth’s shadow completely leaves the Moon, allowing it to become fully visible.
The penumbral lunar eclipse ends (P4): The penumbra shadow of the Earth moves away from the Moon, signaling the end of the eclipse.

Upcoming lunar eclipses

There is a partial eclipse on November 19, 2021, with all 50 states able to catch it in its entirety. It peaks at 4:04 am EST and is the last lunar eclipse of 2021. Next year (2022) will only see two lunar eclipses, but they are both total eclipses. The first, May 15-16, will be visible from North and South America, Europe, Africa and parts of Asia. This will be followed by a second lunar eclipse on November 8 which will be visible in North America, Asia, Australia, most of South America, and parts of the northern and eastern parts of the United States. Europe. NASA keeps a listing predicting lunar eclipses until 2100.