Tonight, December 20/21, 2010, will produce a total lunar eclipse visible from start to finish all across North America. So, in addition to being a rather rare celestial event, an eclipse of the Moon is also very photogenic, too, so it is only natural that people will want to shoot the rare, red Moon. So how does one go about doing this?
Yesterday, I gave tips on how to shoot the lunar eclipse through a telescope and, earlier today, on how to do the same thing with a dSLR and telephoto lens. However, not everyone owns a telescope or dSLR. Realizing this, I now give tips on how to capture the eclipse through the most bare-bones photographic medium possible: a point and shoot digital camera. So, how does one go about doing this?
First, grab the tripod, there’s no way around it. Multi second exposures need tripods. Now, onto the camera itself.
Second: consider the camera setup. Unlike dSLRs, cheap P&S cams probably have no RAW capability, so set the quality setting to finest quality JPEG. Downsizing a 12MP image to 2MP will do wonders for reducing noise, which will be very prevalent.
Third: set the white balance. With no RAW, there is no longer the shoot it and fix it later option: white balance must be right from the get go. Usually, ‘auto’ will work just fine for dusk. If you live in an area with a lot of lights around, ‘tungsten’ or ‘incandescent’ may be the better way to go, as this setting will introduce a bluish cast to offset all the yellow light. Play around to see what works.
Fourth: ISO is the next concern. To put it plainly, P&S cameras are rarely any good at ISO 400 or higher. To start, set the ISO at its base level, only bumping it up if the picture is underexposed.
Fifth: use the self timer. The cheapest P&S cams come with this function, which is normally 10 seconds. Be sure to enable the timer to avoid camera shake from hitting the shutter button.
Sixth (and most important) focus: what good is a picture if it’s not properly focused? Some P&S cams allow for manual focus while others don’t. If your camera allows manual focus, set focus to ‘infinity’ to guarantee an in-focus Moon. If the camera has no manual focus options, you’re not out of luck. Instead, enable the self timer, focus on a distant object, then quickly swing the camera into the sky so that, when the shutter goes off, it will be taking a picture of the Moon.
Final considerations: experiment, play around with your camera to see what works best for you. Chances are, with so much automation in the controls, ISO may be the only option of adjusting your exposure with the cheapest of point and shoots. So, if the Moon looks washed-out, lower the ISO. Moon barely shows up? Up the sensitivity. My personal advice, since LCD screens are notorious liars, take several shots of different settings so that at least one of them should look good when you upload to the computer.
Now, how about some inspiration? Back on October 27, 2004, there was another start to finish total lunar eclipse over Ohio, which I shot with a circa 2000 Sony Mavica. This camera was pretty much fully automatic with minimal manual controls, yet I managed to shoot a great series of eclipse photos by aiming at the Moon and hoping for the best, which, all things considered, was pretty doggone good. Go to my personal website and see the pictures there. So, if a digital dinosaur (even in 2004) Mavica can do this good, even the cheapest P&S cams of today should be able to do better.
Planning to go out and see the eclipse? Be sure to check your local weather forecast or, even better, a nearby Clear Sky Clock as it will give hour-by-hour cloud forecasts. As for the Cleveland-area weather, things are looking pretty cloudy, so cross your fingers for a few breaks in the clouds, preferably during totality!
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