So this post is going to have technical jargon. No way around it. It won’t be astronomy jargon, I’m as lost as the next guy in that department, it will be photographic jargon. Over the last few days, leading up to the October 8th Blood Moon eclipse, I have been asked by many people how they should approach photographing the Lunar eclipse. There are more methods to count on how to take pictures of this type of event. Point and shoot doesn’t really work and handholding is out of the question. I have posted a few images below and included some links to people and places who have very good advice on technique and equipment. Do you need expensive professional equipment? The short answer is, No. The longer answer is, the better the equipment the “easier” it should be to get the image you want. I took all of these images with a NIKON D7000, a camera that is no longer produced by NIKON and is technically inferior to the models on sale at Costco, BJ’s, Best Buy and other retailers. So my point is, better equipment would have made it easier but it is NOT necessary.
The above image was taken just as the earths shadow is about to completely engulf the moon. The sliver of brightness on the right is the remaining “normal” moon. The exposure was 2 1/2 seconds long and the camera was on a tripod. A tripod is a MUST when photographing the moon, stars or any other low light activity where longer exposures, anything over 1/60 of a second, are needed to capture the image. I use a Manfrotto tripod. I’ve had this tripod for almost 20 years and it isn’t fancy, sturdy yes, fancy no. The best tripod to use is one with an Equatorial Mount.
This is from Catching the Light by Jerry Lodriguss:
An equatorial mounting has one axis aligned parallel to the axis of rotation of the Earth by pointing it at the North or South celestial pole. Then, to compensate for the Earth’s rotation, the mount and telescope are moved in this axis, usually with a motor that turns the mount at the same rate as the Earth’s rotation. This axis is called the polar axis.
The other axis on an equatorial mount is called the declination axis. This axis allows movement of the scope at right angles to the polar axis. Movements in these two axes together permits aiming the scope at any part of the sky. Once an object is found, both axes are locked down, and just the polar axis turns to track the object.
Most non-equatorial mountings have two axes that allow pointing in any direction, but require movement in both axes to follow the stars. The azimuth axis moves the telescope horizontally, and the altitude axis move the telescope vertically.
The most simple type of non-equatorial mounting is the altazimuth mounting. Altazimuth is a contraction of altitude and azimuth.
I don’t have one of those. The poor quality mounts can be found for $100-$500. The more reputable mounts are more in the range $800-$9,500. Serious Astrophotographers who capture the galaxies and nebula through cameras mounted to telescopes use these and produce incredible imagery.
Back to me and my standard tripod, on a hill, in the fog with a DSLR. I also used a remote trigger. This is a device that allows me to not touch the camera and trigger the shutter. There are too many of these to list. I use Yongnuo 603’s. They are relatively cheap and durable. But best of all…they do the job!
A long exposure isn’t always necessary and can actually backfire on you. See below:
I shot this one and saw the stars start to streak and the moon is moving. Not what I wanted. So I changed my settings and shot the next one.
These images were all captured at the maximum range of my 200mm lens. I would personally like to have reached out a little farther but I am not able to…yet.
Lastly, I zoomed out from the moon and looked at the scene in front of me. Fog in the valley. One lone spotlight in the yard of the only house within a half mile. The silhouettes of the massive trees on the property line. The sky was getting lighter and becoming a deep blue. the moon was beginning to fade into the atmosphere as it got closer to the horizon. Here is the last shot of the morning.
Sorry for the jargon. I do try to avoid the technical stuff. So here’s your packing list:
A dark location with a sightline of the eclipse.
Coffee…lots of it.
Bring the above listed items and you should be fine.
Some articles for your reading pleasure.