Lunar Eclipse Photo Tips, Times, Live Streams

On Wednesday morning October 8, Earth’s shadow will nibble away at the moon during the wee hours eclipsing it for the second time this year. Credit: Bob King

Ready for Wednesday’s morning lunar eclipse? Some people – and I envy them at times – treat an eclipse more casually. They enjoy the show with no desire to set up a telescope or take a photo. For those of us can’t part with our cameras, here’s a little guide to help you get better pictures.

As a photographer, I’m compelled to shoot at least a few photos of an event as rare as a total eclipse. Someday I’ll let it all go and just kick back in a lawn chair as the shutters clack around me. But until then the camera will be at my side.

From Philadelphia and other eastern U.S. cities the partial phases of the eclipse will take place with the moon well up in the western sky. By the start of totality, the moon will have dropped to within about 6º of the horizon as shown here. Source: Stellarium

If you’re also into photography and would like to grab a few shots, here are a few tips on what equipment you’ll need and camera settings. This eclipse offers unique opportunities especially for the eastern half of the country because the eclipsed moon will be low in the western sky near the start of and during morning twilight.

In the Midwest at the start of the hour-long totality, the red moon will be about 20º (two fists) above the western horizon. From the East Coast the moon slips into total eclipse only a half hour before sunrise 6-7º high. So if you live in the eastern half of the country, find a site with a good view to the west.

Seen from Denver, total eclipse begins with the moon 30º high (three fists). All of totality and all partial phases of the eclipse will be visible from western Midwest west to Hawaii and Alaska. Source: Stellarium

A low moon means easier framing with a pleasing foreground like a grove of fall trees, a church or distant line of mountain peaks. And the lower it drops, the longer the telephoto lens you can use to enlarge the moon relative to the foreground. When the moon is high in the sky it’s more difficult to find a suitable foreground.

Sometimes it’s nice to have a foreground object to add character to your eclipse photos. Last April’s totally eclipsed moon joins the old Central High School clock tower in downtown Duluth, Minn. Mars at upper right. Details: 80mm lens, f/5, 1.6-second exposure at ISO 400 on a tripod. Credit: Bob King

As the scene brightens during twilight, balancing the light of the moon, your photos will get even more interesting. Textures and details in foreground objects will stand out instead of appearing as silhouettes.

Use the table below to plan when to watch depending on your time zone. The blanks mean the moon will have set by the time of the event.

Eclipse Events                         EDT                 CDT                MDT                 PDT

Penumbra first visible 4:45 a.m. 3:45 a.m. 2:45 a.m. 1:45 a.m.
Partial eclipse begins 5:15 a.m. 4:15 a.m. 3:15 a.m. 2:15 a.m.
Total eclipse begins 6:25 a.m. 5:25 a.m. 4:25 a.m. 3:25 a.m.
Mid-eclipse 6:55 a.m. 5:55 a.m. 4:55 a.m. 3:55 a.m.
Total eclipse ends 7:24 a.m. 6:24 a.m. 5:24 a.m. 4:24 a.m.
Partial eclipse ends ——— 7:34 a.m. 6:34 a.m. 5:34 a.m.
Penumbra last visible ——— ——— 7:05 a.m. 6:05 a.m.

Exposures and lens settings

Partial phase during the April 14-15 eclipse this year. Details: Telescope (=1300mm telephoto lens) at f/11, 1/250 second at ISO 400. Credit: Bob King

The full moon and even the partially eclipsed moon (up to about half) are so bright you can shot a handheld photo without resorting to a tripod. Exposures at ISO 400 are in the neighborhood of f/8 at 1/250-1/500 second. Only thing is, all you’ll get is the moon surrounded by blackness. These exposures are so brief almost nothing will show in your foreground except for possibly moonlit clouds. That’s usually fine for the early partial phases.

To capture the encroaching shadow during partial phases you’ll need to overexpose the sunlit part of the moon. Details: f/11, 2-second exposure at ISO 400. Credit: Bob King

Once the moon is more than half smothered in shadow, open up the lens to a wider setting – f/2.8 to f/4 – or increase the exposure.

Let the back of the camera be your guide. If the images look too bright, dial back. If too dim, increase exposure or open the lens to a wider aperture.

While you can continue to shoot the partially eclipsed moon at f/8 from 1/30-1/125 second, you’ll miss the best part – the portion filling up with Earth’s red shadow. To capture that, break out the tripod, open your lens all the way up – f/2.8-f/4 – and expose at ISO 400 between 1/4 and 1 second. You can also shoot at ISO 800 and cut those times in half, important if you’re using a longish telephoto lens. Remember, Earth’s rotation means the moon’s on the move and will show trailing if you expose longer than a few seconds.

Wide scene from April’s total eclipse with Spica below the moon and Mars to the right. Details: 24mm lens at f/2.8, 8-second exposure at ISO 800. The moon was deliberately overexposed to show it in a field of stars. You can vary the exposure to your taste but the shorter it is,  the fewer stars. Longer exposures will show trailing. Credit: Bob King

During totality, expose anywhere from 1/2-5 seconds at f/2.8-4.5 at ISO 400. Let’s assume you want to include both a foreground and stars in the picture using a standard or wide angle lens. Dial up to ISO 800 with you lens wide open and exposure of 6-10 seconds. On the 6-second end you’ll catch only the brightest stars but the moon won’t show trailing; on the longer end you’ll get lots more stars with some overexposure of the eclipsed moon.

The partial lunar eclipse of June 4, 2012, pre-dawn at moonset, from home in southern Alberta. This is a single exposure with the Canon 60Da and 18-200mm Sigma lens at 115mm and at f/5.6 for 0.4 sec at ISO 160. Copyright: Alan Dyer

Where parts of the eclipse happen in twilight, even mobile phones may suffice. There should be enough light to capture a pretty scene with the moon just emerging from total eclipse and during the ensuing partial phases.

If you’re clouded out or on the wrong side of the planet for the eclipse, you can catch live webcasts from the following sites:

* Gianluca Masi’s Virtual Telescope
* Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles

Clear skies!

17 Responses

  1. Good to have ‘hard numbers’! My experience in India in late 2011 may also help to decide on camera settings: all are given in the ‘small print’, namely exposure time, f-stop, ISO value and focal length (converted to 35-mm photography; some are cropped). All pictures in the story were taken with the same ‘superzoom’ camera bought only a few months earlier, so I tried out everything imaginable: these are the best results. The most important lesson, though (learned a long time earlier in remote parts of California): Get Away From Cities and move to places where you would go for deep sky observing around new moon. Only then will you experience the marvellous effect of the limiting magnitude rising dramatically and the Milky Way becoming visible when totality approaches. Strangely this advice is missing from nearly every preview article on lunar eclipses: while the eclipsed Moon won’t look much different from an urban site, you are missing a lot of the full show there!

  2. Giorgio Rizzarelli

    Great guide.. As you know we Europeans will not see the event, but I enjoyed the article anyway – I never realized that a lunar eclipse, basically from full to “new” moon in minutes, is an interesting exercise for photo exposition. Clear skies!

    1. astrobob

      You’re welcome Far Side. I think both our forecasts call for clear skies Weds. a.m. Send me a pic if you get one you like. I’d love to run it. PS. And that goes for anyone else who’d like to contribute a photo – thanks! E-mail:

  3. Jill

    I saw something bizarre yesterday and I need an answer because I feel like I am going out of my mind! Yesterday (10/6/14) I was traveling home on a commuter rail train between Boston and Providence. Somewhere in the middle, around 5:30 pm, the sun was beginning to set to my right. I was sitting on the right side of the train next to a window. I saw what looked like the moon right next to the sun. It was a big shiny ball, to the right of and slightly below the position of the sun. I could not stare at it (no sunglasses) but I looked several times and I know I saw two circles – one was the sun, and the other looked like the moon. Is it possible that the moon, which should have been rising to my left, was reflecting in the glass of the window in such a way as to appear to be next to the sun? Could it have been something else? A planet….a weather balloon? I really hope someone has an explanation!

    1. astrobob

      Hi Jill,
      Fascinating story. Since you described the second object as very bright and shiny I doubt it would be the moon. The moon could be reflected in the window at the time but it would be much, much fainter especially before sunset. I’m guessing it was an internal reflection of the sun itself in the window glass. Anyone else have ideas?

      1. caralex

        Probably as you say, Bob, a reflection of the sun in the double pane of glass of the train window. I’ve seen that same phenomenon through a train window in Ontario.

      2. Joy

        Could it have been a sundog? Sometimes they are quite bright, and at that time of day would appear close to the sun.

        1. astrobob

          Hi Joy,
          Only problem is that its position in relation to the sun doesn ‘t work for a sundog. Good guess though.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Molly,
      Almost! I drove north FAST and got to a clearing around 6 a.m. Good from there on. Very fine eclipse.

  4. Ani

    HI Bob

    Thanks for the numerous post on today’s Lunar eclipse and the detailed times and guide. I did manage to get a good view of the eclipse and also take a few snaps. please see your email.

    Thanks and Regards

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