Breakdown of a Lunar Eclipse Shoot

Do You Have Plans to Shoot The Blue Moon This Month?

The planning started weeks in advance, looking at the timing of the eclipse, the direction of the moon, and at prior shots like the moon set above from 2010 that seemed like a good concept to re-shoot with a moon in some phase of eclipse.  I decided to try to place the moon on top of the South Tower of the bridge, worked out the geometry to estimate the moon’s elevation, looked in an app to determine its compass direction at that time, and where I should stand.

So after you decide to shoot an early morning lunar eclipse, what’s the next logical thing to do? Pick a spot for the prior sunset of course. Marin County’s Rodeo Beach fit the bill nicely for a relaxing sunset.

Pacific Sunset

A trip to Japan Center for sushi later, and it’s too early for sleep, so a little night photography along the San Francisco waterfront helps put a few more travel images on the card and burn off a few dinner calories.

Bay Bridge at Night

Wake up at 3am, and go get a nice moon shot from the Crissy Field area:

Total Lunar Eclipse January 31, 2018

This image was exposed for 15 seconds at f/8, ISO 200 on a Canon EOS 70D with a lens at 381mm using a Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS L Series lens plus EF 2X III teleconverter. After the APS-C crop factor, the equivalent focal length was 610mm! The camera setup was on an iOptron SkyTracker, so the longest exposures in the sequences I was shooting could easily be 15 to 20 seconds at ISO 200.

What next? You’ve chosen the spot anticipating the moon approaching the Golden Gate Bridge, so when it’s close enough you can include the bridge in compositions:

Lunar Eclipse Over the Golden Gate Bridge

But the real alignment you’ve calculated from the height of the bridge, the distance to the bridge, and the compass direction is the moon passing the top of the South Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. But you forgot to subtract out the elevation of your shooting position from the height of the bridge, so the moon is about 1/2 moon width, about 0.25 degrees, too high. So you move about a dozen feet to your left, compose over the shoulders of a couple of photographers, and get the composition that you envisioned weeks earlier:

Lunar Eclipse Teed Up

The recent weather and the forecast called for partly cloudy conditions, and at times there was definitely a thin haze that the moon was shining through, but there was also a challenge that I don’t usually have to deal with back home in the high desert: condensation!  For a while I had to wipe my lens every few shots to remove it.  Astrophotographers sometimes use heaters on their telescopes, photographers shooting on a dewy morning can improvise using gaffer’s tape and hand warmers.

That’s not the end of the fun, as sunset light paints the sky while the moon dropped into the bridge.  Fortunately the atmospheric haze also cleared up significantly.

California astrophotography

Sunrise approaches as the partially-eclipsed moon sets behind the Golden Gate Bridge.

As it descends further, while shooting the lunar eclipse through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, for a matter of seconds I decided to try to silhouette a vehicle against the setting, partially-eclipsed moon. A large delivery truck fit the bill nicely. I was shooting at 400mm, so I had to anticipate the movement of the vehicle enough ahead of time to leave mirror lock-up on!

Early Morning Delivery

Note the rough edge to the moon. At this high degree of telephoto, on the moon in the lower couple of degrees of elevation when our view of it is through a lot of turbulent air, the view of the moon is visibly distorted. No doubt there will be many faked shots from this eclipse as usual, and a recent article on FStoppers discusses some of the ways you can spot them.

So to summarize, anticipating an interesting place to capture the mono alongside earth-bound features using apps like PhotoPills and The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) enables the capture of many compositions beyond “Just another lunar eclipse shot”… not that there’s anything wrong with that!

So once the eclipse is “in the can” (like a reel of exposed movie film), what next? Think of something to shoot while you’re in the are, or on your way home! A quick detour to the California Coast, the Mendocino area in this case, fit the bill nicely.

After the Eclipse
Astronomical events aren’t just opportunities for astrophotography, they are a great excuse to get out. travel, and shoot!  The weather can be surprisingly warm along the California Coast in the winter given the heat sink effect of the water and the lower winds compared to summer.  Temperatures in the high 50s by noon and walking down Main Street Mendocino, I had to take off and carry my jacket as I became too hot to wear it.

Post-Eclipse Sunset

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Total Lunar Eclipse September 27, 2015

lunar eclipse

Lunar Eclipse September 27, 2015.

The partly cloudy forecast and webcam images didn’t look all that promising in the Eastern Sierra yesterday afternoon, so I ditched my plans to pursue one of several compositions that I had worked out, and I stayed home to see if the moon would make any appearance at all. Here’s the story and some of my results from the event.

Total Lunar Eclipse September 27, 2015: wide angle time-lapse and 640mm effective live action footage from the total lunar eclipse last night.  The partly cloudy forecast and webcam images didn’t look all that promising in the Eastern Sierra yesterday afternoon, so I ditched my plans to pursue one of several compositions that I had worked out, and I stayed home to see if the moon would make any appearance at all.

I watched for about an hour after it was supposed to rise at 6:44, but there was no sign of it, so I left my camera shooting a sequence of images for a time-lapse video, and I went back inside.  A few minutes later, the fully eclipsed moon was visible through a break in the clouds, from 7:56 – 8:06.  I came back out a while later, but the moon was behind the clouds, so I didn’t know that it had made a brief appearance until I reviewed the images later!

As the moon was more than halfway through the partial, umbral phase coming out of total eclipse, it emerged from the clouds and starting lighting up the clouds and landscape with increasingly bright light.

As the face of the moon returned to fully lit in the penumbral phase of the eclipse, there was a nice halo of color around the moon, so I set up a second camera to capture that.  I used my Canon EOS 70D with the EF 70-200mm f/4 IS L Series lens and a 2X teleconverter, for an effective focal length of 640mm.  The clouds were moving pretty quickly, so I also captures dome live video of the clouds moving across the face of the moon.  I had the camera on a sky-tracking mount, so the moon remains essentially still in the frame.

I didn’t shoot where I expected or capture what I anticipated, but by being there to catch changes in the weather, I captured some interesting results.

#lunareclipse #bloodmoon #september #2015 #astronomy #astrophotography #nightphotography


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See the “Super moon” Total Eclipse September 27 – 28, 2015!

Lunar Eclipse April 4, 2015

September 27, 2015, 6 pm –  See the “supermoon” total eclipse tonight!  For watchers in the Rocky Mountain states, partial eclipse begins at 7:11 pm local time, so look outside now!

For those of us on the West Coast of North America, the moon is below the horizon; moon rise occurs closer to sunset.  Here in the Eastern Sierra, local moon rise is around 6:44 pm and sunset is around 6:47 pm, depending upon how far north or south you are. The moon will clear the horizon to the east right around sunset, well into its partial eclipse phase, and be fully eclipsed from 7:11 – 8:23 pm. Then as the moon exits total eclipse, it will be in a partial eclipse for over an hour more.

For more specific eclipse phase timing in your region, see the article at

Good luck with your lunar eclipse viewing and photography, let me know how you did!

Photography notes from the April 5, 2015 lunar eclipse:

Lunar eclipses are a fun challenge, in part because they push the limits of your equipment.  The image above was captured at 4:51 am during the April 4 lunar eclipse this year, about 6-7 minutes before totality, so there was a sliver of bright sunlight on the moon.

The Canon EF 70-200 f/4 IS lens that I used was well focused, but shooting any lens at it’s maximum aperture tends to result in slightly less sharp images.  Adding more glass elements such as the 2X teleconverter further challenges sharpness.  Adding a teleconverter also reduces the f-stop, in this case 2X to f/8.  I wanted to stay at or below below 1 second exposure time to reduce motion blur, and at ISO 1600 I could use 0.6 second.  The high ISO also creates a little bit of noise, which can also challenge fine detail.

I had changed my shooting location when the weather forecast made the original ones I had identified look less attractive with below freezing temperatures, high winds, and possible clouds to obscure the eclipse.  I decided to just catch what i could from home.  I was shooting a time-lapse sequence, and shooting at 400mm I had room to lengthen the exposure time as the moon darkened, but  and the moon set just before totality.

I had my Canon 70D with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 lens on a star-tracking mount to capture a time-lapse of the eclipse progress without the moon moving out of the field of view.  at 300mm the effective focal length was 480mm, but shooting wide open at f/5.6 that lens was a little softer than the EF 70-200mm and 2X teleconverter combo, even with the moon’s relative motion taken out of the equation.

I was basically using the 5D Mark III to measure and track exposure as the eclipse progressed and the moon illumination constantly changed.

The 70D / 70-300mm combo is a lot lighter than the 5Dmkiii / 70-200mm / 2X combo.  Heavier camera bodies and longer, heavier lenses can sometimes cause various problems with sky tracking mounts, but it may be worthwhile to test the 5Dmkiii /70-200mm / 2X setup on the sky tracker and backing off of the maximum aperture and a stop or two on the ISO to get more sharpness and less noise, lengthening the exposure time.

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Chasing The Moon: Lunar Eclipse December 10, 2011

Having shot lunar eclipses several times in the past, my objective this time was to see whether I could line up the Eclipsed moon with a major landmark. I selected San Francisco’s most iconic building, the Transamerica Pyramid. The time I chose was 6:06am, right when the eclipsed moon should be coming out from total eclipse and brightening back up. I looked up the height of the building, the elevation angle of the moon at that time, and that enabled me to calculate the distance I would need to be from the building. I determined the compass direction the shadow would fall, and located point on Google earth with the right direction and distance.

 I set my camera up in that spot 10 minutes early, and here’s how the next 10 minutes turned out:
I pretty much nailed it… the center of the moon passes right past the tip of the building!

Here are some more of my images from that night:

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Lunar Eclipse Photography, Dec 10, 2011

For tonight’s moon rise and lunar eclipse events, there are a range of shots available:

Moon Rise: Friday evening before sunset (about 4:15, but time varies with location)
Sunset: Continued moonrise in best post-sunset color (about 5pm, but time varies with location).

Penumbral Eclipse Begins: 3:33am PST, moon at 41.4 degrees altitude
– Night landscapes or cityscapes with full moon in penumbral slightly dimmed state
Partial Eclipse Begins: 4:45am PST, moon at 27.0 degrees altitude (partial eclipse)
– Telephoto shots of moon in various eclipse phases
Total Eclipse Begins: 6:06am PST, moon at 12.3 degrees altitude (nice crescent moon w/red shots in the moments before this)
– Images of red moon and sky over landscapes/cityscapes
Total Eclipse Ends: 6:57am PST, moon at 2.9 degrees altitude
– Partially eclipsed crescent moon setting in best pre-sunrise light
Sunrise: 7:12am PST, moon at 0.4 degrees altitude (partial eclipse)
– Sunrise to moonset, “golden hour” daylight
Moonset: 7:17am PST, moon at -0.3 degrees altitude (partial eclipse)
– If you’re in a very high place with very low horizons, for a few short minutes you may be able to capture a panorama, with the rare event of having both the sun and the moon in the sky at the same time!

The additional numbers are the degrees the moon will be above the horizon. Here’s a chart enabling you to anticipate which of your lenses can cover something that high, for the shots where you’d like to include both the ground and the eclipsing moon:

Common lens angles of view

If you shoot the entire eclipse in a sequence of still shots with your camera in one place, you can assemble them into a timelapse video like this one:

The other post-processing option for a sequence would be to create a composite photo of the phases, stacked into one image using software such as the free StarStaX:

Lunar Eclipse August 2007
Lunar Eclipse at Mono Lake

Here are my planning notes from last year, when it took me 46 hours to reach Tucson and a clear patch of sky to shoot the eclipse under:

Phases of the December 2010 Total Lunar Eclipse

For most viewers the apparent moon set time will tend to be a few minutes earlier due to terrain (or fog/smog).

Hopefully I’ll find it a little easier this time around. The next total lunar eclipse isn’t until 2014, so make the most of this one!

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Total Lunar Eclipse over Saguaro National Park

A massive storm was hammering the entire West Coast this lunar eclipse approached, so I decided to drive as far as I had to to get out from under the clouds. One 2000 mile round trip later, here’s a timelapse video spanning several hours. During the total eclipse the moon turns very dim and red, coloring the clouds and the landscape below.

Update: The copy I uploaded here to Blogger was converted poorly to a low resolution copy, so I deleted it. For best results at the moment, watch a preview of my lunar eclipse timelapse video over on YouTube: 

I’ve also uploaded a timelapse video covering several hours of the Geminid meteor shower from 2010, condensed into a few seconds. I successfully uploaded an HD copy to Vimeo, so this is the best resolution and quality timelapse video of any event that I’ve been able to present to the public so far:

Here’s one of my still images from the lunar eclipse:

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Total Lunar Eclipse Dec 20-21 2010

Here’s one of my early shots from the lunar eclipse last night. I’m still in Tucson and have to drive 9-10 hours today, so I won’t get around to working on the timelapse today.

On my primary camera, a Canon 5D Mark II, I shot a timelapse sequence of the eclipsing moon moving through the sky, as thin clouds moved overhead and the light turned red from the moon’s darkened face:
I can’t wait to see how it turns out, but I have a LOT of driving to do first.

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Phases of the December 2010 Total Lunar Eclipse

It’s coming in only 2.5 hours! I finally arrived in Tucson, Arizona roughly 46 hours after I got on the road yesterday (I spent most of the first 16 hours crawling in 4WD on snowy Sierra Nevada roads to get my kids home, then all the way down to Bishop before the snow and chain controls ended).

Looks like it’ll be partly cloudy here with thin, hazy clouds, but compared to California it’ll be nice to be able to shoot at all.

A few quick notes on timing, lenses (field of view required to get a timelapse), and so on:

Dec 20/21……………….Time………..Moon………Moon
Eclipse Phase……………..PST………Azimuth…..Altitude
Partial Eclipse Begins:….10:33pm…SE….122.5……..70.2
Total Eclipse Begins:……11:41pm………174.3……..77.9
Greatest Eclipse:……….12:16am………209.4……..76.4
Total Eclipse Ends:……..12:53am…SW….233.7……..71.4
Partial Eclipse Ends:…….2:01am….W….255.7……..59.1
Penumbral Eclipse Ends:…..5:04am………282.5……..23.3

Best Sunrise Light Starts…6:28am………292.8……..7.6


Partial Eclipse, Field of View:.10:30-2am..133.2…….20 degrees
Use 16mm lens to follow, +8, -12 degree shallow arc moon path.

Total Eclipse Field of View:.11:41-12:53am..59.4…….-6.5
Use at least 20mm lens to follow flat-ish downward arc to moon’s path.

Moonset in best pre-sunrise light:……..6:28 – 6:58am……..3.9……..-5.2 200mm, downward diagonal
Sunrise to moonset (daylight):……..6:58 – 7:13am……..1.9……..-2.4 600mm, small downward diagonal

The cameras I’ll be shooting with simultaneously:

Canon 5D mark II:
24mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4 – Night landscapes with full moon in penumbral dim state
21mm (16-35 lens) – Entire total eclipse (sequence for still shots, timelapse video or phase composite photo)

70-200mm – Moonset in best pre-sunrise light
70-200mm – Sunrise to moonset, “golden hour” daylight

Canon 40D:
70-200mm + 2X – Telephoto shots of moon in various eclipse phases
16mm = 105 deg. – Entire visible eclipse (sequence for still shots, timelapse video or phase composite photo)

The lens equivalents noted are the minimum needed, and since I’ll want to have the option to crop to a 16:9 HD video aspect ratio for a timelapse video, I’ll actually shoot the wide shots wider to allow for a generous margin of error.

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Total Lunar Eclipse Monday, December 20, 2010 (Last Chance ‘Til 2014)!

I’ve been poring over maps, examining moon rise and set angles on Google Earth maps, calculating what lenses might cover various phases of the total lunar eclipse Monday night, and anxiously checking weather forecasts.

This will be the only total lunar eclipse until 2014, so to me it’s worth an investment of time and effort to witness and to shoot. It might even be worth renting a lens for. Unfortunately, the entire West Coast looks out of the question due to weather, so I’m heading to Southern Arizona. I still have to cross the Sierra Nevada twice in the blizzard today, then I’ll have a 15 hour drive to Arizona (maybe 20 hours total, if I’m lucky). On the plus side, capturing the lunar eclipse over a tall saguaro cactus could offer some stunning possibilities, not to mention sunrise and sunset.

If you’re as crazy as I am and dying to get shots of the eclipse, I’d like to invite you to join me. I can save you days of research and I can help you line you some nice sunrise and sunset shots in addition to improving your chances of capturing nice eclipse photos and/or timelapse sequences. During an eclipse the exposure of the light coming off the moon changes dramatically, and it’s helpful to have others nearby to compare exposure information with.

All I ask is that you have some night photography experience, a tripod and remote trigger (wireless or corded, even better if you have an intervalometer timer-trigger), and that you can work around your camera at night without letting any light leak forward into the shot. That last point is very, very important. It gets extremely dark during a total lunar eclipse, and a timelapse sequence of the entire event can be ruined by one stray flashlight or headlamp.

Oh, and one more thing I ask… a moderate workshop fee… $99. We’ll set a time and place, meet around sunset, and shoot through dawn. Anyone heading back towards California after that is welcome to join me in searching for favorable light and weather over the following day or two (no guarantees that the weather will cooperate, but unsettled weather is the most dramatic visually, so I’m very excited about the forecast). Possibilities include Imperial Sand Dunes, Anza-Borrego State Park, the Salton Sea, Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley (a huge range, but the National Weather Service will help narrow down the choices). The Grand Canyon isn’t out of the question geography-wise, but it’s currently directly in the path of the storm, so a low probability (and it’s snowy and very cold).

The weather there is forecast to be a low of 46 degrees, 70s during the day.

Whatever you decide, best of luck to you on your weather and your eclipse shots!

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Total Lunar Eclipse Coming Monday, Dec 20!

The full moon enters the earth’s shadow during a lunar eclipse. The next one will occur December 20, 2010:

This eclipse will be well suited for viewing from North America, particularly the West Coast, with the darkest portion of the eclipse happening at 12:16am Pacific Standard Time.

I’m working out detailed shooting strategies for the following scenarios, so I can decide which ones to shoot and which lenses I’ll need to capture each at maximum resolution:

– Moonrise in “golden hour” daylight before Sunset:
– Continued moonrise in best post-sunset light
– Night landscapes with full moon in penumbral dim state
– Telephoto shots of moon in various eclipse phases
– Entire visible eclipse (sequence for still shots, timelapse video or phase composite photo)
– Entire total eclipse (sequence for still shots, timelapse video or phase composite photo)
– Moonset in best pre-sunrise light
– Sunrise to moonset, “golden hour” daylight

I’ve spent a few hours figuring our rise/set and eclipse angles so I can select a general site, specific shooting positions where I can incorporate landscape elements into the shots. The moon will cover a tremendous amount of sky on that night, rising in the northeast and setting in the northwest. To shoot from moon rise to moon set the site will need to have shooting opportunities covering roughly 240 degrees, almost 3/4 of a full 360 degree circle.

I’ll make the final decision on site later this week once I can see a 10 day weather forecast, but I’m leaning towards a Southern California desert location to reduce the odds of having interference from weather.

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