Penumbral Lunar Eclipse (Nov 28, 2012)

Hey Mamas, just wanted to remind you that tomorrow morning we’ll be having a lunar eclipse!  However, it’s a penumbral eclipse, which means that the moon will be passing through the earth’s penumbral shadow instead of directly behind the earth.  This means that the eclipse effect will be subtle — just some slight shadowing.  It might not be very photo-worthy unless there’s great visibility, in which case the photo-worthiness is due more to the full moon than the eclipse. But photographing the moon can be a fun exercise regardless!

If you’d like to give it a try, the eclipse starts at 4:17AM and ends when the moon sets at 7:33AM.  The maximum eclipse occurs when the moon is full, which is at 6:33AM.  At this point the moon will be 8.3° above the horizon, so you’ll need to be sure that you are somewhere with a clear west/northwest view (when I photograph the setting moon, I usually go to Sunset Hill park at 7531 34th Ave NW).  The Clear Sky Chart is predicting partly to mostly cloudy from 5AM – 7AM, with the clearest skies (about 30-40% cloud cover) happening closer to 7AM, whereas the weather report is calling for 80% cloud cover the entire time.

On the off-chance that the sky is clear, here are some tips to help you photograph the moon:

  • You’ll want to use a long (at least 200mm) lens if you have one.  A 300mm lens is ideal, but I’ve been able to get decent photos using a 70mm lens as well.  They aren’t as high quality as 300mm lens photos would be because I have to crop them a lot, but I can get a fair amount of detail even at that range (see image below).
  • Use a tripod and a remote shutter cable if you’ve got them (setting your camera on a flat surface and using the self-timer works too).  Even though you don’t have to use a slow shutter speed for moon photos, a long lens increases the risk of vibration and blur.
  • Set your ISO to the lowest setting on your camera (usually ISO 200 for Nikon and ISO 100 for all other brands).  This will ensure that you get the richest saturation and least amount of grain in your images.
  • Set your exposure mode to Manual (M).
  • Start with a pretty high aperture (around f/8 or f/11).  The depth of field at this distance is pretty irrelevant, so you’re using the aperture mostly to control light and image sharpness.
  • Pick a relatively fast shutter speed, starting around 1/125 sec or 1/250 sec.
  • Change your lens to focus manually and set your focus to Infinity (∞).  Because you’re photographing at night, it will be hard for your camera to autofocus correctly.
  • Adjust your shutter speed and/or aperture as necessary to make sure you aren’t over-exposing the moon.  You should be able to see the moon and its shadows and craters pretty clearly in your images.  If you just see a bright ball of light or if the edges of the moon are fuzzy, it is over-exposed.

Experiment with different settings and have fun!  And don’t forget to change your lens back to Autofocus after you’re done, or you’ll drive yourself crazy the next time you try to take photos and everything comes out blurry.  (Not that I’ve ever done that or anything…)

If you do decide to take some moon shots, we hope you’ll share them with us at our next meetup (in January) or on the Mamas with Cameras Facebook Group!

Harvest Moon (ISO 200, f/8, 1/250 sec, 70mm)