Capturing the Blood Moon

by Jeff Insel

The moon never ceases to be an interesting photography subject—especially when a total lunar eclipse is taking place. On April 4, the Earth’s shadow completely enveloped the moon and turned it into a “blood moon.”

Friday night before the eclipse, I stepped onto my driveway around 8:00 p.m. to see if the moon was visible through the light clouds. Hoping to capture some of the moving wispy clouds, I shot this image at ISO 200, f/20, 1/4 sec. using my 50-500 mm lens at 360mm (540mm equivalent).

The following morning I got up at 4:30 a.m. to check on the blood moon as the eclipse was close to full with just a slight crescent at the upper right end. At 4:58 a.m. I began shooting (in manual mode) at ISO 1600, f/22, 2.5 sec. My lens was fully extended at 500 mm (750mm equivalent). I had some trouble trying to get a sharp focus on the dark subject but was ultimately pleased with how this image turned out.

Even though it was not the easiest subject to photograph, the thrill of capturing the moon with two completely different looks only hours apart was exciting and I learned how to better prepare for the next time I photograph the moon.

When photographing the moon, utilize these three things:

A long lens — It is best to use a long lens, ideally longer than 200mm, in order to reach a great enough magnification to pick up detail in the moon’s surface. Shoot in RAW and your post-processing cropping will maintain greater sharpness.

A small aperture — Start at an aperture of f/22 or smaller, if possible. The smaller the aperture, the better your chance is of ensuring sharpness in the distant subject.

A tripod — This probably sounds like a no-brainer, but as you see above, I tried handholding my camera for the blood moon shot and it just didn’t turn out as well as it could have. It’s easy to think an image will turn out crisp when looking at the viewing display on the back of your camera, but once on the computer you can tell the image isn’t sharp. So for night shots, especially those moon ones at f/22, make sure to use your tripod to keep your camera stable when shooting with a multiple second shutter.

If you didn’t get a chance at photographing this eclipse, you’ll have the opportunity to do so again on September 28, 2015. Make sure to mark your calendar for this eclipse though because even though we have had three eclipses in the last year and a half, this fourth one is said to be the last of the tetrad eclipse pattern for the next 20 years or so! Don’t miss it!