Photographing the Supermoon at Moonrise, the Lunar Eclipse and the Blood Moon

Equipment:

  • DSLR or mirrorless camera capable of full manual exposure control.
  • If you plan on using a camera with an electronic viewfinder please make make sure you can focus and compose in the dark.
  • At battery grip with two batteries is preferable but if you do not have one then two fully charged extra batteries are essential.
  • A sturdy tripod
  • A cable release, however, an intervalometer is preferable both for normal interval shooting and if you plan on doing a time-lapse sequence.
  • A watch that you can see the time in the dark
  • A flashlight, head lamp preferred with a red filter.

Set up and focusing:

Typical lenses (unless they are manual focusing with infinity stops) will focus past infinity.  Do not assume that turning the focus ring all the way will guarantee focus at infinity.  The best way to focus to infinity is to use autofocus during the daytime.  Take some gaffer’s tape and apply it to lock the focus ring to your lens body. Now use auto focus and focus on a subject at infinity.  Switch the lens to manual focus and leave it like that for the rest of the evening.  This may not work for many mirrorless cameras. In these cameras the lens will reset to infinity if you turn the camera off. When you with your camera on the lens will be at infinity and now you can switch the focus to manual.  With these lenses you should also use gaffers tape to prevent accidental turning of the focusing ring.  Optionally you can use live view with magnification to manually focus on your subject at infinity.  I prefer the daylight method.

Lenses:

You can use wide angle and telephoto lenses.  The choice is based on how you wish to compose your scene.  With wide lenses you have the latitude of longer exposures while telephoto lenses will limit your shutter duration if you want the moon to look round and not oval.  Lenses in the 20mm to 400mm range are ideal but long focal lengths will not allow you to include much of the foreground during the eclipse.  The long focal length will be just fine for the moonrise.

Exposure:

For the moon the following is a good method to calculate the maximum shutter duration to prevent oval images. A modified rule that works is 400 divided by the focal length will result in the longest shutter duration before the moon shape elongates.  So if you use a 100mm lens the max duration is 4 seconds.  Similarly a 50mm lens will allow an 8 second exposure.  If you are using very high resolution cameras like the Nikon D800, 810, Sony A7R, A7R II, Canon 5DS/R then use 200 as the factor instead of 400.

This is an event that requires some careful planning.  As the eclipse begins the amount of reflected light from the moon will get dimmer till it is fully eclipsed and then it will get brighter as the eclipse passes.

Using light meters will not help nor will spot metering (even a 1 degree spot will include a lot of dark skies around the moon) so it is best to use the following base settings as a starting point and adjust accordingly:

(I suggest f/8 as this is usually the sweet spot for most lenses and gives sufficient depth of field.  If you are not bringing the foreground element into the frame then f/4 or f/2.8 will work with no loss of detail on the moon) 

  • Full  to 50 % lit moon f/8 1/60 sec. ISO 100
  • 50% to 25% (quarter moon) f/8, 1/30 sec. ISO 100
  • 1/4 to 1/8 moon f/8 1/15 sec. ISO 100
  • Crescent moon f/8 1 sec. ISO100
  • Eclipsed but before totally blood orange/red increase the ISO to 800 F/8 7-9 sec. (check histogram)
  • Total eclipse increase ISO to 1600, 8 sec. at f/11, 1600 ISO

You may use any equivalent aperture and exposure settings.  If you are not including near foreground elements then you can use an aperture of F5.6 or even f4 and adjust ISO and shutter speeds accordingly.