Photographers and astronomy fans in North America are gearing up for a rare meteorological event the night of April 14-15. According to Sky and Telescope magazine, on April 15th, the lunar eclipse will begin around 1:20am ET.
This ‘Blood Moon‘ — the poetic name given to the deep-red color of the moon during the eclipse — is caused as the Earth passes in front of the sun and the sunlight passing through the Earth’s atmosphere is refracted.
See Sky and Telescope magazine’s time chart to get approximate viewing times.
Many photographers will take to the outdoors to capture this unique event. Here are a few tips for those looking to capture a good image of the moon:
- Remember the moon is very, very far away. The large apparent size of a moon low on the horizon is partially an optical illusion. In order to capture a good photo of the moon you need a telephoto lens. A standard or wide angle lens (as you might find on a camera phone or compact camera) will make the moon look smaller than it does to the eye. The longer lens you can get, the better.
- With a big lens and a subject at such a distance even a small amount of motion results in an out of focus photo. A strong tripod and a shutter release cable (or camera timer) is a must. If you don’t have a shutter release cable simply set your camera to the longest self-timer setting.
- The moon is very bright, even during an eclipse. If you rely on the internal exposure settings in your camera you’ll likely get a picture that’s overexposed and has no detail. That’s because the exposure meter in the camera expects everything to be neutral gray and the moon is bright white. Either rely on the manual exposure settings in your camera or use the exposure compensation dial to override the exposure.
- There is a rule of photography called the ‘Sunny 16’ which means you can shoot sunlit objects at F16 at 1/ISO. So if you’re shooting ISO 100 you can shoot 1/100th at F16. You can use this as a base exposure for shooting the moon (although during a lunar eclipse they’ll be less light available than if it were in ‘full sun’).
- Even a little bit of ground light can ruin a shot of the moon. The best photos of the moon are captured in areas away from street lights, buildings and atmospheric haze. If you’re in the city try to find a spot in the middle of a big, open park. Many of the most successful lunar photographers plan trips to the desert or to remote locations for events like a full moon. The bottom line is that if you can see streetlights or house lights, you’re probably going to get a sub-par shot.
- Bring a flashlight with a red bulb or gel. Red light doesn’t reduce your night vision, but a bright white flashlight does. Even though looking through the lens at the moon will blast your night vision away in one eye, you can still see pretty clearly out of the other eye unless you use a flashlight or the screen of your cell phone to look at the camera and change settings.
- Shoot with manual focus. The moon is tricky to focus on and it’s best to rely on your eyes instead of the camera’s autofocus.