How to Photograph an eclipse and make an eclipse sequence in Photoshop: Lunar eclipse + Solar eclipse photography tutorial
There are 2 types of eclipses, lunar and solar. A lunar eclipse is much more common and happens when the earth passes between the sun and the moon. The earth’s shadow is cast upon the moon which cases the eclipse. At the peak of the full lunar eclipse the moon can turn red, this is known as a blood moon. The color comes from the reflection of all of the earths sunsets at the same time. A solar eclipse is when the moon passes between the earth and the sun and on rare occasions can cause a full solar eclipse when the moon fully blocks out the sun. It’s an eerie experience as the light turns to dark like a dimmer in a matter of seconds. The temperature drops and everything goes silent, even the animals. See my video below as I document our Casper WY Solar eclipse experience.
Photographing a Lunar Eclipse
Lunar eclipses are much easier to photograph than solar eclipses and require less equipment. Ideally, you would like a sturdy tripod and a long lens. If you are going to shoot a sequence, then you will also need an intervalometer. Many cameras have these build in. Special filters aren’t required. Things also happen much more slowly with a lunar eclipse than a solar eclipse. The January 20/21, 2019 Super Blood Wolf moon times are: The Eclipse Will Last For 5 Long Hours… …from start to finish. The Moon will be completely covered by the Earth’s umbra for over 60 minutes. The entire eclipse, including the penumbral and partial phases, will take 5 hours and 12 minutes. Here are some terms
- Super Moon: The moon appears larger and closer because its at the closest point to the earth (The moon also appears larger when its closer to the horizon)
- Blood Moon: A total lunar eclipse will appear red because of the earths sunsets.
- Wolf Moon: A January full moon is known as a wolf moon after howling wolves. Also known as ice moon in some cultures.
The important thing is to scout out the location you want beforehand. Check the weather forecast and look for an area with a clear sky. Light pollution isn’t such an issue with photographing the moon as compared to stars. You need an area where you can be uninterrupted for several hours and will have a clear sky. the entire process can last 5 hours with full eclipse lasting an hour. I have successfully shot an eclipse sequence from my open garage before and it wasn’t any worse than when I ventured out into the open desert. If you are looking to frame the moon against a land mark, then you should do a little research and find out where the moon is going to rise and position yourself well in advance.
You will want a long lens and/or extension tubes
This is a lunar eclipse shot with a 200mm lens
Here I used a 2X extender to get 400mm. Don’t be dismayed, you can crop into the image and get a decent sized moon out of it.
Camera Settings for a lunar eclipse
The moon is typically brighter than you think, If you try to shoot a full moon, you will need to underexpose a lot more than you think. However during an eclipse the brightness will be changing as the moon falls into shadow, so you will need to keep your eyes on the settings and update when needed. If have used bracketing before, which provides a level of safety. Here are some things to bear in mind.
- Beware of motion blur if your shutter speed is too low (unless you are using a sky tracker such as iOptron).
- Watch out for excess noise caused by high ISO
- Extension tubes are a lot cheaper than long lenses. I use a 2x or a 1.4 Canon with my 70-200. I also have a 400 which I might extend.
- Make sure your focus is tack sharp, infinity won’t cut it.
So, in a nutshell, you want a shutter speed of around 1/125 if you want to avoid motion blur on a long lens. You will want to shoot pretty open, around f4 and keep the ISO as low as possible. Make sure you get your focus early on when the moon is brighter and switch to manual focus and tape it down, don’t touch. If firing manually, use a remote, so you don’t shake the camera. Set your camera to bracket the exposures, 3 exposures should be enough. Last eclipse, I set my intervalometer to 1 shot per minute, giving me 300 shots over the 5 hour period. That would be 900 shots including the bracket. That might be excessive, so you can shoot longer intervals if you like. I might do 2 minutes this time, if the shy is really clear, then I’ll go for 3 minute intervals. I saw this because if there are occasional clouds, then you should shoot more often to get those “safety shots”.
Make sure your tripod is firmly planted, so that your focus and the size of the moon doesn’t change if you are making a sequence. You will need to keep an eye on the moon position as the moon will travel far and you will need to recompose your shot often. Do this by panning your head and not moving your tripod position, or you risk changing your focus. The good news is that if you are creating a sequence, the moon doesn’t need to be in the same position in frame for every shot.
Here is a sequence I put together showing all the phases of the eclipse in 2014.
Tips for shooting a Lunar eclipse
- Make sure your batteries are fully charged in your camera and intervalometer
- Make sure your Card is formatted (bring spare cards)
- Know where the moons path will go and what time key events will happen
- Plan to arrive early, so your aren’t rushing to set up
- Bring warm clothes and something to eat and drink
How to photograph a Solar Eclipse
Check out how to shoot a solar eclipse in this video
Processing the Eclipse sequence in Photoshop
You have photographed an eclipse, now what?
This tutorial shows you how to process the eclipse photos into a sequence.
Here is my behind the scenes adventure of the Full Solar Eclipse of 2017
Here are a few of my personal eclipse images.
Lunar Eclipse Irvine, CA, April 2014
Solar eclipse, Casper WY, August 21, 2017.
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