The Blood Moon – Photographing an Eclipse

Full Eclipse Blood Moon 2014Gear, check. Jacket, check. Extra batteries, check. Tripod, cable release, head lamp and water, check.

Last night the full lunar eclipse caused many photographers to stay up late and do their level best to get a good sharp image of this rare occurrence. I was no different. I setup my 100-400mm lens with a 2x extender and hoped for the best. I did do test shots to learn where the focus point was on the lens settings. I did this so I could manually focus to infinity without having to look through the lens in the dark and “guess”.  The  auto focus was not working with the extender on. Setting up on a strong Really Right Stuff tripod and putting my wireless cable release on the camera was going to help keep things steady. Setting the camera to mirror lock up was part of reducing vibration. The first click on the shutter could raise the mirror and lock it. The next click takes the image. No polarizers or other filters on the lens.

Getting a good exposure seems to trouble a lot of new photographers. The moon is so bright and the sky so dark. What settings do you need? First, remember that the longer the lens, the faster the moon or any object in the sky will move across your field of view. At 800mm I was not going to set up for a 10 or 20 second exposure. I set the ISO to 100. That helps keep the noise down in the image. I could raise it later if needed as the moon went darker and red. I started at f/8 and 1/80 sec. I quickly moved up to 1/400 sec and now I was getting details on the moon. Dark black sky, but a good moon. It is simple really. Start with a base setting and then move one parameter, the shutter speed, to darken the image up until you get what you want. Generally, what the camera meter tells you to set the setting at for a exposure will be 5 or 6 stops to bright. You have to darken down the exposure to get detail in the moon. If you have foreground elements you might need to take two exposures, one for the foreground and one for the moon and composite the image together in Photoshop.

To control all this you really should shoot in full manual. I know, I know, this scares the heck out of some folks. But it gives you complete control for these kinds of shots. Leaving the ISO and Aperture alone at first and changing just one parameter, the shutter speed, helps you not get confused and wonder what worked or not. If you can’t get the shutter speed you want then start to either open up the aperture or, raise the ISO. Start with Aperture. Shooting the moon so far away can be shot wide open with your aperture. Depth of Field is not an issue unless you have some foreground objects, like trees or other such things.

The other issue you will face it how clear the atmosphere is and light pollution from the local cities, houses and more. Even if the air is clear there are heat waves and aberrations that can make the image look unsharp.

By the time the event was underway we had connected a Canon 5D MIII directly to a large telescope and from there we shot all the images of the Eclipse from that. My lens got put away. We set the ISO at 100 and simply changed the shutter speed to get more light in as the moon become darker and darker. No Aperture setting for this lens.

We didn’t stay for the whole event. But we did spend an hour watching that amazing event and blood red moon. If you missed it you will have a few more chances through 2015 to do so. I recommend taking the time to do so.

Print Available of Moon Composite on FineArt America

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Larry Pollock

I am an Artist who's medium is Digital Photography. I paint with Light. Product, event, portrait, landscape and fine art photography

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