This Sunday night, September 27th, 2015, photographers and stargazers will be treated to a rare phenomenon that only occurs every 20 to 30 years. A total supermoon will also coincide with a lunar eclipse, creating the rare phenomenon known as a Blood Moon.
Update – Check out some of the best blood moon photos taken on September 27th 2015 here!
According to USA Today, a supermoon occurs when a the moon is full while also at it’s closest point to earth in it’s orbit. This makes the moon appear 14% to 33% larger than other full moons, therefore achieving “super-moon” status.
In addition to the supermoon, a lunar eclipse will take place. This is when the earth lines up between the sun and moon. Since the light from the sun will reflect off of the earth’s atmosphere, the moon will have a coppery red tint. This is the “blood moon”.
In case this still doesn’t make sense, NASA has put together a nice little video that finally explains this rare occurrence in a way that even I can understand.
The eclipse will begin at 9:07 pm on the East Coast of the United States, and 6:07 pm on the West Coast. The strongest effect will take place mid-eclipse, which falls at 10:48pm EST and 7:48pm PST. While the East Coast will get a true red blood moon against the night sky, the eclipse could have an interesting look on the west coast, as the moon will still be close to the horizon and be at it’s reddish peak during blue hour.
Needless to say, this rare phenomenon deserves to be seen, and captured with your camera, if possible. I have put together a quick set of tips to help you capture your best photos of the Supermoon Lunar Eclipse.
Big Lens = Big Moon
You have seen the photos of those gigantic moons against cityscapes or landscapes. Believe it or not, they aren’t all created with Photoshop. Long focal length lenses create compression, which gives the moon that giant look while also capturing the foreground. The bigger the lens, the bigger the moon. A focal length of 400-800mm will create some incredible photos, but the trick is finding a location far enough away to capture the foreground and the moon for the composition you want. Check out David Yu’s photo of Coit Tower below. I am pretty sure he took that all the way from across the San Francisco Bay.
Wide angle isn’t always bad
While you will miss the big moon effect, the red hue of the blood moon will cast a different and unique light on your landscape. One that you aren’t likely to get any time soon.
Fast Shutter Speed is key
When I say fast, I mean fast for night time. The moon and earth move fast, so a 10-second exposure is going to create a blurry moon. 1/8th to 1/15th of a second is usually perfect for capturing a sharp moon. This may require higher ISO and a fast lens, but having the shot with some ISO noise is better than not getting the shot at all.
Use a tripod
This goes without saying, but having a sturdy setup is crucial, especially if you are using a massive lens to capture the gigantic moon. Hang your camera backpack from the center column for extra support.
Use a Remote or 2-second timer
You spent all this time and effort to get to your perfect location to capture this rare occurrence, don’t let camera shake from your finger on the shutter ruin your photos. Use your camera’s built-in self-timer or an external remote to make sure your camera isn’t being touched when that shutter opens.
Get away from the lights
As with anything Astro related, the further away you get from major cities and the light pollution that they create, the more dramatic and stronger the moon will be. If you can’t get away from the city, or have a city photo in your mind, take considerations like traffic into account and make sure you are there early.
Use All The Apps
Use apps like The Photographer’s Ephemeris or Photo Pills to plan your shot carefully. Know exactly the angle and direction of the moon during critical periods of the eclipse, and find the foreground or elevated ground that you need to capture the shot you have envisioned.
Get set up early
If you are a serial lagger like me, then you are used to getting to a location right when you need to be there, and franticly setting up to get the shot before it disappears. Being such a rare occurrence, this is not one of those times to order a second dessert at dinner. Be on site early. Scout the possible compositions and check the exact direction of the moon using the apps mentioned above. Not only will you be prepared, you will also get the good spot before the procrastinating photographers show up.
Capture the eclipse in it’s different phases
Back to the being on site early, capture the eclipse in all it’s phases, from it’s beginning at 9:07pm EST to it’s end at 12:27pm EST. Don’t move your tripod and camera an inch. Then, when you get home, learn how to create a cool composite in Photoshop, like the examples below from Mike Mezeul II and Sean Bagshaw.
This is the most important tip of them all. You are witnessing an incredibly rare event. Don’t forget to take some time to forget about the camera and live in the moment, and being thankful that you are here to witness Mother Nature’s beauty.
Below is a collection of some of my favorite images from 500px that show the Blood Moon, Honey Moon, Supermoon, or Lunar Eclipse.
San Francisco, California by Michael Bonocore
Waco, Texas by Mike Mezeul II
Arizona by Sean Parker
Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park by James Forbes
Seattle, Washington by Quynh Ton
Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri by Brett Weinstein
South Dakota by Aaron J. Groen
San Francisco, California by David Yu
Mt. Shasta, California by Sean Bagshaw
Byron Bay, Australia by Luke Taylor
Crater Lake, Oregon by Jasman Mander
Phoenix, Arizona by Matt Suess
Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming by Nitin Kansal
Las Vegas, Nevada by Paul Youdelis
Sydney, Australia by Lenny Lin
Delhi, India by Nimit Nigam
Kadarkut, Hungary by Schmall Rafael