I anxiously watched satellite photos and checked cloud forecasts in hopes of clear skies for the November 8 eclipse. You also? I frequently go to the Clear Sky Chart and look for blue squares (indicating clear skies) during the eclipse, which occurs between about 3 a.m. and 6:45 a.m. CST. If the boxes are white for my location, I’m looking for the closest place with a “bluer” sky. A total eclipse is big enough that I would happily drive an hour or more to see one.
Another good resource for checking clouds is astrospheric.com. Like Clear Dark Skies, you choose your location first and hope for blue boxes. On both sites, clicking on a box will bring up a map showing where the sky is clear and where the clouds are hiding.
I talked about how to observe the upcoming eclipse in this previous post. This time we will learn how to photograph it. Cell phone users are in luck. Normally, the moon is just a small dot in a big, empty black sky through your camera. Sure, you can zoom in and zoom out, but the images often get “grainy” and lose quality. The latest generations of Android and iPhone have seen great improvements in image resolution, but they still fall short of digital camera quality when it comes to eclipses.
The good news is that the moon will either be in total eclipse or emerge from totality. in the morning twilight for observers in the eastern two-thirds of the country. For viewers in the Midwest, twilight begins just before totality ends.
Dawn will brighten and add color to the sky while gently illuminating the foreground landscape. Although the moon still looks like a dot, you will be able to frame it with a scene, especially during the partial eclipse. That should make a big difference to getting a pretty picture. Just be sure to hold your mobile phone steady when taking photos. If you don’t have a tripod or adapter, mount the phone against a wall, car hood, ladder rung, or pole.
If you have a telescope, you can use it as a giant telephoto lens. Aim the telescope at the eclipsed moon, focus, then hold the phone above the eyepiece until you find the sweet spot where the moon appears on screen. Gently press the phone against the eyepiece while pressing the shutter button. I took the six photos from the image panel at the top of this article with this method.
Your best option is to use a single-lens DSLR camera or a DSLR on a tripod with a 200mm telephoto lens or more. The longer the lens, the bigger the moon will be. Good news! You won’t have to focus manually – the moon is bright enough to autofocus.
During the first partial phases, you can almost hold the camera by hand, taking for example ISO 800, f/5.6 and 1/1000 of a second. But as it sinks deeper into the shadows, you’ll need to adjust your camera settings as the moon’s brightness continues to dim. You have three options:
- Slow down the shutter speed to 1/250 to 1/125 to 1/60, etc.
- Open the lens wider to f/4 or f/2.8 to increase the amount of light to your sensor.
- Increase the ISO from 800 to 1600, 3200 or more. As you increase the ISO (the camera’s sensitivity to light), remember that grain and resolution decrease.
When the moon is about half or three-quarters in the Earth’s shadow, you will notice that the dark part glows a deep red-orange. To make this part of the moon stand out, you will need to expose much longer. Instead of 1/500 second, for example, you may need to increase the exposure time to 1/30 second or more. Naturally, this means that the bright part of the moon will be overexposed. Fix your exposures and check the back of the camera to see what works for you aesthetically.
Besides the exposure chart in this article, check out Xavier Jubier’s shutter speed calculator for lunar eclipses. It’s super easy to use and you can customize it to suit your camera and circumstances.
Lunar brightness during totality varies from eclipse to eclipse, but in terms of exposure, it’s darker than you might think. I usually open my 400mm or 600mm lens all the way, raise the ISO to 1600 or 3200 and expose for a second or less. Any longer than that with a telephoto lens and the image will get scratched because the Earth’s rotation continues to push the moon.
That’s why the best way to shoot the whole thing is with a tracking mount. You attach the camera to the mount, line it up with the North Star, and it compensates for the Earth’s rotation. With this setup, you can shoot telephoto for 10 seconds or more at a “friendlier” high definition ISO like 400 or 800.
Whether you’re using a smartphone, a DSLR with a telephoto lens, or a telescope, many of us will have the opportunity to capture picturesque photos of the eclipsed moon setting in the western sky at morning twilight, as pictured above . Look around in your city or neighborhood over the next few days for a scene that would pair well with the moon, so you’ll be ready when the time comes – hopefully a clear “blue block”!