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Photograph the Total Lunar Eclipse

|The Moon|7 Comments

Are you hoping to capture a photo of the upcoming total lunar eclipse on November 8th? If so, you are not alone. Amateur photographers and astrophotography enthusiasts around the world will do their best to take pictures of the upcoming lunar eclipse using a wide variety of camera equipment.

A total eclipse of the moon is a truly breathtaking astronomical event that anyone can appreciate. The best part about it is that you do not need expensive astrophotography equipment or special filters to take a great picture of the total lunar eclipse. It’s all about using the best settings on the camera you are using (even if it’s a phone).

I recommend practicing your moon photography skills before the night of the upcoming lunar eclipse, so you don’t waste precious time fiddling with camera settings during the celestial event. With that out of the way, let’s get to the key information you need to take a great picture of the total lunar eclipse. 

camera settings for a lunar eclipse

Fast Tips:

  • Practice your camera settings on the moon before the night of the lunar eclipse 
  • If you are using a smartphone through a telescope, use a smartphone adapter to hold it in place
  • Use your cameras manual or ‘pro’ mode for full control over settings like ISO, Aperture, and Exposure
  • Capturing the moon during totality is often easier to accomplish due to less extreme lighting variations
  • Use a tracking equatorial mount when shooting at high magnification (star trackers work great)

How to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse

Over the years, I have photographed a number of total lunar eclipses using a variety of cameras – from my smartphone to a dedicated astronomy camera. The key to a great image isn’t the specific camera you use, it’s all about magnification and the correct settings

Without enough ‘reach’, the moon will appear small and lack the details you are hoping for. I recommend capturing the lunar eclipse with at least 300mm of focal length or more, which means an astronomical telescope or telephoto camera lens is best.

Then, it’s all about choosing the best camera settings to capture such a challenging subject in terms of light conditions. The moon will change in brightness as it goes through the different stages of the eclipse, and you must adjust your camera settings accordingly. 

What about those of you that don’t own a telescope or a long lens? The good news is you can still capture a great nightscape-style shot at a wider field of view. However, these types of photos look best if the moon is closer to the horizon while eclipsed. 

lunar eclipse photography

A total lunar eclipse captured in the early morning hours using a DSLR and standard kit lens. 

Wide-angle nightscape images that include a large portion of the night sky including an eclipsed moon can be done using a DSLR and tripod. For a 30-second exposure, a tracking mount is not necessary. At a focal length of 18mm or wider, star trailing will begin to show after about 20-25 seconds, so just keep that in mind. 

To capture the stars and constellations in the night sky, an ISO of 800 or above is recommended. However, this exposure will likely record the eclipsed moon as a featureless ball of light.

To properly capture both the starry sky and a detailed moon, you will need to capture exposures of varying lengths and blend them together into a composite image. This is because the moon is much brighter (even while eclipsed) than the surrounding starry sky.

A composite image can be made by masking the area of your night sky exposure and blending in a shorter exposure of the moon with surface details. This technique will take some time and experience to master, but the results can be amazing.

When and Where is the Lunar Eclipse Happening?

For a celestial event like this, a little planning goes a long way. You’ll definitely want to know exactly when the lunar eclipse is taking place, and where it will be in the sky from your location. 

For example, you may have to travel to a location with a low western horizon for a total lunar eclipse occurring in the morning if your backyard is full of tall trees.

Lunar eclipses are visible from different parts of the world at different times. There are many times when a lunar eclipse is taking place on the other side of the earth that you are unable to observe.

Here are some helpful resources to help you plan for the lunar eclipse:

lunar eclipse photography methods

Upcoming Lunar Eclipses (NASA)

Date Eclipse Type Visible From
November 8, 2022 Total Asia, Australia, Pacific, Americas,
May 5, 2023 Penumbral Africa, Asia, Australia
October 28, 2023 Partial Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia
March 25, 2024 Penumbral Americas
September 18, 2024 Partial Americas, Europe, Africa
March 14, 2025 Total Pacific, Americas, Europe, Africa
September 7, 2025 Total Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia

The 7 Stages of a Total Lunar Eclipse

There are 7 stages of a total lunar eclipse, and many amateur photographers like to capture the event in each stage. This can later be made into a composite photo showing the transition of the moon as Earth’s shadow covers it. A time-lapse video is another excellent way to capture each stage of the eclipse.

The maximum eclipse stage is when most photographers want a great shot. This is when the moon turns “blood” red and the surrounding night sky becomes much darker from our point of view on Earth. It is an unforgettable experience for those lucky enough to witness this moment.

Stages of the total lunar eclipse:

  1. Penumbral Eclipse begins
  2. Partial Eclipse begins
  3. Full Eclipse begins
  4. Maximum Eclipse
  5. Full Eclipse ends
  6. Partial Eclipse ends
  7. Penumbral Eclipse ends

An interesting thing happens when the moon is completely eclipsed by the shadow of Earth. Not only does the moon turn to an eerie reddish hue, but the stars and constellations surrounding the moon begin to appear as they would on a moonless night. Capturing a scene like this requires careful planning and execution.

Ways to Photograph the Total Lunar Eclipse

Here are 6 different ways to photograph the lunar eclipse, depending on the equipment you own:

  • Point-and-shoot digital camera through a telescope eyepiece (eyepiece projection)
  • Smartphone camera through a telescope eyepiece 
  • DSLR camera and wide-angle lens on a stationary tripod
  • DSLR camera and telephoto lens on a tracking mount
  • DSLR camera attached to a telescope (prime focus) on a tracking mount
  • Dedicated astronomy camera attached to the telescope and tracking mount

    total lunar eclispes

    A photo of the “Super Blood Moon” eclipse I captured from my backyard in 2015

Examples and Best Practices

There are many ways to photograph the total lunar eclipse, but for the best results, I recommend using a DSLR camera and a small refractor telescope on a tracking mount. 

This will allow you to get an up-close shot of the moon in each of its phases in detail. Some of the most incredible images of the lunar eclipse I have ever seen were captured this way. 

If you do not own a telescope, you can use your longest focal length camera lens to pull the moon in close. For the photo of a nearly total lunar eclipse below, I used a Canon EF 400mm F/5.6 telephoto lens. 

lunar eclipse

The 2021 Partial Lunar Eclipse on November 19, 2021. DSLR and 400mm lens. 

An equatorial tracking mount, such as a star tracker is the best way to take a clear photo of the moon during an eclipse when using high-magnification optics. This essentially freezes the moon in place for an extended period of time.

When you have compensated for the rotation of the earth, your subject is no longer moving, and you have many more options to choose from in terms of camera settings. Now, you can dial back ISO settings and f-stop if necessary and let a longer exposure time collect the light. 

This makes everything easier because the Moon will stay ‘still’ in the image frame while you adjust your camera settings based on the current stage of the eclipse. During the first stage of the eclipse, the moon will be very bright, whereas, during totality, it will be much dimmer. 

Below, you will see the camera and telescope I used to take a crisp photo of the total lunar eclipse that occurred in September 2015. This telescope has a focal length of nearly 500mm, which was enough to reveal some amazing details on the lunar surface.

Basic astrophotography setup

Moon photography

The camera and telescope used to capture a total lunar eclipse. Canon EOS 70D and Explore Scientific ED80. 

Using a DSLR and Telescope

A DSLR camera (or mirrorless camera) and telescope can provide an up-close view of the eclipsed moon in detail. The prime focus method of astrophotography is best, as the camera sensor’s focal plane is aligned with the telescope. You can directly attach a DSLR camera using a T-Ring adapter (see below) to utilize the telescope’s native focal length.

The prime focus method requires that the telescope tracks the apparent rotation of the night sky to avoid any movement in your shots. To learn more about the process and equipment involved in deep-sky astrophotography, have a look at a typical DSLR and telescope setup.

t-ring adapter

A DSLR camera and T-Ring Adapter attached to a telescope

If your goal is to capture an up-close view of the moon during the eclipse, there are many benefits to this technique. A small refractor telescope will have an adequate amount of focal length (magnification), offer precision focus, and have a stable base to attach to an equatorial telescope mount. 

With the camera connected to the telescope, experiment with different exposures and ISO settings in manual mode, using live-view to make sure you have not under/overexposed the image.

The shortest exposures will only be useful during the partial stages of the lunar eclipse, as the lunar eclipse is beginning and ending. This is a challenging phase of the event to capture in a single shot, as the shadows and highlights of the image are from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Remote shutter release cable

A remote shutter release cable will help to avoid camera shake in your image. 

When the moon enters totality, you will need to bump up your ISO, and/or your exposure length to reveal the disk of the moon as it becomes dimmer. Use a timer or external shutter release cable to avoid camera shake if possible.

Ideally, you’ll keep the ISO as low as possible for the least amount of noise. With an accurately polar-aligned tracking mount, exposures of 2-5 seconds will work great.

To record the lunar eclipse with a DSLR camera, no filters are necessary. A stock DSLR camera is best as the additional wavelengths available with a modified camera are unused in moon photography.

total lunar eclipse photo

Canon EOS 7D, Explore Scientific ED80 Refractor, Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Tracking Mount.

Without a tracking equatorial mount like the Sky-Watcher HEQ5, a 2.5-second exposure like the one above is impossible. Even 1-second of movement at this focal length will record a blurry image if the telescope or lens is not moving at the same speed as the moon.

The benefit of shooting a long exposure during the maximum eclipse (totality) is that you also record the starry sky behind the moon. To do this in a single exposure on a normal full moon is not possible as the dynamic range is too wide.

A dedicated one-shot-color astronomy camera is more than capable of taking a brilliant photo of the eclipse as well. The computer software used to control these devices (such as FireCapture) have the camera controls needed to properly expose the moon through each stage of the eclipse. 

For projects like this, I personally enjoy the freedom and simplicity of a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Camera settings such as ISO, exposure, and white balance can easily be changed on-the-fly as the eclipse is taking place.

To capture the entire event, many people like to create a lunar eclipse sequence showing each stage of the eclipse. To accomplish this you will need to make the necessary adjustments to your camera settings through each stage.

When the eclipse is over, you can make a lunar eclipse sequence image that shows the progression of the event as it unfolded. Here is a great YouTube tutorial for creating a lunar eclipse sequence

lunar eclipse sequence

A lunar eclipse sequence. Rod Pommier, Portland, OR (2014). Celestron Compustar C14.

Without A Tracking Mount

Since the moon is very bright, it is possible to take a fast exposure (1/500″ or faster) of the moon without tracking. You will still want to use an optical instrument such as a telescope or long lens, and without tracking, it will be tricky. 

Even at 10X magnification, the moon will slowly move across the eyepiece as you look at it through the telescope. This a subtle reminder that the earth is always spinning, and why astrophotography is so challenging overall. 

Thankfully, unlike dim deep-sky objects like nebulae and galaxies in the night sky, solar system subjects like the moon are incredibly bright. You can take an ultra-fast exposure of the moon through a telescope that is still sharp, without tracking. 

Many visual observers enjoy the affordability and performance of a Dobsonian Telescope like the one shown below. They are a fantastic choice for anyone interested in astronomy, and why I consider them to be the best telescope for beginners

Apertura AD8 Dobsonian Telescope

 

It is possible to produce a comparable close-up image using a digital camera or smartphone through the eyepiece of a non-tracking telescope such as a Dobsonian, using the eyepiece projection method. For the best results, use a smartphone adapter that allows you to secure your phone to the telescope.

Photographing a Lunar Eclipse with Your Phone

This type of astrophotography is often referred to as the eyepiece projection method. To do this, you’ll simply position your digital camera or smartphone into the eyepiece of the telescope. This method usually requires a fair amount of trial and error, but you may be quite surprised with your results.

An eyepiece smartphone adapter may help to steady your shot of the lunar eclipse. Although you’ll have much less control over exposure and record less detail, this technique can be used with a non-tracking telescope as a traditional Dobsonian telescope like the one pictured above, or a smaller tabletop model. 

The moon is one of the few subjects that are relatively easy to photograph with a non-tracking mount compared to deep-sky astrophotography. However, the transition phases of the eclipse can be difficult due to the changing lighting conditions and exposure levels.

I recommend capturing the lunar eclipse during its maximum phase if you’re using this method. You likely won’t be able to capture a well-exposed image using the camera’s auto-exposure mode. Experiment with your camera’s manual settings that allow for variations in shutter speed. 

I have had great results using the Celestron NexYZ smartphone adapter when photographing the moon. This model features a 3-axis design that allows me to line up the camera on my bulky Samsung S21 Ultra phone with the eyepiece. It clamps onto the eyepiece itself and is much more secure than models I have used in the past. 

 

smartphone adapter

Use a smartphone adapter to line up your camera lens and secure your phone. 

Camera Settings

Once you have secured your phone in the adapter, and the camera lens is lined up with the eyepiece, you can start experimenting with settings. To fully control the exposure, it is best to use manual mode (often called ‘pro’ mode) rather than the standard auto setting. 

Chances are, when you are pointing at the moon with your smartphone and telescope, it will appear very bright, and your camera will have trouble finding the correct exposure to show the lunar surface details. To fix this, adjust the basic camera settings like exposure length, ISO, and f-stop to properly expose the bright moon through the eyepiece. 

A shorter exposure time 1/500′ and a moderate ISO setting of 400 is a good place to start (see below). If the moon looks too bright or too dim using these settings, make small adjustments to the exposure time until it is well exposed to reveal the moon’s surface. 

Use manual focus mode to ensure that the moon is in critical focus, rather than relying on the autofocus capabilities of your phone camera. This can be tricky to get right, but keeping the camera steady via the smartphone adapter will make this a lot easier.

how to photograph the lunar eclipse with your phone

Capturing the lunar eclipse using the ‘pro’ mode on my smartphone. 

Using a Telephoto Camera Lens

If you don’t own a telescope, a telephoto camera lens with at least 300mm of focal length will work well. At longer focal lengths like the ones necessary for a close-up of the moon, you must use fast exposure to capture a sharp photo of the moon. This is because the Earth is spinning, so you’re essentially trying to photograph a moving target. 

The image below was captured using a Canon EOS 70D and a Canon EF 400mm F/5.6 Lens. 

partial eclipse phase

The final stages of the partial eclipse phase can be challenging to photograph because there is a bright highlight on a small portion of the moon. This makes it nearly impossible to capture an image with enough dynamic range to properly expose the darkest and lightest areas of the image. 

For the photo above, the camera settings included an ISO setting of 6400 and a shutter speed of 1/8. To display the dim shadows and bright highlights of the moon in a single photo, you may need to take exposure of varying lengths and blend them together into an HDR composite. 

This is a very common practice in moon photography and can create very dynamic-looking images of the moon with a lot of depth. 

As mentioned earlier, a tracking telescope or camera mount such as the iOptron SkyGuider Pro (pictured below) is recommended. An equatorial mount that is polar aligned with the rotational axis of the Earth will allow you to take longer exposures, and get more creative with your camera settings.

Owners of astronomical telescopes for astrophotography usually own an equatorial telescope mount, and this is an ideal configuration for moon photography. This allows the user to enter any celestial object into the hand controller, and the mount will automatically slew to that object once it has been properly star-aligned.

An iOptron SkyGuider Pro camera mount with a DSLR and 300mm Lens attached

The key to capturing details of the moon’s surface in your lunar eclipse photo is reach and exposure. By this, I mean that you need enough magnification to show the detailed craters of the moon’s surface, and a fast enough shutter speed to not blow out any of the highlights in your image. 

To do this, a precise exposure length must be used. One that preserves the data in your image while also bringing enough of the shadowed areas forward is ideal. For my photos, I found an ISO of 200 and an exposure of 1/200 to work quite well. This was enough to showcase a starry sky behind the eclipsed moon.

I use Adobe Photoshop to process all of my astrophotography images, including photos of the moon and our solar system. Adobe Camera Raw is a fantastic way to edit your images of the lunar eclipse because it gives you complete control over the highlights and color balance of your image. 

Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Camera Raw offers powerful tools to edit your photos of the Total Lunar Eclipse

Capturing a Lunar Eclipse Without a Telescope 

If you are simply using a point-and-shoot camera or a DSLR and lens on a stationary tripod, you can still take an amazing photo of the lunar eclipse. This is often a great way to capture the landscape and mood of the moment. The photo below was captured back in October 2014 using a Canon EOS 7D and an 18-200mm lens on a tripod.

This is a wide-angle shot captured at 18mm, while the inset image was captured at the lens’s maximum focal length of 200mm. A zoom lens is handy for photographing the moon at varying magnifications. 

Total Lunar Eclipse - Moon Photography

When capturing the lunar eclipse without a telescope, you’ll want as much manual control over the camera settings as possible. “Auto” mode, flash, and autofocus won’t work on a photo of the total lunar eclipse. Adjusting individual parameters such as exposure length and ISO is essential to properly expose the moon. 

Practice taking shots at night beforehand, so that you are ready when the eclipse happens. Ideally, find a location that includes some interesting foreground and background details to capture a dramatic scene on the night of the event. In the case of the lunar eclipse shown above, it took place in the early morning hours as the moon was setting. 

What is Happening During a Lunar Eclipse?

Do you understand why a lunar eclipse happens? There are two types of lunar eclipses: partial and total. As you know, the Earth orbits the sun, and the moon orbits the Earth. During a total lunar eclipse, the Earth is sitting directly between the sun and the moon.

There are 3 primary types of lunar eclipses, a Penumbral lunar eclipse, a Partial lunar eclipse, and a Total lunar eclipse. 

Although the moon is covered in Earth’s shadow, some sunlight still reaches the moon. When the moon enters the central umbra shadow of the Earth, it turns red and dim. This distinctive “blood” color is due to the fact that the sunlight is passing through Earth’s atmosphere to light up the disk of the moon. 

What is a lunar eclipse?

A diagram of what happens during a total lunar eclipse – NASA

Unlike a solar eclipse, observing a total lunar eclipse is completely safe to do with the naked eye. This natural phenomenon can be enjoyed without the aid of any optical instruments, although binoculars can really help to get an up-close view of the action.

 

camera settings for lunar eclipse

Camera settings used for my lunar eclipse photo

This article was originally posted in January 2019, and updated on November 4th, 2022. 

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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Remco Kemperman says:

    Thanks for the tips up front. I am planning a sequence withr my reflector and dslr:)

  2. Henri-Julien Chartrand says:

    Same here. Thanks for taking the time to gather and share all the useful info.
    HJ. Montreal, QC

  3. BoulderLou says:

    Thanks for all the great information, Trevor.

  4. rmattas says:

    well done, sir…keep up the good work!

  5. AT says:

    https://youtu.be/58opsbuH-fw
    This was a compilation of photos taken by a very small telescope.

    Your photo’s are very beautiful. It inspiring me

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