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Photographing the Blood Moon

The total lunar eclipse of 27 July 2018, was billed as a "once in a century" event, referring to the fact that it would be the longest in duration for the next hundred years, as well as coinciding with Mars being at its closest point to earth for 15 years. This would be my first 'serious' attempt at photographing this event, so I headed out at 5.30 am and have put together the following list of tips and tricks I learnt from the shoot.

Blood Moon (f/2.8, 0.8secs, iso1000, 200mm (heavily cropped)

Firstly, as with pretty much all planned shoots, have at least a general idea of what sort of final image you're looking to capture. From looking at many shots of previous eclipses it can be incredibly difficult to compose a shot with the moon in that actually looks real and doesn't simply end up as being either a shot of the moon completely on its own in the sky with absolutely no sense of scale or perspective or a hideous composite created in Photoshop that gains thousands of likes on Instagram but leaves many photographers feeling their art has been cheapened.

In this instance I was after the blood moon being reflected in the still morning water.

Next task is to plan your location. As the eclipse would be happening around the time the moon was setting I knew this would be towards a westerly facing aspect, so scouted my location accordingly. Using the Photographers Ephemeris, I could see that moon would be in a position over the local beach and water near my house so decided I would head there. Its an area I know like the back of my hand so I already had a few compositions in mind.

With regards to equipment, I know that shooting the moon with my usual Ultra wide lens would be futile so decided to put the Sigma 70-200 on before I headed out. This change made all of my original pre-planned compositions irrelevant as they all involved traditional foreground interest or leading lines, which become pretty much obsolete when shooting with the telephoto zoom. This firmed my intention to shoot the reflection.

As I arrived at the location I'd chosen, it became apparent that lots of others had also decided it would be a good vantage point. This is where shooting locally can work to your advantage, as I knew of another similar location that wouldn't be familiar with many others, so I carried on past the crowds and my hunch paid off when I was the only one at my new position.

In terms of camera set up, I started initially with my iso at 2000 and aperture at its widest f2.8 which gave a shutter speed of 2.5 seconds. This gave a decent first test image, but the highlights in the moon were clipping. After a small amount of tweaking, I was able to bring the iso down to 1000, and use a shutter speed of about of around 0.8 secs, still with an aperture of f2.8. Whilst the sky was still dark, this allowed me to capture the moon without over exposing as well as minimising the noise. It also, became apparent quite quickly, that even at 200mm the moon still looks relatively small in an image. As dawn approached and the sky lightened, I was able to reduce the iso more (I ended up at iso 640) and up the aperture to enable a more pleasing finish in terms of noise and focus.

Moon and Mars. f/2.8, 0.6secs, iso 1600, 200mm (uncropped, unedited)

As for the photographs themselves, given the moon was quite high in the sky at the start, the initial shots were pretty much of the moon in a dark sky, with Mars also making an appearance. The good thing was that I knew I only had to focus on the moon so could easily do this manually in live view magnified 10x. As the moon made its way to the horizon, and at the shorter focal length I was able to start composing images that were more pleasing. Thankfully on a few occasions I managed to capture a perfect reflection in the still water, which although not exactly what I had imagined it was still a very pleasing capture.


As the night gave way to day, the moon became larger but also less prominent in the sky, although it did maintain some of the colour. Unfortunately a bank of fog brought things to an abrupt halt, but it was till an extremely enjoyable experience and being outside as the new day breaks is always a rewarding experience.

Blood Moon in the Dawn Sky

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