Shoot for the Moon: Photographing a Lunar Eclipse

Don’t forget about the rare super moon eclipse tomorrow night! Since the next one won’t occur until 2033, it’s worth trying to capture on film. Sure, you’re no Hubble Telescope, but with a little camera savvy, you’ll can capture the celestial show with any level of photography equipment. Here are a few tips for (literally) shooting stars:

  • Long exposures and hands off. As with any night photography, long exposures–the time during which the camera’s aperture stays open–are critical for adequate light. But that means the slightest wobble turns your picture into smeared impressionist art. Even the steadiest hands will cause blur. Use a tripod if you have one. For point-and-shoots, my favorite field hack is to stand the camera on a wall or a rock (or even my folded jacket on the ground) and set the self-timer.
  • Get close. There are two kinds of zoom lenses, optical and digital. An optical lens actually magnifies the subject, but so-called “digital zooms” just crop the image automatically, which makes it appear larger but degrades the resolution. Not a great choice for any situation. If you have a real zoom lens, you’re in good shape. But don’t despair, smartphone shutterbugs! There are some great lens accessories for phone cameras (I piloted one myself this summer). You can also try shooting through a pair of binoculars or even a telescope, if you’re lucky enough to have one.
  • Composition. Photographing the moon doesn’t mean you should ignore the Earth! A dramatic foreground–like silhouetted trees or an illuminated cityscape–adds interest and scale. It’s also a nice workaround for cameras without a lot of zoom capability.
  • Don’t forget your eyes. I’ve been doing photography for years, and learned from bitter experience how easy it is to get caught up pursuing the perfect shot and never actually see anything outside the viewfinder. Remind yourself to step back from the shutter and look with your eyes. Capture memories, not just pixels.

If you get a good image, send it to me and I’ll feature it on my blog. You can also submit it for the eclipse photo contest at Gizmodo. Have fun!

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