Not Your Everyday Banana

by Bart Arondson

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Tonight is the night of a lunar eclipse, and I'm curious, what kinds of tips do you guys have for photographing one? I'd like solutions for both consumer-grade equipment, as well as DSLRs, so that everyone can benefit from the information.

For those who would like to see the eclipse, see Wikipedia.

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I think I used the advice here well to get some decent shots, will find out in the morning if that holds true, so... –  PearsonArtPhoto Dec 21 '10 at 8:03
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Be keen to see what you came up with, maybe add a comment with a link if you put them online somewhere? I didn't get anything much down here in NZ this time... –  Conor Boyd Dec 21 '10 at 9:48
    
Speaking of, I stared at the moon last night and didn't see anything special. What was I supposed to see? –  JD Isaacks Dec 21 '10 at 14:15
    
@John Isaacks: An eclipse, obviously. But depending on your location, it may not have started yet. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/December_2010_lunar_eclipse#Local_times –  mattdm Dec 21 '10 at 15:01
    
No, the eclipse is a universal time, it peaked at about 800 UTC. See pictures below for what it was supposed to look like. –  PearsonArtPhoto Dec 21 '10 at 15:03
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3 Answers 3

up vote 44 down vote accepted

I've only shot one, and that was with my Canon 350D with only a 17-85mm lens.

Given that I didn't have a particularly long lens, I knew before I went out that I wouldn't be able to get any brilliant close-ups. What I decided beforehand was that some of collage was the most likely option for me.

I ended up with just over 20 individual frames of the moon at different stages of the eclipse, and then I used Photoshop to place all those shots in one image, showing the progression of the moon during the eclipse. You can see the results here if you're interested: http://gallery.ildica.com/v/Huntsbury/Eclipse/

The difference in exposure between full moon and full eclipse is massive. E.g. one shot of the full moon that night was 1/200, ISO100, F11, while one fully eclipsed was 4s, ISO800, F5.6, which was about as long an exposure as I wanted before the movement of the moon would be apparent.

Given the exposure challenges, I'd recommend shooting raw, which gives you plenty of latitude for adjustments after.

alt text

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Very good answer! –  Jarrod Dixon Dec 21 '10 at 3:20
    
Awesome! Thanks Conor. –  AVD Dec 21 '10 at 3:44
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Photographing the moon in general can be difficult, as at any reasonably long focal length that will capture useful detail, the moon literally races across the sky. Using a telescope with a camera adapter will probably provide better results than a telephoto camera lens, however both are options. A telescope on a proper mount will likely provide much greater stability and more framing/focusing options than a camera with just a telephoto lens.

The best advice I can give if you use a telephoto lens is to use one with some kind of image stabilization. It will make the near-impossible task of framing and focusing fairly easy. Just remember to half-press the shutter to let IS activate before actually triggering an exposure...otherwise you are guaranteed to end up with ghosted or fuzzy shots. I also highly recommend using the live view feature of your camera, fully zoomed in, to do your focusing. Trying to clearly focus the moon with only the viewfinder can be extremely difficult, and its hit and miss at best. A long focal length, 300-400mm, will give you decent magnification that will capture useful detail. The image below was composed of shots taken with Canon's EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS L-series lens, at 400mm. Longer focal lengths magnify any kind of camera shake, so a cable release is pretty much a must have. The more stable your tripod the better, especially if there is any wind, as at 400mm, even wind vibrations can ruin a shot.

Regarding exposure, you might have some trouble here. A partial eclipse will have a brightly lit sliver, and that is going to create a contrast problem. As you can see from the image below of the recent total lunar eclipse on this years solstice, the second exposure had to overexpose the sunlit crescent in the second exposure to show any kind of detail in the dark part of the moon.

Solstice Lunar Eclipse
Copyright © 2010 Jon Rista

With a partial eclipse, you'll have to make the trade-off between exposing the eclipsed part, vs. exposing the sunlit part. If you have a camera with sufficiently high ISO performance, you might try shooting at relatively fast shutter speeds, and do some kind of HDR or Exposure Fusion to get both the sunlit and eclipsed parts properly exposed. You would probably need at least 1/20th of a second exposure, spaced very close to each other, to achieve such a thing. (My camera has terrible high ISO performance, so I was unable to attempt any such thing.

Finally, when photographing an eclipse, especially during winter, its best to have a lot of patience and a warm car. The night I took the eclipse shots above, there was a wicket wind chill. An eclipse takes a while to occur, and you'll probably want to take a good long sequence of shots to show the progression of the eclipse. You'll probably hop out of the car, frame, focus, and snap a few shots, then hop back in the car to wait a while before the next set.

And with that: Best of luck!

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I know this answer is a bit late, however I accidentally posted it to a question about partial solar eclipses (I could have sworn it said lunar, but oh well.) Hopefully this answer is still useful here. –  jrista Jan 3 '11 at 20:53
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It's never too late. There will be many lunar eclipses in the future. –  asalamon74 Jan 4 '11 at 7:35
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Taking a high resolution or close-up photo of a lunar eclipse is bound to disappoint. There usually isn't enough contrast to get a good image. This article provides a description of three methods you can use. I've taken out a few of the key points here for you.

  1. Short focal length telescope view

    Use a wide field of view eyepiece on your telescope to get the entire moon in the frame. You can attach your camera to the eyepiece using a special adaptor. I've had some success just holding the camera up to the eyepiece without an adaptor.

  2. Long focal length camera view

    Set your DSLR on a tripod. Zoom in as close as you can to frame the moon in your picture. Your exposure settings will need to change throughout the viewing. During totality (when the moon is completely covered by the shadow of the earth), you will need to use longer exposures (a few seconds each). Only a fraction of a second is required when the Moon is mostly lit up.

  3. Wide-field camera view

    This works nicely when you have a great foreground to include in the image (e.g. trees, interesting architecture, ocean, mountain). Use a slow focal ratio (e.g. f/9 or higher) to get both the moon and the foreground in focus. You can then take these images and overlay them to show the progress of the Moon through the sky.

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