As celestial events go, a total lunar eclipse knows how to dazzle and the best news is, there’s one passing this way soon. Make sure you’re ready.
A total lunar eclipse can only happen when there’s a full moon. It takes place when the entire moon passes through the earth’s shadow. Since the moon gets its light by reflecting the sun’s rays, during a total lunar eclipse, what you’re witnessing is the shadow of the earth on the surface of the moon.
During the event, the earth bends the sun’s light, and the colours with longer wavelengths like red and orange fall on the surface of the moon turning it a bright blood red, easily visible with the naked eye.
Given the long days at this time of year, we’ll miss the very start of it. However, the good news is that this one is predicted to be one of the longest in centuries. Officially starting around 9pm, it should become visible in the south from about 9:20pm, with the total eclipse ending at about 10:13. The further north you go, the lower in the sky the moon will appear and the later it rises (around 9:22pm in Edinburgh).
To see it at its peak, and for the best photos, ideally you want to get away from any light pollution… or at least minimise it as best you can. If you’re able to escape light pollution altogether then during the total phase of the eclipse it becomes possible to see the Milky Way.
Decide on the type of shot you want – a close-up of the moon, filling the frame… or a wider angle that takes in the path of the moon during the event and ultimately reveals all phases in a single shot.
If it’s detail you’re after, the longer your zoom, the better your shot. Read more on close-up moon shots here. The settings will be different with a lunar eclipse as the moon is darker.
If you want to capture the entire event, mount your camera on a sturdy tripod, frame your scene so that you can follow the path of the moon from beginning to end, then when the event starts, take a shot every 10 minutes. Afterwards, just piece them together in Photoshop.
Because there’s less light than usual, you’ll need an ISO between 200 and 400, with an F8 aperture and shutter speed of anything from 5 to 40 seconds. That’s the general advice but play around and you’ll find the moon blurs. Cameras are better at handling noise and a wider-aperture works fine so you can afford to up the ISO and shoot faster. Try both – see what you think.
On the night of the big event, one thing is certain: thousands of people will be out taking shots of the moon. So the real challenge is not how to do it, but how to make yours different. Show the moon reflected in a lake? Slightly obscured by a landmark? Illuminating an ominous scene? Or a very long exposure that transforms the event into a line that streaks across the frame? Drones get to find all the best angles, but a silhouette of a drone in front of a blood moon… now that could work.