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How to photograph a lunar eclipse

How to photograph a lunar eclipse: A Super Wolf Blood Moon in Wildwood, Florida
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Top telescope pick!

Celestron Astro Fi 102

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Looking for a telescope for the lunar eclipse? We recommend the Celestron Astro Fi 102 as the top pick in our best beginner's telescope guide

Lunar eclipses are more common than the perhaps better-known solar eclipses but they’re no less spectacular from a photographic point of view. As the Earth moves into place between the Sun and the Moon it casts a giant shadow across the lunar surface, drastically darkening it, plunging into a deep red hue perfect for photographing.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know in order to take stunning lunar eclipse images. We'll explain what sort of equipment you'll need to pack, which settings to use and how to focus your camera. 

Camera equipment

Female photographer wearing backpack watching sky with tripod and camera next to her

(Image credit: Getty Images)

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

Camera
Photographing the Moon, in general, is one time where an APS-C or micro Four Thirds camera actually has an advantage over full-frame 35mm cameras. That's because the smaller sensors only use a portion of the lens' full diameter when shooting, giving the effect of a longer focal length. For most APS-C sensors this difference is around 1.5x, meaning a 100mm lens will now behave like a 150mm lens. Getting closer provides more detail when shooting the Moon. Whatever camera you use though it's important to have full manual control over camera settings. Take a look at our guide to the best cameras for astrophotography for our recommendation of models.

Lenses
Your choice of lens will come down to what photograph 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 there is also value in using a wide-angle lens, which we rate as being the best lenses for astrophotography. Using this variety, you can photograph the path of the eclipse within a beautiful landscape. 

Tripod
If you’re using a long telephoto lens such as a 400mm you’ll need a sturdy tripod and head capable of bearing weight even in windy conditions. Ensure that the combined weight of your camera body and lens don't exceed the maximum payload of the tripod and tripod head you're using. For added stability, you could 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. But those always on the go might want to check out some of the best travel tripods, too.

Extras
Take lots of extra memory cards and batteries – keep the latter in your coat pockets close to your body to keep them warm. You’ll also need a shutter release, or ideally, one of the best intervalometers to prevent any camera shake from touching the shutter release button. If you decide to get serious about lunar eclipse photography (or in fact any night sky photography) you’ll probably want to invest in an equatorial tracker. Once set up, the tracker will automatically adjust for moon movements which means that you don’t have to readjust your composition every few minutes.

Preparation

The secret to all good astrophotography is planning and preparation! Before you even leave the house, make sure that your gear is all cleaned and packed ready to go. An app such as PhotoPills makes it easy to find out where the moon will be located in the sky during the lunar eclipse. There are plenty of apps out there though, so be sure to use one of the best stargazing apps. It’s also important to keep a very close eye on the weather forecast as cloud coverage could ruin your shots. It’s advisable to have a few locations in mind to work round cloud directions. 

Once you’ve found the right shooting spot and know what the right shooting time is for the lunar eclipse, make sure you’re in place early with plenty of time to set up. Do make sure that your tripod is positioned somewhere stable and level, with no prospect of it being shaken midway through a shot. If the tripod doesn’t have a built-in spirit level, make sure you attach a portable one to your hot shoe initially to get your shots level.

Camera settings

Camera with telephoto lens attached

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Shoot in RAW file format to collect as much data, and give yourself as many options, as possible in post-production. Sure, the files will be bigger, but there are so many more options to edit flexibly and improve your photo in one of the best photo-editing apps for astrophotography

Set your aperture to f8 to give yourself a good depth of field and start with an ISO of 100 (or 200 if that’s the lowest on your camera). When you shoot a bright moon, you’ll probably need a shutter speed of around 1/125th – 1/250th of a second. As an eclipse starts this will work for the bright side of the moon but will mean that the dark side isn’t visible at all. So, exposure becomes a balancing act between exposing the dark side of the moon whilst not overexposing the bright side so much that it loses any definition.

Using a longer shutter speed could result in motion blur as the moon is moving quickly through your frame. You can open up your aperture to around f4 (any more than that means not all of the Moon will be sharp) but without a motorized equatorial tracker you’ll probably need to raise your ISO considerably. The exact slowest shutter speed you will be able to use will vary depending on the focal length of your lens. A telephoto lens of 300mm and under should be shot at speeds faster than two seconds. But a longer telephoto lens will only allow you to shoot at speeds of around half a second – any slower and the moon will be blurry. Remember though that it’s better to have noise in your image than motion blur. 

While it’s probably advisable to bracket your shots with one-stop bracketing of three photos so that you have a selection of shots to choose from, blending different shots together in post-production can look really artificial when it comes to images of the moon. Instead, we’d recommend exposing for the highlights during a partial eclipse and, once the moon nears totality, switching the metering over to the shadows.

Focusing

Phases of a lunar eclipse

(Image credit: Getty Images)

You don’t want to be refocusing on the moon every time you take a shot so we’d recommend that you turn off autofocus and use manual focus to get the moon pin sharp in your shots. Take a photograph and use your LCD screen to zoom into the moon and acquire precise focus by rocking the focus ring back and forth. Zoom all the way in and make sure that all the features of the moon are in focus. You can try using autofocus to take this initial shot before the lunar eclipse starts – focusing on the edge of the moon will probably make it easier for your camera to acquire focus. However, don't rely on the infinity marker on the lens as this often, in our experience, doesn't actually give the best sharpness.

Of course, if you’re photographing the lunar eclipse alongside an interesting landscape or subject, we’d recommend that the focus is on said subject. Remember that if your subject is behind the hyperfocal distance the eclipse will still appear sharp in your photograph. Got a problem with a shallow depth of field? Just stop down the aperture and adjust either ISO or shutter speed to balance the exposure.

A lunar eclipse isn’t the easiest phenomenon to capture. So, we’d recommend practicing with other night sky photography before an eclipse to be comfortable with shooting. Try our guides to photographing the moon, star trails or the milky way to improve your photography skills before the next lunar eclipse.

Composition

Blood moon full lunar eclipse over mountain in Thailand

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’re just shooting with the moon to fill the frame you don’t need to worry about composition as you can easily crop the moon into place in post-production. What matters most is a correct exposure and a sharp moon. For ease of tracking the moon while shooting though, we’d recommend placing the moon in the top left corner frame to start with and letting it move towards the right bottom corner. As it approaches the bottom you can reposition the camera to place it back to the top left again.

If you’re photographing the moon in the midst of a landscape look for leading lines or features that can be silhouetted against the sky to direct your viewer’s gaze into the image and help direct them towards the moon. You could also consider using the rule of thirds to help balance out your image. 

And if you want to have stars in the photograph alongside the moon, we’d recommend shooting these separately and then combining the two images. 

Lunar eclipses explained

During a lunar eclipse, 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 the sun’s light that would otherwise reflect off the moon. There are three types of eclipse – total, partial and penumbral. A total eclipse is the most dramatic, as the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow (known as the umbra) completely covers the moon.

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

Penumbral eclipse begins (P1): The penumbral part of Earth’s shadow - which is the outer part - starts to move over the moon. This phase is extremely difficult to observe with the naked eye.
Partial eclipse begins (U1): The Earth’s umbra starts to cover the moon, making the eclipse more visible.
Total eclipse begins (U2): The Earth’s umbra is completely covering the moon, turning it red, brown or yellow. This is popularly known as the Blood Moon.
Greatest eclipse (Max): This is the central moment of the total eclipse.
Total eclipse ends (U3): As the Earth’s umbra starts to move away from the moon it starts to become visible again.
Partial eclipse ends (U4): The Earth’s umbra completely leaves the moon, allowing it to become entirely visible.
Penumbral eclipse ends (P4): The Earth’s penumbral shadow moves away from the moon, signaling the end of the eclipse.

Upcoming lunar eclipses

There are only two lunar eclipses in 2022, but they’re both total eclipses. The first total lunar eclipse (known as the full Flower Moon) will be visible in the late evening of May 15 and during the early morning of May 16, depending on which time zone you're in. This is visible from North and South America, Europe, Africa and parts of Asia. This will be followed by a second lunar eclipse on November 8th that will be visible in North America, Asia, Australia, most of South America and parts of northern and eastern Europe.  NASA keeps a list predicting lunar eclipses until 2100.

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