How (Not?) to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse – Dublin September 2015
Early this week, the Dublin weather forecast for this evening’s lunar eclipse on 27 July 2018 looked promising and I was looking forward to doing a time-lapse from the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire as the blood moon rose out of the Irish Sea near the Muglins light and then arced over Dalkey and Killiney Hills. Sadly, however, the forecast changed, and this celestial spectacle was clouded out in Ireland. At least, it's not long until the next one – on 21 January 2019 just as you finish clubbing in Dublin at 3.33am!
As part of my preparations though, I went back and looked at my shots for the last lunar eclipse in Dublin – an effort that I never got around to blogging about until now. Both timeanddate.com and space.com provide excellent information on celestial events and they told me that the partial phase of the eclipse began at 2.07am and the total phase was between 3.11am and 4.23am with the maximum at 3.47am. There was an additional penumbral phase at the start and end when the moon was in the edges of the earth’s shadow but during this stage, the shading is so light that it is hard to see any difference in the brightness of the Moon. Unfortunately, I slept it out on the night in question, so my sequence starts just after the maximum at 3.54am and I finished around the end of the partial phase at 5.34am – still in a totally dark sky (for Dublin) because astronomical twilight did not start until 5.22am. At the time I had little idea on how to do an eclipse time lapse and I made several mistakes on the night, hence my title on how NOT to do this!
For the 2018 eclipse, I also read up from several sources that give lots of tips and ideas for different kinds of eclipse shots as follows: -
The first step in photographing any eclipse is finding a good location to shoot it from. The Photographers Ephemeris told me that the from the North Bull Wall, the moon would be over the Poolbeg chimneys – one of my favourite locations for moonshots in Dublin.
Once I finally got there, my camera settings for totality, or blood moon phase when its much darker, were 8 seconds at f8 and ISO 1600 at 37mm on a Canon EFS 18-55mm lens mounted on Canon 7D Mark II. Here’s a shot of my setup on what was a very clear calm night – note the camera in vertical mode on the tripod, my cable release to make sure there was no vibration when doing the exposures, and my camera bag hanging off the tripod further dampen vibration.
During totality, I used the 500 rule, as explained by David Kingham on Petapixel, to make sure the moon’s motion did not cause it to blur. In my case, the exposure length multiplied by the focal length and the 1.6 crop factor came to 473 – i.e. just little less than 500. As always for night shots, I level up everything before I start, and I focus at 10x in live view with both image stabilisation and autofocus off. Here's a single exposure from the sequence.
During the partial eclipse phase, I kept the aperture at f8 and started at 2 seconds at f8 and ISO 200 dropping to 0.25 second at ISO 100 by the end. My goal was to get both the bright and dark part of the moon but this precluded getting detail in the bright part. I decided this wasn’t that important given how small the moon was in the frame anyway. Nowadays, I have two cameras and a tripod for each, so next time I might try dual exposures with settings for both the light and dark parts of the moon, although this would further complicate the stacking.
Once I had the shots in Lightroom, it was quickly clear that a shot during totality when the exposure of the moon was approximately balanced with the nightscape should form the base shot. As in many of my moonshots, I adjusted the white balance toward the blue end, in this case around 2250 Kelvin to get a blue-orange balance between the sky and floodlit areas that I like. I also added a graduated filter in Lightroom over the bottom to tone done the floodlit buildings and to open up the shadows – as well as adding some clarity and sharpness. Sharpening was set to about 100 and masking to about 50 with noise reduction to about 60. Back then, I tended to use the Camera Landscape calibration but nowadays I prefer to start from Adobe Standard because I find the Camera landscape option a bit garish. These develop settings were copied to the remaining 24 shots in the sequence. Subsequently, I changed the white balance setting to auto for the partial phase shots because I thought the settings from the total phase made the moon a bit too blue.
Once the shots were processed in Lightroom, I prepared the final shot in Photoshop as follows: -
Once the image was completed, I brought it back into Lightroom for some final tweaks including boosting the whites to make the partial phase moon exposures a bit brighter. I also added another graduated filter to the bottom to cancel out the effect of this on the buildings. OK, I think I’ll stop the photoshoppery now!
Overall and despite the various issues, I am pleased with this image. Despite arriving late, I got exposures from the peak of the eclipse to the end of the partial phase and I think the composition works well with the Poolbeg chimneys. Because of all the transformations, it not a scientifically accurate record but I’m happy with it as a picture of a special night out for me.
This shot is available to purchase in my new land and seascapes gallery– prices are in the gallery.
Keywords: 500 rule, B&H, blood moon, chimneys, city lights, Co. Dublin, Dahlia Ambrose, David Kingham, docklands, Dublin, Dublin Bay, eclipse, Fred Espenak, free transform, full moon, intervalometer, ireland, Jean-Luc Dauvergne, John Coveney, John Coveney Photography, landscape, lighten blending mode, Lightroom, Lightstalking, Live View, lunar eclipse, magic wand, masking, moon, moonshot, Mr. Eclipse, multiple exposure, night sky, night-time, nocturnal, North Bull Wall, people places and wildlife, Petapixel, photo stacking, Photography Life, Photoshop, Poolbeg, resizing, seascape, selection modifications, smokestacks, space.com, stacking images, striped, The Photographers Ephemeris, time lapse, timeanddate.com, tripod, Weatherscapes, white balance, www.johncoveney.ie
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