A lunar eclipse is quite a beautiful and amazing spectacle to behold and to capture the moment on camera can make it even more exciting. Photographing a lunar eclipse is fun and you don’t need to be a professional photographer. Whether it is a total or partial eclipse, as long as it is visible from the earth, it is surprisingly easy to photograph.
A lunar eclipse always occurs when the Moon is full. A Full Moon occurs when the Moon is directly opposite the Sun and during a lunar eclipse the Moon passes through the shadow of the earth. The lunar eclipse is safe to watch with the naked eye because the Moon does not make its own light. It can be observed without a telescope but a good pair of binoculars will magnify the view and the amazing colours that can often be seen during the event.
There are different types of eclipses, for instance a Partial Lunar Eclipse occurs when a portion of the Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow. Whereas a total Lunar Eclipse occurs when the entire Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow.
A lunar eclipse can last between one and three hours. This allows plenty time to get it right for those who are hoping to photograph an eclipse. If you are using a digital camera, click away as the more photographs you take, the more likely it is you will get a few really spectacular ones.
Equipment to photograph a lunar eclipse ~
Satisfactory photographs of the lunar eclipse can be achieved using a normal camera, but taking longer exposures using a telephoto lens with guiding will give you the best images. There is no need for special filters for your camera. However the bigger you can get the lunar eclipse in the photograph, the more dramatic the picture. Go for the longest lens you have but be choosy about how much magnification as you should aim to include the entire moon in the photograph.
To get the best photographs possible, you should carefully choose your observation site. If possible get away from populated areas as light pollution caused by lights on the ground can be very evident on photographs. Bring a flashlight along so you can see the dials on your camera. An extra battery could be useful.
Using a sturdy tripod will be an advantage for a number of reasons when photographing a lunar eclipse. The longer the telephoto lens on your camera, the greater the need will be for this unit. Remember too that the Moon will move approximately 14.5 degrees an hour. A tripod will help keep the camera steady.
Deciding on Film and Exposure when photographing a lunar eclipse ~
The “Photographer’s Handbook” suggests using ISO 200 film to photograph a total eclipse of the moon. Expose for 2 seconds at f/4. Choose a film that is fast enough to take quite short exposures. Remember that the moon is moving and if your exposure is more than five seconds and you are holding the camera still, it could become blurred. A spot meter will give you the best exposure information.
Take the first photograph the moment the eclipse begins and then keep shooting every few minutes.
Lunar eclipses occur more frequently than solar eclipses and on average, there are around three lunar eclipses a year. On December 21st, 2010 there will be a total eclipse of the Moon. This eclipse will be most visible from North America, Asia, Australia, the Pacific and Europe. In 2011, a lunar eclipse on June 15th will be visible from South America, Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia, then on December 10th, 2011, a total lunar eclipse will be visible over Europe, East Africa, Asia, Australia, North America and the Pacific.
The joy of photographing a lunar eclipse is that no lunar eclipse is the same. Often there is a colourful red and orange hue to the eclipse and this comes from filtered sunlight that is bent by the Earth’s atmosphere around into its shadow. The brightest, most colourful eclipses occur when the Earth’s upper atmosphere is at its most transparent. Colours and shadows are affected by local weather conditions, the geographic location of the photographer and atmospheric conditions.
Even with an ordinary camera and tripod, with one or two seconds’ exposure time, it will be possible to take some good photographs of a lunar eclipse.
Hedgecoe J. “The Photographer’s handbook.” Knopf. 3rd Edition.