Tips for Photographing the Lunar Eclipse

Photographing the moon isn't as easy as it may seem. Check out my tips for lunar photography before the total eclipse Sept. 27th.
Photographing the moon isn’t as easy as it may seem. Check out my tips for lunar photography before the total eclipse Sept. 27th.

When it comes to night photography, the moon is one of the more challenging subjects. With a lunar eclipse coming up tomorrow (Sept. 27th), here are some tips for photographing the moon.

Check to see the best eclipse viewing times here 

Bring out the big glass

Despite its large appearance, you’ll want to use as much focal length as you can for moon shots. In 2010, I used a 600mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter on a full-frame Nikon D700. If you have a crop-sensor (APS-C or similar), you can get away with a shorter lens. But even with an effective focal length of 850mm, the moon only fills a fraction of the frame.

Even with my 600mm lens and 1.4x teleconverter, the moon doesn't take up that much of the frame with a 35mm-format camera.
Even with my 600mm lens and 1.4x teleconverter, the moon doesn’t take up that much of the frame with a 35mm-format camera.
Set your exposure manually
The complete guide to night sky photography by Jason P. Odell
The complete guide to night sky photography by Jason P. Odell

The full moon is normally very bright, and unless you use spot-metering, your camera’s meter will be fooled by the dark sky surrounding it. Use spot-metering and manual exposure so that you don’t over-expose the moon.

Use a fast shutter speed with telephoto lenses

The relative motion of the moon in the sky is really quite fast. This motion is amplified when you use high-magnification telephoto lenses. In fact, you will need to frequently adjust your composition when tracking the moon across the night sky. To get a sharp shot, use a tripod, remote release cord, and a reasonably fast shutter speed when possible.

During an eclipse, boost the ISO to keep shutter speed high

The moon darkens during an eclipse. During a normal full moon, I can easily shoot 1/1000s at ISO 200. But during the 2010 eclipse, I had to crank up the ISO to 8000 just to get a 1/8 second exposure. Anything slower than that and the moon would have blurred due to its apparent motion in the sky.

During a total lunar eclipse, the moon gets really dim. To capture this shot, I had to boost the ISO to 8000 just to get a 1/8 sec exposure!
During a total lunar eclipse, the moon gets really dim. To capture this shot, I had to boost the ISO to 8000 just to get a 1/8 sec exposure!
Set up  for a time-lapse

If you have a camera with an intervalometer, you can set it up with a normal to wide focal length and capture images every few minutes. Again, use manual exposure so that you don’t overexpose the shot.  You can then merge the files in Photoshop layers to create a composite image.

Set up a wider shot and use an intervalometer to capture photos every 5-10 minutes over the course of the evening and create a composite in Photoshop.
Set up a wider shot and use an intervalometer to capture photos every 5-10 minutes over the course of the evening and create a composite in Photoshop.

Happy shooting!

3 thoughts on “Tips for Photographing the Lunar Eclipse”

  1. Great tips Jason. Unfortunately we are under clouds and rain in NC. Are you wide open in apeture with the 600+1.4? How do you know when to change the ISO settings with the intervometer with it getting darker closer to the eclipse? Are you on Auto ISO?

  2. Karl-
    Last night I used manual ISO and spot metering, with the camera set to capture images 2 minutes apart. As the eclipse reached totality, I boosted the ISO and lowered the shutter speed. I shot wide-open with the D810 and 500/4 VR.

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