Super blue blood moon: How to take the best pictures of the huge lunar eclipse

A supermoon isn't all that rare. But you're going to want to commit this one to memory, or photography

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 31 January 2018 13:05
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What is the super blue blood moon?

The super blue blood moon is coming. And you're going to want to remember it.

The rare collision of celestial events is taking place over the night of the 31st, and will allow for a sight not seen in decades. While each of the different pieces aren't all that rare – supermoons, lunar eclipses and blue moons happen every few years – it's very uncommon that they all take place on the same night.

So the best way to commit the evening to memory will be to head out with a camera and try and take a picture of the stunning sight. But that's difficult work – taking a picture of something that even at its brightest is fairly dark, in a small window, while everyone else tries to do the same.

So along with Canon ambassador and landscape photographer David Noton, here's some tips for making the most of a great night for skywatchers and photographers.

(Before we jump in, it's important to note that depending on where you are you might not get to see the whole thing – only those in parts of Asia and America will get to see the lunar eclipse, or blood moon. And the blue moon isn't actually something you can see – it only refers to the fact that there's been a full moon twice in one calendar month.)

Use the right apps

First you're going to want to find when the moon will be most visible, and when to head out. (Actually finding the moon shouldn't be too hard; it'll be big and in the sky, as ever.) Noton recommends two apps: the Photographer's Ephemeris, which tells you when the moon will rise and set, and what phase it's in, as well as the Photopills app which can give you comprehensive information about where the moon is.

But if you get all the timing right, there's no accounting for clouds. The best way to check those isn't an app but a website – head to the Met's special cloud cover page, where you can see exactly when and where clouds will be passing over head all the way across the UK, and find the best time to head out.

Get a good zoom

The moon might be big this month. But it's also a very long way away, and as it looks from Earth is still relatively small.

That means you're going to want a zoom that can properly take in all of the features of the moon's surface. Noton says he'll be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens – and something long like that, in the range of 600mm, should get you close enough up to our distant neighbour to see some of its features.

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Use a tripod

It might not seem like it, but the moon actually moves surprisingly quickly as it travels across the night sky. That means getting your positioning right, and holding it, is going to be important.

The best way to do that is to use a tripod, which will let you have everything set up and ready to go and can smoothly trace the moon as it passes overhead.

As well as that, the night sky is, well, fairly dark. That means that you're going to want to keep your camera fairly steady since any movement will appear as a blur on your photo. A tripod will help with that, too.

Get the landscape alongside the moon

Getting close up to the moon can make for a beautiful picture – but makes for images that are "essentially astronomical in their appeal", says Noton. You'll get a good look at the moon's features, but they don't change and there'll be nothing of your own experience in the picture.

Far better is to "integrate the moon into your landscape". That can be either "using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source", says Noton, and while the latter has often been difficult because there can be relatively little light, newer cameras have got much better at being able to cope with the darkness.

Involving what's going on on the ground is doubly important when you're trying to take pictures of the supermoon. If the only thing you can see in your photo is the sky, then it's impossible to see the size of the moon; you need to set it against something on Earth for context, and that will look especially good when the moon is low in the sky.

That same advice applies when you're just looking at the moon, whether or not you're taking pictures. It will look far better and far bigger when it's closer to the Earth. That actually happens whether or not it's super, because of an effect known as the moon illusion.

Get the right shutter speed

Making sure that the camera can get in all of the light – from the bright moon to the twinkles of the night sky – is key to getting the best pictures of the night's proceedings. And central to that is ensuring that you use the right shutter speed: Noton recommends using 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100, depending on focal length, but the key is ensuring that you leave it open long enough to get enough light, but not open so long that things get blurry.

The moon might be brighter than normal, but it's still quite dim and a long way away, so any movements will become exaggerated. But anything too dark will leave the moon in the shadows, or turn the night sky a fairly dull black. Take a few pictures while you're preparing and experiment with the manual settings on your camera to see what works.

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