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Photographing the Eclipse – Planning

Sequence of eclipse phases during a lunar eclipse

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Photographing the Eclipse – Planning

Here in America, we are lucky to have a Total Lunar Eclipse coming up on the evening of January 20th, 2019. You’ve decided to take a photo of it! Awesome! But exactly how exactly should you go about that? Photographing the eclipse can be a bit daunting. Creating an Eclipse Photography Plan in an essential first step to a successful eclipse shoot. This post is about how-to pre-plan your eclipse shot, from selecting a location to timing your shots.

Pre-visualize your eclipse photo

What sort of image do you want to get? Do you want a single image of the moon over a landscape or perhaps a composition showing a progression of Moon phases across a sky similar to the one above? Perhaps you would prefer a cityscape or a rustic old cabin? The choice is completely yours. It’s very important to consider your options now so you can create an eclipse photography plan that works.

Plan Your Location Options

After you pre-visualize your shot, start thinking about potential locations that might fulfill your goal for the image. Your choices should probably include locations with a wide expanse of sky above your foreground. Now you can do anything you want with Photoshop, but I prefer to choose a location that would naturally have the eclipse visible above it. If you live in an area with a variety of weather patterns, you might consider making an eclipse plan for more than one location. That way if your first choice is clouded in, you have a second option already prepared and ready to go.

Find the Moon Path

Now that you have some location ideas, the next step is to find the Moon path in the sky. You can use one of the apps or websites listed below. My favorite is an app on my iPhone called Sky Guide. It’s important to know where the Moon will be on the evening of the eclipse so you can visualize it in your photo. If you want to learn how to use Sky Guide see my post, Using Sky Guide – Tips for Night Photography. Unfortunately, Sky Guide does not make an Android version. However, I think a good Android alternative is Star Walk 2.

I use Sky Guide to show me where the Moon path will be in relationship to the skyline. One mental adjustment that you need to be aware of is that if your location is close to a tall object or even a mountain range, your Moon will disappear or appear much sooner or later than the app or charts indicate. Most apps and charts calculate the view from a flat horizon, which is rarely what we have unless we are at the ocean.

If you are so inclined, you can use The Photographer’s Ephemeris or PhotoPills to calculate the shadows of landforms. I highly recommend that you visit your chosen sight in the days prior to the eclipse. Eclipses don’t happen often and it’s not good to discover a miscalculation on the night of the eclipse. If you choose a location a distance from obstacles, you will have much a better chance of success. However, that said, if you can’t see the beginning or end of the eclipse in your area, it’s not a big disaster. You can choose to show a partial eclipse, like the top photo above. It shows only half the eclipse, from the total eclipse back to the full moon.

Rye Valley Solar Eclipse by Lori Rowland Photography

Solar Eclipse – August 21, 2017 – An Eclipse Photography Plan works on solar eclipses too! 🙂

Check the time

You are going to need to know what time the eclipse begins and ends and the times of the specific phases. There are a couple websites that you can check to get information that is fairly specific to your location. For starters, I like timeanddate.com. Change the settings to your nearest city if it isn’t already properly set. You can get a chart that will show you what time the individual phases will occur in your area. (Don’t forget to adjust the time if the nearest city is in a different time zone, as it is for me.)

My favorite stop is the Navy’s website, Complete Sun & Moon Data for One Day. For eclipse detail, go to Data Services in the sidebar, click on more, then Lunar Eclipse Computer. Here you are going to enter in the city closest to where you will be shooting. The Lunar Eclipse Computer will give you the time the moon enters into each of the eclipse phases, enters penumbra, enters umbra, enters totality, middle of totality, leaves totality, leaves umbra and leaves penumbra. The times will be given in military time so adjust for your local time. This is the information we will use to base our shot list on. If you do plan multiple locations, don’t forget to get this data for each location. I like to print these out or at least save a copy on my phone.

Create a Shooting Plan

The shooting plan greatly depends on what you want in your final image. If you only want a single Moon shot, the shooting plan will be fairly simple. However, if you want multiple moons in various phases, like I do, you are going to have to do a little more work. Select how many moons you want in the final image. I recommend an odd number, but it’s totally up to you. Let’s say you want 7 moon shots. You will need to divide the total time length of the visible eclipse, from start to finish, by the number of shots you want to end up with in your final composite.

For example, I know the total length of this eclipse is 5 hours & 12 minutes which equals 312 minutes from start to finish. If I want to have 7 moon images, I would divide 312 ÷ 7 which gives me 45-minute intervals between shots. To create your shot list, plan your middle shot for exact time of the middle of totality. Then work forward and backwards from the middle, in 45-minute increments, to determine your shoot times. Program these intervals into the timer on your cell phone and set it to chime. When the chime goes off, it’s time to shoot. This is soooo helpful! I get carried away and tend to shoot way too many images. Using the timer on my phone helps keep my enthusiasm in check which in turn saves battery life and card space!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like my story about photographing the solar eclipse. For tips on using Sky Guide, see my post, Tips on Using Sky Guide for Night Photography. You can follow more of my work on Lori Rowland Photography – Oregon Exposures on Facebook or Lori_Rowland_Photography on Instagram. And as usual, I welcome your comments, questions and feedback. I wish you good luck and clear skies!

Useful Links:

Time and Date – http://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/

Complete Sun & Moon Data for One Day – http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneDay.php

Lunar Eclipse Computer – https://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/LunarEclipse.php

NASA – http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html

Sky Guide for iPhone – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sky-guide-view-stars-night/id576588894?mt=8

Star Walk 2 for Android –

MoonTrajectory.net – https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.sylde.Moon&hl=en

The Photographer’s Ephemeris – http://photoephemeris.com

Photo Pills – http://www.photopills.com

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