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Photographing the Eclipse – Planning

Sequence of eclipse phases during a lunar eclipse

How to Create an Eclipse Photography Plan

You have a total lunar eclipse coming up in your future. You decide 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 timing to selecting a location.

Begin by pre-visualizing your eclipse photo – Do you want a single image of the moon only or perhaps a composition showing a progression of Moon phases? Do you want to have a landscape or perhaps a building as the foreground? If you like, you can do a internet search for eclipse photos to give you some ideas.

It’s important that you begin this step several days in advance. It might not be a bad idea to plan a couple locations some distance apart just incase you get cloud cover. Should bad weather come your way, you might be able to use an alternate location if you are willing to drive a bit. Dark sky locations away from city light pollution will yield the best moon photos. Weather is the one thing you cannot plan in advance but having two or three shooting locations planned out in advance may give you last minute alternative options.

– Check the time – You are going to need to know what time the eclipse is and where it will be located in your sky. 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 to 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 second 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 location closest to where you will be shooting. If you do plan multiple locations, don’t forget to update your eclipse data for each location. I like to print these out or at least save a copy on my phone.

– Find the Moon Path – All right! Now you are all set up with the when but what about the where? How are you going to know where the Moon path will be? I use an app on my iPhone called Sky Guide. It’s available on iTunes for $2.99. Unfortunately, they do not make an Android version. An Android alternative is MoonTrajectory.net, free on Google Play.

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 subject or even a mountain range, your Moon will disappear much sooner than the app or charts indicate. 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 sights 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 form obstacles, you will have much a better chance of success.

– Choose a layout – When I planned my last eclipse shoot, I knew I wanted a wide landscape as a foreground. I tried to select a landscape that would be complimentary to the Moon path, which was, for me, a mountain range that angled a bit from southeast to northwest.  In post processing, you can do just about anything you want, but I knew I wanted a layout that was fairly close to the actual Moon path.

Perhaps your pre-visualized plan includes an old church or homestead as a foreground? Sky Guide will tell you whether or not your visualized plan will actually come together properly on the night of the eclipse.

If you are new to Sky Guide, I recommend playing around with the settings in advance so you are familiar with it. Toward the bottom of the iPhone screen, you can change the date and time, rewind & fast forward. This is the most useful tool for calculating time & location of the Moon without being overly complicated. The one catch is that it is going to give you the best data when you are actually in your location. This is one reason why I recommend starting a couple days in advance.

– 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, 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 5 moon shots. You will need to divide the length of the visible eclipse 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 & 11 minutes. However, in my location, I will not be able to see the beginning of the eclipse. When the moon rises, it will already be fairly close to totality. That’s why I chose 5 shots. I would like to start with totality and end with the full moon with 3 shots in between. There is 3 hours & 14 minutes between totality and the end. I’ve got 194 minutes to work with. If I want 5 shots, I need to shoot every 38 or 39 minutes. (194 ÷ 5 = 38.8). If I wanted 7 shots, I would shorten the time between shots to 28 minutes, (194 ÷ 7 = 27.7) etc. On the night of the eclipse, I program these intervals into the alarm clock on my phone.

If you complete these steps for a few locations a couple days in advance, you will be off with a great plan for photographing the ecilipse!

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

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

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

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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