Been pretty quiet for a while because of a very busy summer. Hope to be a bit more active in the weeks ahead!
Sunday the 27th brings the next lunar eclipse. There have been a couple over the last year and it always makes an interesting subject to shoot. Night sky photography has become a much bigger target with the equipment we have today. Certainly the digital age not only allows us to do things we couldn’t before, it also has brought that capability to many more photographers with the tools and knowledge to take very beautiful shots.
Normally night photography is a tightrope game between trying to get the most out of a dark canvas without washing out any light with noise from high ISO’s and long exposures. It is usually done with wide angle lenses and fast f-stops. Eclipses, and the time leading up to and directly after, create a very different set of problems that we must deal with.
To begin with, instead of wide angle lenses, this is one of the few times most of us will shoot the night sky with a telephoto lens. Generally, the biggest problem is the movement of the sky during your exposure time. With wide angle lenses there is a lot of forgiveness as the large view shows very little movement with exposure times of 20, 25 or even 30 seconds. Because telephotos have such a much smaller field of view, any sky movement shows up after only a few seconds with the shutter open. Consequently, our first solution is to try to shoot the sky in as short a time as possible. With a full moon this is easy. Even at ISO 800 or 400 a bright moon in a small field allows shutter speeds of 1/800 second to 1/1000 of a second or even faster.
It is surprising how much difference in light there is between the sun-drenched full moon and the shadowed moon only a few minutes later. So to overcome the second problem the photographer has to be ready to change settings several times during the rapidly changing light conditions. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and not check the back of your camera or histogram. My first strategy is to increase ISO to allow the camera to get enough light to the sensor. As the moon darkens, I’ll go from a starting point of ISO 400, to 800, 1000, 1200, 1600, 3200 and 6400. Once there, now I have to go to reducing the shutter speed until the moon becomes fully shadowed. After the few minutes of total eclipse, you have to be ready to reverse the process until the moon is fully sun showered again.
So, telephoto on a tripod with a remote shutter release. My go to setup is a 300mm f/2.8 with a 2X teleconverter. I shoot in manual mode with the ISO starting at 400, shutter at around 1/1200 second and the f/stop and big as it can be – with this combo f/5.6. If you have live view on your camera, manual focus is a piece of cake. Make sure you do your focusing when the moon is brightest. Put onto live view, hit the enlarge button to 10X and fine tune your image. If you don’t have live view, you must pre-focus during the day as instructed under the shooting aurora blog entry. As the shadow moves across the moon, check you histogram and adjust as necessary. If you’re unsure about how to read your histogram, images on the back of your camera will give you a good ballpark as to what’s going on. As the evening progresses past the midway point, reverse you adjustments.
Pretty tough to get much “environment” with your shot. Usually the moon is high enough that with the telephoto it’s difficult to get enough field of view to include the moon and anything earth side, and get ‘em both in focus. I have seen some mountain pix where this has been accomplished well. Getting neighboring stars and/or planets can also make an interesting shot. The tendency is to fill the frame with the eclipsing orb. That makes an interesting shot or two, but getting some with the surrounding heavens really makes the shot “pop”!Read More