Lunar Eclipse Photography - the April 14/15 Full Lunar Eclipse


Late next Monday night we will see the first of 4 lunar eclipses in a row - what is known as a "lunar tetrad" - and the best news is that all four events over the next few years will be visible from North America.


Here are eclipse times in California:

Pacific Daylight Time (April 14-15, 2014) Partial umbral eclipse begins: 10:58 p.m. PDT on April 14 Total eclipse begins: 12:07 a.m. PDT on April 15 Greatest eclipse: 12:46 a.m. PDT Total eclipse ends: 1:25 a.m. PDT Partial eclipse ends: 2:33 a.m. PDT

I enjoyed success shooting the last lunar eclipse visible from Truckee in December 2012:

Eclipsed full moon setting over Tahoe Donner, 12/10/2011


The next image is a combination of 15 images - 14 shots of the moon made equally spaced at 10 minutes, and 1 "plate" of the foreground shot at the end of the event.

Sequence of full lunar eclipse of 12/10/2011 over Truckee as seen from Martis Peak


On April 14th, the eclipse and the kind of sequence photograph possible will be completely different, as the moon will pass through the Earth's shadow from West to East, in the middle of the night, as opposed to at dawn as it did in 2011 in the above photograph. It will be around 40 degrees in elevation above the horizon (remember - 45 degrees is half way to the zenith, or directly overhead).

What will the 2014 eclipse look like as a sequence? Well, I intend to find out! As any reader of this blog knows, I am a big proponent of pre-visualization. Luckily for us in 2014, we have a variety of digital tools at our disposal to help us understand the movements of celestial bodies. I use Sky Safari Pro ($39.99 - Apple Store or Google Play)and the excellent free PC app Stellarium.

Composite sequence from Sky Safari


How do I do that?

Practice the night before! I plan to go out and photograph the moon Sunday night just to see where it's going to be in the sky with relation to the foreground where I plan to shoot it. Remember the moon rises about 47 minutes later each night. So that means to shoot Sunday night you'll want to be shooting from 10 pm to 1:30 am (for the actual eclipse you'll want to be shooting from 11 to 2:30 am).

I'm going to shoot more frequently this time, so I have more moons in my photo. The above shot from 2011 was every 10 minutes at 46 mm with a 24-70mm lens. I'm going to shoot every 5 minutes this year, with my 16-35mm lens at 20-35 (?). It will be a bit tricky to determine the composition, but that's why I'm going to test it out Sunday night!

I won't go into details about how to gauge proper exposure for the different portions of the eclipse - Mr. Eclipse has this information in an excellent and easy to use table:


The big question you need to ask yourself is - are you going to create a landscape photo with the moon in it (i.e. a sequence) or do you have specialized telescopic equipment to shoot the moon itself. Personally, I like the sequence shot as it shows the moon in relation to the landscape. I also don't own any telescope gear...

Whatever approach you take - remember - BRACKET!!!! When making a sequence later in Photoshop, as long as you take your bracketed exposures quickly, you will be able to combine everything at equal intervals so the spacing works out fine.

Good luck! Feel free to post questions in the comments or as always, shoot me an email.

 Additional Resources to Learn More:

Nikon's "How to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse"

Mr. Eclipse's "How to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse"