Before getting to the topic at hand, I want to let you know that eight people have signed up for the Eastern Sierra Fall Color Workshop since I announced it last Thursday. The limit is twelve students, and I’m sure it will fill up soon, so if you’re thinking about signing up don’t procrastinate!
Okay, on to the eclipse. Before dawn this Saturday, December 10th, viewers in the Western U.S. and Canada will be able to see a total lunar eclipse. If you live in the eastern half of the U.S. unfortunately you’ll only be able to see a partial eclipse. People in most of Europe, Asia, and Australia will also be able to see a total eclipse, though in Europe it will be visible at moonrise on Saturday evening. This NASA page shows where the eclipse will be visible throughout the world, and this page shows more detail for western North America.
If the weather cooperates, and you want to try make your own eclipse photographs, here are some tips. (I’ve copied some of this from my post a year ago, but the information about the moon position is all new.)
First, you should move away from cities to avoid light pollution. In western North America, the moon will go into full eclipse as its setting, just before sunrise. To see it you’ll have to have a clear view of the horizon to the west-northwest. John Cubit on Calphoto found this link from the Griffith Observatory with an excellent graphic showing the path of the moon.
Because the eclipsed moon will be so low in the sky, this is a great opportunity to include a silhouetted foreground element—trees or buildings, for example. However these objects can’t be too tall or they’ll just block the moon (a mountain won’t work).
I made this photograph by taking separate exposures of the moon, each ten minutes apart, and layering them together in Photoshop. The Photoshop techniques are beyond the scope of a post like this, but the short answer is to use the Shift key when dragging one layer on top of another, so they line up exactly, and use the Screen layer blending mode for all but the bottom layer.
To make a sequence you have to predict the path that the moon will take so you can compose your photograph accordingly. The best tool I’ve found for this is an iPhone app called Star Walk. With this program you can look at a section of virtual sky and then spin the Time dial, allowing you to watch a fast-motion movie of the night sky for any time and place. Very cool stuff. If you don’t have an iPhone there are many other applications and online resources that will allow you to determine the position of the moon, just not with such ease. The best of these is probably The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a free desktop application.
In the field the hardest parts are focusing and getting the right exposure. For tips about focusing, and general suggestions about equipment and techniques for night photography, see this earlier post about photographing lunar rainbows.
Light meters are useless for getting good exposures of the moon itself, which is what we’re talking about here, because even with a one-degree spot you can’t meter off just the moon—you’ll be reading both the moon and surrounding black sky. So here are some suggestions based on past experience, including making the accompanying photograph. All the times and f-stops are for 200 ISO, so you’ll have to adapt for other ISOs:
Full moon, or moon more than half visible: 1/60 sec. at f/16
Half to one-quarter of the moon visible: 1/30 sec. at f/16
Less than one-quarter of the moon visible: 1/15 sec. at f/16
Just the edge of the moon lit: 1 sec. at f/16
Fully eclipsed at beginning and end of totality: 4 sec. at f/5.6
Fully eclipsed, deepest totality: 8 sec. at f/5.6
Keep in mind that you don’t want exposures that are too long, as the moon will move and blur. You can get away with 8 or maybe even 16 seconds with a wide-angle lens, but with a telephoto you probably need to keep exposure times to two seconds or less. Consider pushing up the ISO with telephotos. Bracketing exposures is a good idea.
When making the accompanying photograph I used flash to light-paint the trees in between making exposures of the moon. Light painting is a complex subject that I won’t get into here. If this is the first time you’ve ever tried photographing an eclipse I’d suggest you keep it simple, and don’t try light painting. Just try to capture single images of the moon itself, or perhaps a sequence with silhouetted trees in the foreground. Exposures anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes apart can work for a sequence; just make sure to keep the interval the same throughout. Make sure your tripod is solidly planted before beginning the sequence.
When the moon is full, stars are barely visible. But when the moon becomes totally eclipsed an amazing thing happens: the sky gets dark, and thousands of stars appear. In the accompanying photograph I made an exposure for these stars when the moon was fully eclipsed: 30 seconds at f/4 and 3200 ISO. Anything longer than 30 seconds would have turned the stars into streaks. I then cloned the vastly overexposed moon out of this frame, and added this layer to the mix, using the Shift key and Screen blending mode as described above.
However for this eclipse, since the sky will be lightening with the approaching sunrise, I doubt this many stars will be visible. But this extra bit of light will help silhouetted objects stand out against the sky.
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, plus the eBook Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom. He has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.
Nice photo and good instructions. Here is a nice web site to get more info from:
Trying to figure out what I’ll see and when in Yakima
Thanks for the link Aram. You might have to go into the mountains somewhere to get a view of the horizon to the west.
I’m interested in giving this project a shot. Do I have to have an SLR or can I use any digital camera?
Sarah, an SLR is not essential. The equipment you need depends on the photo you plan to make, but exposures for the eclipsed moon are relatively short, so you usually don’t even need a bulb setting on the camera. I tripod and cable release, or even a self-timer, are all you need.
Michael, I am going to be using a 18 -55 lens. Will your calculation work for this lense. Also use a 75 -300 lense, when do you start worrying about blur?
Jack, I’m not sure what calculation you’re referring to, but as I wrote in the post, you can use 8 seconds, or longer, probably up to 15 seconds, with a wide-angle lens – say 28mm or wider. For telephotos, oike your 75-300, you should keep exposure times to one or two seconds or less.
Michael, I have a focus question. In my (not so) old days of film and manual lenses, if I were to set the focus ring on the infinity stop (turned all the way), it was focused at infinity. Simple. I have noticed a few things since my recent switch to digial and zooms. If I set the lens to manual focus, and focus on something, it is in foucs, but if I zoom, the focus shifts. On some lenses it is quite a bit of shift. this is disturbing to me when trying to take videos. I then dug out my only zoom I had for my film camera (manual Leica) and did the same thing and there was no focus shift as it zooms. I guess, with auto focus, they don’t think they need to have a constant focus through the zoom range.
I had never tried this at infinty, so I just tried to see if there was any shift at infinity on my main lens (24-120) and there is none, but I noticed that if I put in in manual focus and crank the lens to the infinity stop, it goes beyond the marked infinity and it is out of focus. So, at night, when there will be not much to focus on, how can you be sure a lens is focused correctly for star/moon/night shots?
Hope that was clear 🙂
Clear as mud Aram! 🙂
Seriously though, I actually do understand your questions. First, whether the focus shifts when you zoom depends on the design of the lens. Not all autofocus zooms shift focus when zooming – neither of mine do (Canon 17-40mm f/4L and 70-200mm f/4L). This shift certainly could be disturbing when capturing videos, so you you’ll probably want to look for some zooms that don’t have this shift. When you do use a non-focus-shifting zoom for video, you should set the focus zoomed in at the longest focal length you plan to use for a particular shot. Focusing is not as critical or accurate with shorter lenses, so if you focus with then lens zoomed out, and then zoom in during the shot, it’s likely that the focus will be off.
On to part two… Yes, focusing for night images with newer lenses is difficult, because they focus past infinity. In the link above to my post about photographing lunar rainbows I describe some tricks for dealing with this:
Basically, you can focus on any distant bright light. I can actually focus on a bright star with manual focus, and sometimes even with autofocus.
Hope that helps!
No Joy in Yakima. got up and it was cold (16 degrees F) and foggy. I knew it was going to be foggy, but thought I could get above it and see the moon over the fog over the valley, but no such luck. Totally socked in. I’ll enjoy seeing photos that others have taken.
Thanks for all the help, which is filed away till next time.
Oh well – there’s a lot of luck involved with these things. I’ll post something of mine here soon, but I’ve seen some great eclipse captures over on Calphoto.
I saw those, too. The one of the moon over the Golden Gate was really nice.
I’ll look for yours.
We are in Southern Cal right not. family emergency.
Very nice write-up! Any suggestions for places around Sunnyvale, CA to get good shots of tomorrow’s eclipse?
Well Sunil you’re close to the ocean, where you’d have a great view to the west-northwest – an essential requirement for this eclipse. Plus you’d find lots of interesting foregrounds. Good luck!
I will be using a Canon Powershot G10 to shoot the lunar eclipse in its stages. Will using the zoom feature affect the exposure time or stops?
Also, do I want to be using my built in flash or no flash?
I just realized my Canon Powershot wont go past F8 regardless of the ISO. What do you recommend I do?
1) I don’t use a G10, but on most cameras zooming would not affect the exposure.
2) Your flash can’t light the moon – it’s too far away. Unless you’re planning to light someone or something in the foreground, leave it off.
3) f/8 is an aperture two stops wider, and therefore brighter, than f/16, so compensate by using a shutter speed two stops faster, and therefore darker, than the times indicated above. So (with 200 ISO):
Full moon, or moon more than half visible: 1/250 sec. at f/8
Half to one-quarter of the moon visible: 1/125 sec. at f/8
Less than one-quarter of the moon visible: 1/60 sec. at f/8
Just the edge of the moon lit: 1/4 sec. at f/8
Fully eclipsed at beginning and end of totality: 4 sec. at f/5.6
Fully eclipsed, deepest totality: 8 sec. at f/5.6
It’s a good idea to bracket exposures to hedge your bets.
Thank you for sharing your expertise! And, your images are beautiful! I hope I can participate in one of your workshops soon!
You’re welcome Kimberly, and thanks for your kind words. It would be great to see you in a workshop!
Thanks so much!!
I love your work by the way.
You’re welcome Sarah!
Thanks for the tips. I succeeding in making the capture of the eclipse sequence. Here is the link for the final image:
Nicely done Vaibhav! Glad that worked out for you.
Thanks so much for your tips. I did as per your advice. However I have the blur images at 8s. I have got here 250mm, It seems to me that is ok at around f5.6 and 2s.
Please have a look at my poor result :
Thanks o lot,
Bichio, I’m glad you found this article helpful, and your results don’t look poor at all – on the contrary! As I said in the article, with telephoto lenses you need to keep the exposure times to 2 seconds or less, and your experience seems to bear this out.
Michael, Thanks for the write-up. Here’s what I came up with in Alaska. http://www.johnschwieder.com/index.php?module=media&pId=102&id=726
Nicely done John! It’s great that you were able to see the whole eclipse sequence, and I love the starry sky.
The eclipse was not highly publicised here in Alaska, surprising since it was plenty dark at local 6am -it’s not starting to get light until 9am now. Initially I was disapointed to still see the city glow from Anchorage but it did help silloutte the trees…
Surprising that there wasn’t more publicity there about the eclipse, as it was a perfect viewing location.
the total lunar eclipse is coming again after the moonbow this month, I am having a hard time on finding a good spot to photograph the event in yosemite national park, where would you recommend me to go, i am thinking to go to Tunnel view, but it seems like it’s not gonna work. thank you for your advice,
Stanley, Yosemite may not be the best place for the eclipse. Tunnel View definitely not, as the eclipse will be visible to the south, and TV looks east. You might possibly be able to line up the eclipse with Sentinel Rock or Cathedral Rocks looking south.