How to Photograph Lunar Eclipses

Watching the Moon pass through the Earth’s shadow is quite an awe inspiring event to witness.  The Sun, Earth, and Moon all lying in a straight line cause this eclipse.  Although the Moon orbits the Earth every 27.3 days, you won’t see a lunar eclipse every month during the full Moon.  The planes of the Moon and Earth are slight off, so this alignment can happen up to 3 times a year, or not at all.

To photograph such an eclipse, is not as difficult as a solar eclipse is.  While precautions have to be taken when viewing the Sun to prevent your eyesight being damaged, a lunar eclipse is completely safe to watch.  It also takes a long time to happen when compared to a solar eclipse.  The eclipse can take more than an hour, compared to a solar eclipse which will only take a few minutes.

It is best to get yourself organised a couple of days before the expected eclipse.  Check out your viewing area, the path of the moon, and of course, the weather.  Trying to photograph the Moon when it has disappeared behind clouds is frustrating.  It is a good idea to check to see if your equipment and technique will work, by doing a dry run.  You must also remember that the moon rises about 50 to 55 minutes later each night

Photographing an eclipse can easily be done with a normal SLR, digital camera.  You don’t even need to have a telescope to get great pictures of the event, although a solid, good quality tripod is a sensible idea. 

Long exposures are the key to good eclipse pictures, with the shots taking up to ten minutes in some situations.  Whether they are close up shots of the eclipsed Moon, or wide-angle shots, good detail relies on the right exposure.  A telescope equatorial mount adapted to take your camera is a must for detailed, long exposure images.  With this you can track the moon while it continues its orbit.  A long lens of 500mm to 1000mm is a good choice, with ISO 800 to 1600 film.

A telescope with a camera adaptor is a great set-up for photographing a lunar eclipse successfully, but there is another photography path to go down, that is CCD imaging.  Charge–coupled devices allows an imaging device (TV camera), to download images directly onto your computer.  CCDs are on the whole more sensitive that photographic film, but the devices can be more difficult of focus, and the final image may be less forgiving of human error than on film.

You should consider using a motorised mount, which you can program to follow the lunar eclipse.  This will let you concentrate on the photography side of things, without having to re-adjust the telescope mount.  It is surprising how much the moon can move in its orbit in just five minutes.

The best thing you can do is practice, practice, and practice again.  Don’t forget to check out the Internet, as someone will have the information and practical advice on what equipment is best, or how much exposure you need for the perfect shot.