Shooting the January 2019 Total Lunar Eclipse

by John Oneal, NC Stargazer


Total Lunar Eclipses happen at about the same frequency as Total Solar Eclipses. The main difference between the two, however, at least from an observers standpoint, is that Lunar Eclipses happen at night, they last longer and they can be seen from a much larger area on Earth than a Total Solar Eclipse. This provides greater opportunities for large masses of people to see and photograph Lunar


The next Total Lunar Eclipse will cover the continental United States on January 20-21, 2019. The total phase of will actually be visible from North and South America, and western parts of Europe and Africa. Central and eastern Africa, Europe, and Asia will only see a partial eclipse. See the map below.

Imaging the Eclipse will require a camera, some knowledge of cameras and eclipses and how to

properly expose the camera to moonlight during the different phases of the eclipse.

Whether you have a smartphone, a dslr or even a telescope & CCD camera, preparation and planning is the key to a successful eclipse shoot.

The most important step in eclipse planning is location, location, location...

- First, make sure you are in the range of totality. The closer to the center-line you are will dictate the length of and the darkness of totality.

So it behooves one to get as close to center as possible.


- Second, watch the weather at you location and surrounding locations. If you are near major Highways you can quickly drive to cloud free locations in almost any direction in a matter of an hour or two or more.

Dense clouds can ruin your eclipse images, but thin scattered clouds can add interest or even an ethereal look to your images.

- Lunar eclipses take time, usually hours, so decide if you want to capture all the stages of the eclipse or just the total phase. If you’ve never witnessed a Total Lunar Eclipse, I’d encourage you to attend and shoot the entirety of the eclipse.

Can I Shoot an Eclipse with My Cell Phone Camera? You cannot expect to take spectacular pictures of a lunar eclipse using only your cell phone because smartphones only have a wide lenses and have very small sensors. Digital Zooming with smartphones only increases noise and graininess and pixelates images. But, you can try to capture the red glow of the Moon and play to the strengths of your mobile phone by:

Placing interesting background scenery in your image. Compose your image by including trees, buildings, towers, water features and reflections. Placing people, especially children in the foreground also adds human interest to your image.

Play with the flash. Flash will disturb the natural light. Turn it off. Then take another exposure with it turned on to highlight foreground features. EXPERIMENT!!!

Cell phone at Prime Focus of an Orion EON ED80 Telescope

Cell phone at Prime Focus of an Orion EON ED80 Telescope

Got a Spotting Scope or Telescope? Use a Carson Smartphone Adaptor or a Celestron NEX-Y-Z adaptor to attach

your smartphone to your scope and shoot magnified images afocally. It’s simple and easy and only requires a little practice. This method of optically zooming in will allow for a much higher degree of magnification without the detriments of digital Zooming.

Can I Shoot an Eclipse with my DSLR?

A good digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera gives more control over the image components, but it requires a little more more

equipment and skill. Detailed, High Resolution images of the Moon requires the right equipment.

Use a Long Focal Length lens. Use a focal length equivalent Lens of at least 200-300 mm or more.

Use a Tripod to Stabilize the Lens. Place your Camera & Lenscombo onto a sturdy photo tripod or an equatorial tracking platform. Eliminate Camera shake/blur. Use a timer or a shutter with a remote to minimize camera movement. If you are still seeing vibration in your images, activate the mirror lockup feature available on most DSLR’s. On High ISO Settings. During Totality the Moon is much dimmer than a normal full moon, so you will need a higher ISO-setting to capture the little light reflected back from the Moon. Note that camera read noise worsens as ISO increases, so don’t get carried away with high ISO settings. See the recommended camera setting listed below.

Adjust the Aperture during the Eclipse. As the Moon moves into the Earth’s shadow it gets darker, and a wider aperture or longer shutter speed is needed.

Start with an f/11 for the bright Moon and reduce aperture as the Moon's surface darkens. If you reach the largest aperture and the image is still dark, you can increase exposure time to compensate.

Use a Manual Exposure Setting. Bracket your exposures by shooting at various shutter speeds. Set your exposure where you want to capture detail in the Moon. Exposing on the eclipsed

(dark) side will burn out the bright portion of the Moon. Exposing on the bright side will make the eclipsed side look very dark. Remember that a Total Lunar Eclipse is hours long, so you have plenty of time to shoot the bright and dark portions of the moon as it undergoes changes in brightness.


Select a High Resolution Quality Setting. To capture as much information and detail as possible, set your camera to the highest capture resolution setting. Shoot uncompressed images

(tiff or raw). A higher quality image resolution setting will go a long way to improve your image quality during photo processing. You can convert the images to jpegs later on.

Editing your images. You can crop, stretch the histogram, adjust levels, vibrance, add contrast, tweak colors, and much more by processing your images in a lossless format using photo processing software like PHOTOSHOP or the GIMP.

Exposure times and Aperture Guide

Light meters are mostly useless for getting good exposures of the moon, because even a one-degree spot meter can’t

read just the moon, but will also include some of the surrounding black sky. So here are some suggestions based on past experience. You’ll need to use manual-exposure mode.

Total Lunar Eclipse over the author's  SKYSHED POD Observatory

Total Lunar Eclipse over the author's

SKYSHED POD Observatory

Full moon, or moon more than half visible:1/60 sec. at ƒ/11, 200 ISO
Half to one-quarter of the moon visible:1/30 sec. at ƒ/11, 200 ISO
Less than one-quarter of the moon visible:1/15 sec. at ƒ/11, 200 ISO
Just the edge of the moon lit:1 sec. at ƒ/11, 200 ISO
Fully eclipsed at the beginning and end of totality: 8 sec. at ƒ/11, 800 ISO
Fully eclipsed, deepest totality: 8 sec. at ƒ/11, 1600 ISO


Since most modern DSLR lenses focus past infinity, you can’t just crank the focusing ring all the way to the end and expect to get sharp photographs. One way to focus in the dark, by far, is to use live view, magnify the image to zoom in on the moon, and focus manually.

Autofocusing on the moon will work if the moon is bright enough (like before the total eclipse begins) — but be sure to then turn autofocus off so that the camera doesn’t accidentally focus on something else when you press the shutter button.

The best method of assuring a really sharp focus is to connect your DSLR to your laptop and use the capture application that came with your brand of camera, or to use a third party capture

App like BACKYARD EOS or ASTRO PHOTOGRAPHY TOOL. These software packages were designed for astrophotography and astrophotographers and offer features for Focusing, Composing and Capturing your images.


There is some time left before January 20th. Get your smartphone and your DSLR out and go out and practice shooting the Moon. Try different exposure times, ISO Settings, Aperture Settings. Get a feel for how to attach your smartphone to a spotting scope or telescope. If you want to attach your DSLR to a telescope for some Prime Focus imaging, go online and order up a T-Ring Adaptor.

Misc Advice

Remember to bring spare batteries and/or Chargers. If it’s cold out, battery life will be shortened. The last thing you want is to have a battery die halfway through the Eclipse…. Bring a comfy chair. Bring liquids. You don’t want to get dehydrated. Dress appropriately for the weather. Bring hand warmers if it’s cold.


Most importantly, have some fun and enjoy yourself. Bring along some family members and/or friends. Go camping, With the eclipse lasting hours you have plenty of time to shoot all the images you might want, plus share this incredible event with others.

The December 21st, 2010 Total Lunar Eclipse – Partial Phases & Totality  Canon 40D at Prime Focus of an Orion EON ED80 Refracting Telescope  on a Losmandy G-11 Equatorial Mount

The December 21st, 2010 Total Lunar Eclipse – Partial Phases & Totality

Canon 40D at Prime Focus of an Orion EON ED80 Refracting Telescope

on a Losmandy G-11 Equatorial Mount


L=0 — Darkest. Moon nearly invisible.

L=1 — Dark red/brown eclipse. Lunar details are difficult to make out.

L=2 — Orange/brown color with darker center. Possible bluish color at shadow's edge.

L=3 — Bright red/orange moon. Darker center and very bright border.

L=4 — Brightest. A very bright orange eclipse.


Note that the darker the Moon gets during Totality, the longer the exposure on the chart gets. The chart is set to 200 ISO. To reduce exposure times, increase ISO Settings. For every unit of ISO you add, you get one step shorter exposure time. For example if you are shooting at 200 ISO for 4 seconds, you can increase your ISO to 400, cutting your exposure time to 2 seconds. Increasing ISO to 800 will reduce your exposure time to 1 second.

To learn more about John O’Neal, North Carolina Stargazer, his articles, tutorials, images, and speaking schedule, visit his website at All images in this article by the Author