Jim Landers, founder of Landers Photo School (LandersPhotoSchool.com) is a good friend of mine and incredible photography instructor. Take a look at his article on photographing the blood moon. The moon turning into a reddish color happens once in a while. Astronomers say this one on September 27, 2015 is a little unique because of the way things line up but if you miss out this time, there will be others.
Photographing the Blood Moon Tonight
Beginning at about 8pm (CDT) tonight (Sunday September 27, 2015) we will get to see a lunar eclipse, meaning that the Earth will be in between the moon and the sun. The thing that makes it rare is that the moon will be completely covered by the shadow created by the earth, so the only light that will hit the moon is the light that is at the edge of the earth. This rare phenomenon is known as the “Blood Moon” and there's an even more rare surprise! This is the LAST of four that happened at six month intervals beginning April 2014. If you were on the moon, the Earth would look dark with a bright, deep red edge all the way around. That is the light that we will see hitting the moon tonight (assuming no clouds!). The best time to see it red will be at 9:45pm CDT, but get out there at least 30 early to choose a great spot, get set up, and do your light tests!
Choose a long lens (higher number focal length), ideally 200mm or larger. The moon will look tiny in with smaller focal length lenses. It’s going to look surprising small anyway! If you have it available to you, 500mm and up is the best. Even with a 500mm lens the moon will be quite a bit smaller in your frame than the moon in the image at the top of this article.
Keep your camera still. We don’t want any motion blur coming from the camera. There are several ways to make this happen: put the camera on something steady like a table, rock, fence post, etc. Or, even better, use the tools designed for this: Tripod No matter what, steady your camera! -especially with the long focal length of the lens.
Daylight (the icon looks like the sun). If you want to get a specific color or mood, then take some test shots at various color balance settings and look at your camera’s LCD.
Note for RAW format only: If you create in RAW (which I would recommend if and only if you can say “yes” to each of these three points: 1. your camera gives you the option, 2. you have the software to manipulate a RAW and 3. you have the know-how to use the software) you can manually adjust the WB in most photo manipulation software like Adobe Photoshop™ or Lightroom™. If you photograph in RAW, you do not have to have to worry about changing color balance settings -just leave it on “Auto White Balance” or wherever it is right now, because it really doesn’t matter!
The lower the ISO the higher the quality of the image! After you create an image, if you feel that the moon is too bright: first lower the ISO to the lowest number available to you. If the ISO is as low as it can go, then increase the shutter speed. How do you know which to do first? Well if your ISO can be lowered, start there! The lower the ISO the higher the quality of the image!
Items to know
Amount of light: The location of your subject is the only thing that matters; your location is irrelevant. So most who are photographing the moon (who know a little about how to control the amount of light entering your camera) will think, well its dark so I need more light! But that would be WRONG! The moon is your subject, is the moon in the dark? No, its bright and sunny! So you have to think about where your subject is and choose your lighting as if it were a bright and sunny day for you! Now that would be the moon on a normal day, we now have to think of it with less light than normal because of the eclipse.
Sunny 16 rule: For Basic Daylight Exposure you could use F16 with your shutter speed and ISO the same (for instance both at 100: 1/100 and ISO 100) –Yes, it’s as simple as that. This forms your starting point. Now the amount of light will be much less because of the eclipse, but how much less? Well I don’t know! But I would anticipate at least three or four stops less light! So we will start by changing the f-stop from f16 and open it up three stops to f5.6 (lower if you have it available to you! F4, f2.8, f2, f1.8 –choose the number that is the lowest, because we will need the light!)
Manual Focus: If your camera has difficulty focusing you will have to switch to manual focus.
Pay attention to your environment: Keep an eye out for opportunities around you (not just in front of you). Think about putting objects in the foreground! –Make sure they are not distractions!
Manual Mode: Put your camera into Manual mode using the Sunny 16 rule as your starting point. The really cool thing about digital photography is that little screen on the back of the camera (I call that screen “confidence” because that is what it gives you!). You can see it and therefore make adjustments as necessary. If it is still too bright you should decrease the amount of light entering the camera. There are three ways to handle that: decrease the ISO, increase the shutter speed, or increase the number of the f-stop.
Step by Step Instructions
- Get there early (From what I have read, the eclipse will begin at 8:07pm CST)
- Find a beautiful and interesting place that will make a great foreground or a completely open area.
- Set up your tripod
- Mount your camera to your tripod.
- Clean your lens – use an Ultra micro-fiber cloth
- Use a cable release, remote, or the camera’s delay timer (so you can be “hands free”)
- Set you camera to f 16, at 1/100 and 100 ISO.
- If that’s not enough light, choose a lower numbered f-stop. If it’s too much increase the shutter speed.
- If that’s still not enough light, increase the ISO until you get the right amount of light
Note about weather: Some of the most interesting skies occur during storms, and also when there is dust or smoke in the sky. So unless its totally overcast, get out there!