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. However, not a lot of people own telescopes. Realizing this, I now give tips on how to capture the eclipse through a medium many more people have access to: a digital SLR and telephoto lens.
Believe it or not, that long photographic lens you own is a surprisingly good substitute for an astronomical telescope when it comes to photographing the Moon, especially considering all the cropping power today’s digital cameras have thanks to their extremely high resolutions. So, plan on using a telephoto lens and a digital SLR for your eclipse shooting? Well, here are some tips to better ensure success.
First, be sure to use a tripod as most people could not hand-hold a 300+mm camera lens for a Moon shot, especially when the Moon is darkened during an eclipse. The good news is that any tripod should do, no need to be fancy here.
Next, settings. First, set your camera to spot meter if you have such an option. Doing so should have the camera metering on the bright Moon and only a minimum of the dark background sky. Failing to use the spot meter will result in a blown-out Moon 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 (or a remote if you have one) and don’t forget to shoot RAW!
Third, and perhaps the surprising part, getting accurate focus is probably the hardest thing to do. To get focus, one way to to take your camera out in the daytime and focus on some very, can’t emphasize thevery enough, distant tree branches. The other method to focus is to wait for night and focus on a bright star or very distant light and then swing your camera 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.
As a last bit of advice, if you own a macro lens, by all means use it. Because macro lenses are designed to focus freakishly close to the subject, infinity focus is actually infinity on macro lenses, so just set the lens on infinity focus (as far out as it will go) and forget it. This combined with often razor-sharp macro optics should guarantee a great Moon shot. Don’t believe me? Go here and see a shot (albeit greatly cropped), that I took with my Tokina 100mm macro. Pretty doggone good, don’t you think? In contrast, most other photographic lenses are not actually at infinity focus when set to infinity on a digital camera. Instead, focus is just a hair before infinity, which can make focusing a real pain. Me? I’ve found using a 100mm macro can produce better results on the Moon than a 300mm regular lens. Why? The macro will be in focus while it’s just about impossible to dial in the regular lens to perfect clarity.
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!
Best wishes for clear skies.
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