Overview & equipment for lunar eclipse photography

Photographing a lunar eclipse is a challenge. You can use a wide variety of equipment with a sturdy tripod, a well thought out framing and exposure plan are the most important factors for great eclipse images.

The image above shows a typical camera based setup for lunar eclipse photography.

Equipment you will need:

  • Almost any camera with manual exposure control is capable of capturing good images of a lunar eclipse. If you don't have a removable or zoom lens with a long reach you may be limited in your choice of frame of view. A camera with a high quality lens, good low light performance, and an interchangeable or zoom lens is a plus.
  • A prime lens, zoom lens, or telescope with the right focal length to capture the images that you need.
  • A sturdy tripod is essential. In addition to wind and vibration which can blur an image, you will need to adjust camera exposure without disturbing the camera's aim.
  • An intervalometer accessory or camera application is a good way to get uniformly spaced time lapse images. I plan an interval of several minutes between images. This also allows plenty of time to make exposure changes and check them between shots.
    If you are comfortable with camera automation, camera tethering software like Xavier Jupier's Lunar Eclipse Maestro can be used to automate photographing the entire eclipse.
  • A motorized tracking mount that can track at the speed of the moon or the sun can make a plan with longer focal length images much easier to follow.

In addition to equipment, there are the usual astrophotography issues of working in the dark, getting a sharp focus, and keeping the camera steady. Other important considerations for a lunar eclipse include:

  • It's a long complex event - nearly four hours for the umbral eclipse. The moon will move across a third of the sky making tracking important. Temperature, wind and cloud conditions can also change dramatically. The stories you can tell with your images depend on how the moon was tracked and framed.
  • Dramatic changes in exposure - From the early partial eclipse to totality there can be 10 stops or more of exposure change. Near totality the exposure required changes second by second.
  • Stacking and post-processing - the moon is normally bright and evenly illuminated allowing high quality single exposure images. During the late partial phases there is interesting detail in both the sunlit and shadow parts of the moon easily visible to our eyes. Cameras are incapable of recording this in a single image requiring multi-exposure high dynamic range (HDR) stacking techniques. Close up images of totality can require lucky image stacking to produce sharp low noise images.

My discussion follows a roughly chronological process:

Content created: 2019-01-14 and last modified: 2019-05-14




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