How to or how not to shoot a lunar eclipse

I don’t know when the next lunar eclipse is off the top of my head, I’m sure I could google it but I think it’s more likely that as it approaches the news will be sure to tell me.  One of my most popular posts on this site is my post about night photography and shooting the stars.

Shooting a lunar eclipse is a challenge, I didn’t know this until recently.  I decided to go as big as I could with my zoomed photos, my 70-200 w/ my 1.4x teleconvertor, a whopping 280mm.  I thought that would get me close, ha!  Let me give you an idea of how close 280mm got me:

Lunar Eclipse Full Photo
Lunar Eclipse Full Photo

As you can see, not very close at all.  So, how did I get results.

Well, first and foremost, when you’re looking at something this small (the moon) and that far away, getting focus is difficult.  Sure, you can get it kinda clear but getting strong lines takes a lot of work.

My setup, 5DmkII, 70-200+1.4TC, my MacBook, USB Cable, Canon EOS software and a steady tripod.

I did all these photos laying down on the ground, partially because it was a flat surface to set everything like the laptop but also so I could get the tripod legs as wide as possible.  I was using them at their max distance, the camera was only about 12″ off the ground.  I set up remote shooting using my laptop and Canon EOS and attaching the USB cord to the camera.  Then I used the Live View function and zoomed in 10x.

This is where the hard part starts, manual focus, when you are focusing the smallest amount of rotation will really change your focus.  It took a lot of time to get it right and then once it was right or what I thought was right I’d take a photo.  I’d then open the photo and look at it to see if it was in focus.  If it was I’d keep shooting, if it wasn’t I’d stop and refocus and try again.  This was a lot of trial and error.

This is where I’d say I went wrong, a higher zoom would mean I wouldn’t have to use 10x on live view, 10x is too hard to really get focus detail, there’s too much noise and pixelation to see what is sharp and 5x wasn’t close enough.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, following this should be fine, you get it in focus once and you’re good to go, but no, the moon moves and even at a low 280mm it moves fast, from one side of the frame to the other in 5-10 minutes.  This means you are constantly having to move the camera on the tripod and each time I did I had to find the focus point again.  Again something I probably did wrong, if I would have had a totally level tripod this may have been avoided.

So for the bright moon, as shown above I shot at 1/200 s, f/10, and ISO 500.  Those with less ISO forgiving sensor will probably want to drop the ISO and compensate with a lower f-stop.

As the moon became more and more of a sliver I had to start tweaking settings.  By the time I was down to a little sliver I was at 1/50 s, f/9.0, and ISO 500.  This was to capture the white of the moon as it was a small sliver.  To capture the red of the moon became a totally different ballgame.  I had to lengthen the exposure time significantly, 0.5 s, f/6.3, and ISO 500.  It quickly became a challenge to get it right.  Once the moon was in full eclipse I was at 0.6 s, f/5.6, and ISO 800.  I found anything longer than 0.6 s started to cause motion blur in the frame, that moon is hauling!

Truthfully I don’t know what I would do differently as far as exposures go, maybe I could do a higher ISO or a lower f-stop to try to get the shutter speed faster.  If anyone has any advice I’d be more than happy to listen.  I can tell you one thing, focussing with the viewfinder on the moon I don’t think is possible, at least not at 280mm, next eclipse, I think I’m gonna go rent me a 500mm or higher lens with a TC.

Check out the results here, cropped, contrast bumped a little, clarity +40, sharpening 92, 2.4, 47, and some noise reduction.

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