Ask LH: How Can I Photograph The Lunar Eclipse?

Dear Lifehacker, There is going to be a lunar eclipse early Thursday morning. Can you please give me some tips on how to photograph it, even with a point and shoot digital camera? Yours hopefully, Moonstruck

Dear Moonstruck,

Assuming you’re willing to get up early (the eclipse will begin from around 5:20am AEST), the lunar eclipse could provide some interesting photographic opportunities. Astronomers are speculating that its appearance could be redder than usual because of the impact of volcanic ash, but we don’t

Some time ago, we ran a post advising people on the best way to photograph fireworks, and many of those tips are equally applicable to photographing an eclipse. Here’s a brief summary:

  • Use a tripod for maximum stability. The effect of the eclipse will be lost if there’s any camera shake. You’re not photographing a fast-moving object, so a tripod isn’t a restriction.
  • Use a remote control/trigger if possible. Again, this improves image stability.
  • Think about image composition and choose a good location. If you don’t have an SLR, chances are you won’t be able to do a detailed close-up, so you’ll have a wide-angle shot with the eclipse as a main feature. Choose a location which adds interest but doesn’t detract from the eclipse; avoid having red cars, signs or buildings in shot, for example..
  • Switch off the flash. The moon is (very roughly) 400,000 kilometres away from the earth, so your flash is only going to be a hindrance.
  • Use a long exposure time. Photographing a bright object at a distance requires a longer exposure (assuming you can change that on your camera.) Five seconds is useful; if you go longer than around 30 seconds, your shot may lose clarity.
  • Take plenty of pictures. Your best shots may not be evident on a small viewfinder; take lots of shots and check them on a large monitor later.

It has to be said: the results you’ll get from a point and shoot will never match what you can achieve with an SLR. However, by applying the concepts above to the extent you can, you should improve your chances of scoring an interesting photo.

If readers with eclipse experience have additional tips to share, we’d love to hear them in the comments. Happy shooting!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Couple of things I learnt trying to take photos of the supermoon a few months ago with a DSLR –

    The longer the focal length the better close up you’ll get (obviously)

    If using a tripod turn off any image stabilisation your lens might have, it shakes the camera while on the tripod.

    Use your camera’s mirror lock feature to stop it shaking the camera

    A full moon’s really quite bright, so short exposures will get you way more detail than longer ones. Not sure if this will apply during the eclipse though.

    Manual focus at infinity to save time 😉

  • +1 on those point Grim.

    The moon & earth are both moving, so personally I’d avoid anything over 1 sec. especially at long focal lengths. @400mm you can see the moon move across your viewfinder pretty easily.

    If you have a DSLR with live view, use manual focus on the LCD screen while zoomed in as much as possible.

    Under expose your image to keep the detail in the moon, try to avoid any pure white in your photo by enabling the highlight alert (flashies) on your camera.

  • First advice is to not ask someone who doesnt know what theyre talking about. 5 second exposure? The moon is super bright and moving quite fast, this is terrible advice. Youll probably end up overexposing and the moon will just be a whitish circle.

    Shoot it in manual and change the camera to spot metering.

    Given that the moon is bright it gives you some flexibility with your aperture. Make sure you chose the aperture that gives you the sharpest, and aberation-free this is critical if you dont have a super long lens as youll definetly see the loss of quality on the crops.

    Tripod helps and its a good chance to try out the mirror lock up feature if you have it.

  • You don’t really need a DSLR to get nice enough shots.

    My kid is doing an assignment on the moon. We have been using our regular Panasonic compact (DMC-ZS7). Found best shots were when we enabled digital zoom and pretty much filled the shot with the moon.

    Reason being, as vtl mentioned, spot metering is required. However, this little compact isn’t really the best in manual mode. So zooming in as tight as possible (~quarter of frame?) gives the camera the best chance of getting the right exposure. I played around and chose the best preset (I think I used ‘sunset’) Using this method, could even make out shadows from bigger craters. Didn’t look as good as E Monkey’s but still not too bad.

    I get the best shots using my telescope – but this is hardly useful when you’re attempting to capture a lunar eclipse which kinda needs an overall view.

  • I’d like to share my experience with taking moon photos:

    I took a photo of a full moon a few weeks ago with a Fuji S5800 and found it did a OK job :

    It’s from with a Fuji S5800 10x superzoom cameras that I purchased secondhand at Cash Converters.

    This photo was taken using a shutter speed (1/1000) and a minimum aperture of f1.4 with ISO at 400 and flash on (which didn’t affect the photo too much).

  • Oops-in my comment, I said a minimum aperture of f1.4 (should number f13.6).

    I wouldn’t take a photo of the moon with a P&S camera, only one with manual control over aperture/shutter speed. Tried doing a moon photo with a PowerShot A1200 but wasn’t as good as what I can do with my superzooms.

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