Those lucky enough to be in the path of totality will be able to observe a total lunar eclipse on 8 November 2022.

Advertisement

But what about photographing it? Have you ever tried to photograph a lunar eclipse?

If you're familiar with how to use a DSLR camera, this branch of astrophotography should come pretty easy.

For more advice, read our guide on how to observe the Moon and how to photograph the Moon.

Find out when the next eclipse is visible.

Lunar Eclipse (28/09/2015) by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK.
Lunar Eclipse on 28 September 2015, by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount, Equinox 80mm refractor, Atik 320e colour camera.

What is a lunar eclipse?

Lunar eclipses occur when the Moon passes into the shadow that Earth casts in space. Credit: Pete Lawrence
Lunar eclipses occur when the Moon passes into the shadow that Earth casts in space. Credit: Pete Lawrence

A lunar eclipse occurs when the full Moon passes into the shadow that Earth casts in space.

Despite the shadow being quite large at the distance of the Moon, the 5º inclination of the Moon’s orbit relative to that of Earth means that most full Moons miss the shadow completely.

They simply pass above it or below it.

The shape of this shadow is determined by the Sun appearing to us as a circular extended light source, with a diameter of 0.5º.

This creates a shadow of two parts: a dark central portion called the umbra and a less intense portion called the penumbra.

A photo of a penumbral lunar eclipse with the northwest edge of the Moon starting to darken.
As the Moon moves deeper into Earth’s penumbral shadow, it appears as though a dark bite is being taken out of the Moon. Credit: Pete Lawrence

If you piloted a spacecraft into the umbra the Sun’s disc would be completely hidden behind the Earth, but inside the penumbra only part of the Sun’s disc would be hidden.

Entering the penumbra would result in a drop in light levels, which would become more noticeable as you moved towards the umbra.

If Earth were airless, the umbra would be really dark.

However, Earth’s atmosphere refracts sunlight and this partially illuminates the umbra.

This light is from the red end of the spectrum – shorter wavelengths in the blue region get scattered – so the umbral shadow appears reddish in colour, essentially illuminated by a circle of sunsets and sunrises.

Lunar Eclipse (28/09/2015) by Alan Beeston, Shropshire, UK.
Lunar eclipse of 28 September 2015 by Alan Beeston, Shropshire, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher Evostar, ED80 Ds-Pro, 0.85x FF/FR, Canon 700D, 2.5 sec Exp at 200 ISO

How and when to photograph a lunar eclipse

As the leading edge of the Moon enters the penumbral shadow, the penumbra tends to be very weak, and at its outer extremes you are not likely to be notice this transition.

As the Moon passes towards the umbra, the amount of light it receives decreases.

By taking correctly exposed photographs of the Moon’s disc at regular intervals – say a minute or two apart – and animating them, this gradual darkening of the penumbra can be revealed.

Photographing the penumbra

A layered image of a penumbral lunar eclipse can emphasise the darkening of the penumbra shadow. Credit: Pete Lawrence
A layered image of a penumbral lunar eclipse can emphasise the darkening of the penumbra shadow. Credit: Pete Lawrence

The penumbra is about 0.5º wide, similar to the apparent diameter of the Moon. It takes the Moon just less than an hour to cross it.

After first contact, the umbral partial phase begins.

The visual appearance of the Moon looks quite odd after first contact, almost as if something’s taking a melting bite out of it.

Expose a photo for the bright portion of the Moon’s disc and the umbral shadow will appear dark, without features.

If you increase the exposure red-hued detail will appear inside the shadow, but the bright surface will become overexposed.

Photographing the partial phase

Partial Lunar Eclipse (25/04/2013) by Tom Howard, Crawley, Sussex, UK.
Partial lunar eclipse photographed on 24 April 2013 by Tom Howard, Crawley, Sussex, UK. Equipment: Nikon D7000 DSLR through a Skywatcher 100ED refactor on an AZ4 mount.

During the partial phase, a low ISO of 200-400 is ideal.

A lens with a focal length of 100mm will produce a recognisably eclipsed disc, but a 1,000mm focal length lens will really bring out some stunning detail.

A low ISO will also result in a better tonal range. This is really important for the edge
of the umbra, where the colours can be glorious.

The umbra itself may appear anything from a golden orange to a deep blood red.

At the edge, subtle yellows and grey-blue bands may be recorded.

The blue seen here is due to light refracting through the Earth’s ozone layer; in this case it’s the red light that gets scattered, leaving blue to pass through.

The last portion of the Moon’s disc to darken will be that close to the southeast limb.

Total immersion in the umbral shadow is achieved at second contact.

Photographing totality

Lunar Eclipse (28/09/2015) by José J. Chambó Bris, Vallés, Valencia, Spain.
Lunar eclipse on 28 September 2015 by by José J. Chambó Bris, Vallés, Valencia, Spain. Equipment: GSO 8" @ f/3.8 & Canon EOS-100D

Totality, as it is known, is easier to deal with photographically as there’s no bright surface visible to overexpose.

The exact colour and darkness of totality isn’t easy to predict.

Some are very dark with the Moon virtually disappearing from view.

Others are light, showing a golden-yellow colour. The variation means that reviewing camera feedback is really important to get the exposure right.

Lunar Eclipse (28/09/2015) by Keith Bramley, Pilling, Lancashire, UK.
Lunar eclipse on 28 September 2015 by Keith Bramley, Pilling, Lancashire, UK. Equipment: Canon 450D through MN190 scope on Backyard pier. Captured using APT.

It’s important to check the camera’s histogram regularly. A good result shows the tone value ‘mountain’ peaking between the left and right extremes of the graph (the black and white points).

If they sit hard against either end, then your image is either underexposed or overexposed.

Keeping the lens aperture wide and exposure short will alleviate problems caused by the Moon’s movement or from wind shake.

A fixed tripod is great but a driven equatorial mount makes life easier, especially for the longer exposures needed during the totality.

A remote shutter release will alleviate shakes caused by physically having to press the shutter button.

A remote shutter release helps to capture images of the deep sky, as you can start an imaging run without touching the camera. Credit: Pete Lawrence
A remote shutter release helps to avoid camera shakes.

When totality finally arrives, you will need to raise the camera’s sensitivity.

This is done by raising the ISO or lengthening exposures.

A dark totality can surprise, so be prepared. The best advice is not to panic: there’s plenty of time to take it all in: totality in a lunar eclipse lasts over an hour.

Totality officially ends with third contact. After this the second umbral partial phase begins.

This continues until fourth contact, and the Moon finally leaves the penumbral shadow.

Photograph a lunar eclipse with a smartphone

Photographing the Moon through a telescope with a smartphone. Credit: m-gucci / Getty Images
Credit: m-gucci / Getty Images

Photographing the Moon with a smartphone is best done by pointing the phone down the eyepiece of a telescope.

A low- or medium-power eyepiece works best, though you’ll also need a steady hand to line everything up.

Start by holding the phone some distance away from the eyepiece and gradually bringing it closer, while guiding using the phone’s screen.

Or, you could use a smartphone telescope adapter.

telescope smartphone holder

Once in position, carefully press the shutter button.

If you have headphones with a volume control on the lead, try plugging them in and using the controls while in the camera app.

On some phones these controls trigger the shutter and thus reduce camera shake.

Your camera’s automatic functions should adjust the settings for you, but remember to turn the flash off beforehand.

This should work well for the partial phases but the totally eclipsed Moon may be a bit hit and miss as it’s difficult to say just how dark it’s going to be. The best advice here is just give it a go.

Photograph a lunar eclipse sequence

Merging your shots to create a sequence will reveal how Earth’s shadow creeps across the full Moon. Credit: Pete Lawrence
Merging your shots to create a sequence will reveal how Earth’s shadow creeps across the full Moon. Credit: Pete Lawrence

A wide-field camera on a fixed tripod can produce a stunning eclipse sequence.

Use a low ISO of 200-400 and expose so the full Moon appears bright to the point of being almost overexposed.

Take shots at regular intervals, say four minutes apart.

Load each image into a layer-based editor and draw a circular selection around the Moon with 2-5 pixel feathered edges.

Invert the selection, create a new layer above and fill with black.

Lunar Eclipse (10/12/2011) by Tim Jukes, Tsukuba, Japan.
A sequence shot of the 10 December 2011 lunar eclipse, by Tim Jukes, Tsukuba, Japan. Equipment: Nikon D7000, Sigma 100-300mm f4 + 1.4x Teleconverter.

Save these Moon-only shots with a sequence number – for example 001.jpg, 002.jpg and so on.

Load each Moon-only image into a separate upper layer with blend mode set to Lighten.

Merge with the layer below.

Pick an original image with a good sky and load as the top layer; set its blend mode to Lighten too.

A 12mm or shorter lens, aligned so that south is at the left frame edge, should contain the entire eclipse including the penumbral phase

A 20mm lens should be able to cover the umbral phase.

Advertisement

Have you captured an image of a lunar eclipse? We'd love to see it! Share it with us via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or send it to us via contactus@skyatnightmagazine.com.

Authors

Pete Lawrence, astronomer and BBC The Sky at Night presenter.
Pete LawrenceAstronomer and presenter

Pete Lawrence is an experienced astronomer and astrophotographer, and a presenter on BBC's The Sky at Night.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement