Tomorrow night, December 20/21, 2010, will bring one of the rarest and most spectacular of all celestial phenomenon: a total lunar eclipse. So, with a few years separation being the typical average for an eclipse in any given location, it is only natural that people will want to try and photograph the rare, red Moon.
So, how does one go about doing this through a telescope?
Well, the big issue us coupling your camera to the scope in the first place. The good news is that this is actually very easy to do, the biggest challenge will be tracking down the stuff in a day and a half. In reality, you only need two things to transform your telescope into a giant camera lens: a camera-specific T-ring and a universal T-adapter.
First, the T-ring, which is the part that actually couples directly onto your camera. Specific to your camera’s particular mount, whether it be Canon EF, Nikon F, or anything else for that matter, the key here is to buy a ring that will fit your camera as it will attach just like a lens will by locking into the mount. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to attach the camera to the scope just yet, which requires part 2: the universal T-adapter.
The “universal” part of the part name should signify that one doesn’t need to be picky when buying the T-mount. Why no need to be choosy? Simple, the T-ring threads onto one end of the adapter while you can stick the other side into any 2-inch focuser on any telescope. So, to get your camera onto your scope, thread the T-ring and adapter together, mount the assembly to your camera like a lens, then stick the whole thing into your telescope.
Now for the surprising part: getting accurate focus is probably the hardest thing to do. To get focus, one way is to take your rig out in the daytime and focus on some very, can’t emphasize the very enough, distant tree branches. The other method to focus is to wait for night and focus on a bright star and then swing your scope over to the Moon. If you have live view in your dSLR, this is a good time to use it as a magnified (up to 10x on some cameras) live view is a great way to ensure spot-on focus when aiming at a star.
Focus achieved, set your camera to spot meter if you have such an option. Doing so should only have the camera metering on the bright Moon and not the dark background. Failing to use the spot meter will result in a blown-out Moon (and bright sky) because the camera was taking the whole dark surrounding sky into account when determining exposure. No spot meter? Then set exposures manually so that you can get the desired lunar brightness. As a last couple of tips, use the self timer and don’t forget to shoot RAW!
Can’t get the gear in time? Well, you can always use a long focal length eyepiece, stick the camera right up to it, snap, and hope for the best. Surprisingly, some great Moon shots have been taken using this very primitive astrophotographic method called afocal projection.
Okay, now the most important part of this whole challenge: the weather. For Cleveland-area residents, things aren’t looking too hot. Live somewhere else? Be sure to keep an eye on your local weather forecasts and everyone should take the time to find a Clear Sky Clock near your location for hourly cloud forecasts in your area.
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