Capturing a beautiful photo of a Lunar Eclipse is a crowning moment for many astro and nightscape photographers. But to get that shot, you need to know when the next eclipse happens. Eclipses don’t just happen randomly – they are predictable down to the second. Knowing that will help you plan before the next eclipse and greatly increase your success at achieving such a photograph.
Let’s first look at the types of eclipses, when and where you can see an upcoming eclipse, some online eclipse resources, how to plan your eclipse photo, the best eclipse camera gear and recommended camera settings. Finally, we’ll close with a few compositional ideas and suggestions to improve your lunar eclipse photography.
The short answer to the question posed above is “yes” if today is November 19th, 2021. Well, almost, as it’s a partial lunar eclipse. It is the last lunar eclipse in 2021 – so you’ll want to get out and shoot it. The next total lunar eclipse will be on 16 May 2022.
Types of Eclipses
There are two types of eclipses as seen from the surface of the Earth – Lunar and Solar.
- A Lunar Eclipse happens when the Moon enters the shadow of the Earth. This only happens on the day of a Full Moon.
- A Solar Eclipse happens with the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, casting its shadow on Earth’s surface. Solar eclipses require eye protection to view.
Since solar eclipses are only visible from a small part of the Earth’s surface and require special techniques to view and photograph them, we’ll discuss them later. So let’s focus on Lunar eclipses!
Lunar eclipses can take three forms, depending on how far into the Earth’s shadow the Moon goes. There are three kinds:
- Partial Penumbral Lunar Eclipse – The Moon partially enters the Earth’s outer, lighter shadow, called the Penumbra. It’s hard to see this phase, and usually not much of interest.
- Partial Umbral Lunar Eclipse – The Moon partially enters the Earth’s inner, darker shadow, called the Umbra. This part is easy to see, even with the naked eye.
- Total Lunar Eclipse – The Moon fully enters Earth’s darker umbral shadow. The Moon often takes a reddish color and is sometimes called a “blood moon.” This is the most interesting phase for lunar eclipse photography.
When and Where is the Next Lunar Eclipse?
Although this article discusses lunar eclipse photography, let’s take a quick look at the upcoming solar eclipses too. You may notice that lunar and solar eclipses often come in pairs – a lunar eclipse always occurs within two weeks before or after a solar eclipse and vice versa.
2021 Eclipse Dates
2021 has two eclipses of the Moon and two of the Sun. Three of them will be visible from North America.
May 26, 2021 – Total Lunar Eclipse
The only total lunar eclipse of 2021 was on May 26th, 2021, and it occurred over the Pacific Ocean. As such, it was visible from western North America, Hawai’i, Eastern Asia, and Australia.
June 10, 2021 – Annular Solar Eclipse
The partial solar eclipse is visible to Eastern and Northeastern North America, Europe, and Asia. The annular path stretches from Northern Canada, Greenland, and Russia. The Moon never fully covers the sun, giving it a ring-like appearance.
November 18/19, 2021 – Partial Lunar Eclipse
This eclipse favors observers around the eastern Pacific Ocean – nearly all of North America can see this eclipse in its entirety. Even though this is technically a partial eclipse, it so very nearly reaches totality. The Moon’s southern edge just misses being covered by the umbra. For South America and Western Europe, the Moon will set as the eclipse begins. In East Asia and Australia, the eclipse happens during Moonrise near sunset. The Moon contacts the umbra for 3h 28m.
|Event||Eastern Standard Time||Pacific Standard Time||UTC Time|
|Penumbral Eclipse starts||Nov 19th at 1:02 AM||Nov 18th at 10:02 PM||Nov 19 at 6:02|
|Umbral Eclipse starts||Nov 19th at 2:02 AM||Nov 18th at 11:19 PM||Nov 19 at 7:18|
|Maximum Eclipse||Nov 19th at 4:02 AM||Nov 19th at 1:03 AM||Nov 19 at 9:03|
|Umbral Eclipse ends||Nov 19th at 5:47 AM||Nov 19th at 2:47 AM||Nov 19 at 10:47|
|Penumbral Eclipse ends||Nov 19th at 7:03 AM||Nov 19th at 4:03 AM||Nov 19 at 12:03|
Since this is a partial lunar eclipse, there will be no totality for this eclipse. But as you can see from the diagram above, it gets oh-so-close! The Moon will be high in the sky for the western USA. It could provide some unique opportunities for photographers on the western side of North America, as the eclipsed moon will set during the last half of the eclipse.
The Moon will be a bit over 5 degrees away from the Pleiades during this eclipse. This could be an interesting composition with a 150mm lens. You will most like want to use a tracker for this shot – not only to keep the Moon in frame, but to allow longer exposure times.
December 4, 2021 – Total Solar Eclipse
Totality for this Solar eclipse is visible in Antarctica. Partial phases are visible in the Falkland Islands, the southernmost tip of Africa, and southeastern Australia.
Online Eclipse Resources
My top eclipse resource is xjubier.free.fr – created by Xavier Jubier, one of the world’s premier eclipse photographers. Be sure to check out MrEclipse.com, TimeandDate.com, and Wikipedia.com for more excellent eclipse resources.
Xavier Jubier has created perhaps the best eclipse website in the world. Loaded with tonnes of photographs that will surely inspire your lunar eclipse photography, it also has all the information you’ll need for your eclipse chasing. Interactive Google Maps, a Solar Eclipse Exposure Calculator, and a Solar Eclipse Timer for your local circumstances are available for planning solar eclipse photography.
Numerous lunar eclipse tools are available as well – A Lunar Eclipse Calculator shows all the eclipses for any year. If you’re a macOS user, there’s Lunar Maestro to control up to 4 DSLR or CCD cameras.
One of the hardest things about shooting an eclipse is determining what camera exposure you need. My favorite tools on xubier.free.fr are the Time Exposure Calculators – one each for solar and lunar eclipses. They calculate the camera exposure you’ll need for each part of the eclipse. Knowing the proper exposure is, of course, critical to the success of your lunar eclipse photography.
To use the exposure calculators, enter your lens focal length and camera sensor size. The calculator shows you how large the Sun or Moon will appear in your photo. Be forewarned; you’re going to want a longer lens after playing with these calculators!
Finding a good eclipse photography location is also important. Jubier has mean cloud-cover weather maps specifically for each eclipse date. You may find a nearby location with a lower chance of clouds by looking at these maps than where you originally planned to shoot.
Here is Jubier’s page for the Partial Lunar Eclipse of 2021 November 19.
MrEclipse.com is the webpage of Fred Espenak, a retired NASA astrophysicist, photographer, author, and of course, eclipse expert. You can find guides to shooting Lunar and Solar eclipses, safely observing Solar eclipses and beginner guides. And numerous photo galleries are sure to inspire your lunar eclipse photography.
Time and Date.com is a great site for eclipse info and converting times from one time zone to another. In addition to maps and times for eclipses, some interesting animations show the Moon’s motion through the earth’s shadow. They are a great way to help you visualize exactly what happens during the eclipse. Click on your location on their Eclipse Map; it displays local times for the eclipse as well as the percent times for that day that were cloudy over the last 20 years.
Want to learn more about eclipses? Check out the Wikipedia entry for Eclipse. It gives a solid description of what an eclipse is and why they occur. For more info, check out the entries for Solar Eclipse and Lunar Eclipse.
Wikipedia has a page for every upcoming eclipse – you can find the November 18/19 2021 eclipse here.
Planning Your Lunar Eclipse Shoot
You can see a total lunar eclipse from anywhere on the night-time side of the Earth. And since a lunar eclipse progresses over several hours – parts of the eclipse are actually visible from more than one-half the earth!
But getting down to finding a specific shooting location will greatly affect your photographic results. If you want to get close-ups of the moon as it goes through different partial phases, find a location with a clear view of the sky.
If you’re in Eastern North America, the Moon will be low in the sky at the end of the eclipse. Think about finding a spot that will have an interesting landscape feature along with the moon. Use an app like PlanIt Pro or PhotoPills to choose your location.
PhotoPills has a great video on how to plan your shot – How to Plan a Photo of a Total Lunar Eclipse – May 26, 2021 | Step by Step Tutorial
Arrive at your shooting location about an hour or so before the eclipse begins. If possible, be there while it’s still light out. Find a stable spot for your tripod and begin setting up.
Use the Virtual Reality feature of PlanIt Pro or PhotoPills to determine the moon’s path. If you’re going to follow the moon across the sky, double-check there are no foreground obstructions, like buildings or trees, that will force you to move your tripod mid-eclipse. Also, verify that your tripod setup allows you to easily follow the moon – some tripods are harder to operate when aiming higher into the sky.
Best Camera Gear for Eclipse Photography
To get the best results for your lunar eclipse photography, there are three things you’ll want. First is a camera you can run in Manual Mode. Second, a sturdy tripod. The last item you need is – a lens. Yeah, that’s a pretty basic set-up!
An external shutter release or intervalometer can help you get sharper photos. Us it to fire the shutter so you don’t shake the camera.
If you have a cell phone that meets these needs, you could use it. But you’ll probably be happier with a dedicated camera.
Lunar Eclipse Lens Selections
So let’s look at lens selection for a second. There’s generally three focal length ranges used for eclipse photography – the wide-angle, the normal to short telephoto, and super telephoto lens.
With a wide-angle lens, you can capture the motion of the Moon across the nights sky in a single composition. Check out the image above as an example. If you want to incorporate the moon with a grand landscape view, you could use lenses as wide as 35mm or even 24mm.
To get the moon closer to the landscape, look at using a normal or even a short telephoto lens. The image above was a single shot taken at 128mm effective focal length. That’s long enough to capture detail on the Moon’s face, yet it allows you to include the landscape. Compositions like this can be extremely rewarding.
Focal lengths 200mm or longer can give you close-ups of the moon. But for that super moon effect, you’ll want to get into the 400-600mm range, or longer. And you’ll want to use a star tracker to keep the Moon sharp during the one second or more exposure you’ll need for an totally eclipsed Moon. The image above was taken with an effective focal length of 1200mm on a full-frame camera using a star tracker set to the lunar speed.
Recommended Lunar Eclipse Camera Settings
The brightness of the Moon changes greatly during a Lunar Eclipse. You could spot-meter the Moon and use the illuminated side to set your exposure. Remember to check your histogram to make sure you don’t over-expose the bright side of the Moon.
The Looney 11 Rule
Or, you can use the Looney 11 Rule, which states for lunar photography, with your at f/11, then the shutter speed will be the reciprocal of the ISO. That is the Shutter Speed = 1/ISO. It a lunar parallel to the Sunny 16 Rule for daytime exposure.
To use the Looney 11, before the eclipse starts, set your lens to f/11. Then choose the ISO you want – let’s start with ISO 100. The Loony 11 rule then says to set your shutter speed at 1/100 second. (If 1/100 second isn’t available on your camera, you could use 1/125 second.)
If you want to shoot at f/8, you can convert the Looney 11 settings by opening the lens one stop from f/11 to f/8 while increasing the shutter speed by one stop, going from 1/100 second to 1/200 second.
As the eclipse proceeds and the moon darkens, lower your shutter speed. Try to keep your shutter speed above 1 second to prevent motion blur from the Earth’s rotation and keep the moon sharp. As totality approaches, you may want to open your lens to say f/8, f/5.6, or even f/4.
During a total eclipse, be prepared to use an exposure of ISO 1600, f/5.6, and 1/2 second or longer, depending on how far into the Earth’s shadow the Moon gets. You may need to make adjustments based on the Moon’s elevation and atmospheric conditions at your location.
As mentioned above, check out the Lunar Exposure Calculator at Xjubier.free.fr.
Bracket, Bracket, Bracket
Once the eclipse starts, you can bracket your shots by +/- 1 or 2 stops, with either 3 or 5 bracketed frames. This helps ensure you get a shot with the proper exposure and also allows you to blend images to recover info from the darker side of the Moon.
Focus at Infinity
You can often use autofocus on the moon, except for the totality phase, since the Moon is very bright. Once your camera gets good focus, switch it out of AF mode and into manual focus so your lens doesn’t try to refocus while you’re taking images.
Once the moon gets darker, you’ll probably want to focus on the moon manually. Set your lens to its widest aperture when manually focusing, and then set it back to your desired f-stop to photograph the Moon. Use your image review and zoom in on the moon and make sure you have good focus. If there are any stars in the frame, examine them and make sure they are sharp. It’s much easier to see when the stars are well focused than by looking at the Moon alone.
Remember to recheck your focus occasionally through the night, especially as you approach totality. Changes in air temperature can cause the focus point of your lens to change.
The Histogram is Your Friend
When shooting the moon against the night sky, your histogram will show most of your pixels are at the left edge. But you’ll see a little blip to the right for the brighter Moon. You’ll want those pixels to be about one-half or one-third of the way to the right side of your histogram.
As the sky starts to brighten, the sky will brighten, and most of those pixels will start to move right on your histogram. You need to increase your shutter speed or lower your ISO to keep the sky from getting too bright and over-exposing your Moon.
Additional Lunar Eclipse Photography Suggestions
Since eclipses are a somewhat rare occurrence, you’ll want to maximize your shoot. You can do this with several of the following ideas – shoot with two or more cameras, using a star tracker, mounting an APS-C camera on your longest focal length lens.
Two Camera Solution
If you have two cameras, you can use one with a telephoto and the other with a wider-angled lens. This way, you can get close-ups of the Moon and capture the different phases with the telephoto, and let the second camera shoot a timelapse of the Moon as it travels across the sky.
If you have a star tracker, like the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i Astro Pack, you can use it to help keep the Moon centered in your camera’s viewfinder. Polar align your tracker as you would normally for star tracking. Instead of using the star tracking speed, set it to the lunar speed setting. Then mount your camera and point it at the Moon.
There are two benefits to using a star tracker for lunar eclipse photography. It allows you to spend less time messing about with your tripod head, trying to keep keep the Moon framed. It also allows you to use longer shutter speeds without blurring the Moon from the Earth’s rotation.
Want a Longer Lens?
If you normally shoot a full-frame camera, but you don’t have a really long lens, grab that APS-C camera you have sitting around and use it with your longest lens. The crop-sensor in the APS-C camera will act as if it’s a teleconverter for your lens – giving it about 1.5x more apparent focal length.
For example, if I put my 1.5x crop sensor Sony a6300 on my 70-300mm lens, it will have the same field of view as if I put a 450mm lens on my full-frame camera. Super easy to do, and it doesn’t cost you a cent!
More Info on Shooting a Total Lunar Eclipse
We hope you found this info useful. If you have any lunar photography tips or tricks you’d like to share, please post them in the comments below. We’d love to hear your ideas!
For more on how to shoot a total lunar eclipse – check out our article, How to Photograph the Total Lunar Eclipse.
Article updated on 28 May 2021.
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