On Friday 27th July, we will experience the longest lunar eclipse of the century, and it will turn the moon blood red. This major astronomical event will last one hour and 43 minutes in total, beginning as the sun sets and the moon rises across Europe
The blood moon is one photographic event you really don’t want to miss this week. Check the time and dates for your location here, but why is it red? The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere. To ensure you get some great shots of this unique event, Canon ambassador and landscape pro, David Noton, shares some tips – check out his recent photo of a blood moon over Stonehenge, above.
1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know
The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.
Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the blood moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first 15 minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.
2. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom
On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.
3. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details
As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.
4. Integrate the moon into your landscape
Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with modern cameras now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.
5. Master the shutter speed for your subject
The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability. By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.
Hopefully David’s tips will come in useful and do share your best shots with AP. Remember, under eclipse conditions you need exposures measured in seconds. The key is to keep them as short as you can to prevent motion blur from the moon’s movement, especially with a long telephoto, even if it means boosting the ISO.