A beginner’s guide to capturing the Moon and the Sun during their most dramatic moments

Intermediate

Have you ever witnessed an eclipse? There are two types – solar and lunar – with the former taking place during the day and the latter at night. They’re both very different events –– and there’s one example of each remaining in 2022. The next solar eclipse is a partial eclipse, with the Moon appearing to take a bite from the Sun while the next lunar eclipse is a total eclipse. That means it’s a ‘Blood Moon’ because the lunar surface will glow a reddish colour while it drifts through Earth’s mighty shadow in space. You’ll typically need a long lens to capture these events, but there are options. Here are some of our top tips to get you started … 

1 The next solar eclipse

A deep partial solar eclipse will occur on October 25, 2022, but only those in Europe, the Middle East, western Asia and northeast Africa will see it. The Moon will appear to take its first bite at 08:58 Universal Time (UTC), peaking at 11:00 UTC and leaving the Sun at 13:02 UTC. The point of greatest eclipse obscuration will be the remote Ugra region in Russia, where 82% of the Sun’s disk will be covered by the Moon. However, this will be an easy eclipse to photograph from western Europe, with London (15%), Paris (14%), Berlin (32%), Istanbul (38%), Oslo (39%), Helsinki (54%) all getting a look. Here’s an interactive Google Map of the event to help you plan.

All solar eclipses are witnessed from a path across our planet that’s about 100 miles wide. It moves from west to east, with an eclipsed sunrise in the west (but visible from that point in the east, of course – the Sun always rises in the east!), an eclipsed Sun at midday in the middle of the path, and an eclipsed sunset at the end of the path in the east (when viewed in the west). 

Partial Solar Eclipse over Bath Abbey. Photo by Chris Dawson - f/8 | 1/400s | ISO 125
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Consider using an app called PhotoPills, which uses augmented reality to show you exactly where on the horizon the Sun will be, to get your angles right and scout a good location in advance. French eclipse-chaser Xavier Jubier’s interactive Google Maps for eclipses are also valuable. 

2 Capturing a partial solar eclipse

From locations away from the edges of the path there are generally three events to photograph during a partial solar eclipse; just after the Moon's disc first touches the Sun (‘first contact’), maximum eclipse where you are, and just before the Moon's disc last touches the Sun (‘fourth contact’). For these shots you’ll need a 300mm telephoto lens (at least – or try a 1.4x extender) and a special solar filter on your camera (try Baader or Thousands Oaks Optical) on a tripod. Using ISO 100 and with the aperture between f/5.6 and f/8, auto-focus on the limb of the Moon using your ‘live view’ on the LCD screen and take exposures between about 1/500sec and 1/1000sec. Another technique is to try bracketing. Always shoot in raw and use a tripod and use a shutter release or intervalometer to avoid vibrations. 

The start of the partial solar eclipse. Photo by Anthony Rowe - f/16 | 1/600s | ISO 100
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Be very careful when aiming your camera and/or telescope because a partially eclipsed Sun remains incredibly bright and its ultraviolet and infrared rays are very harmful to your eyes and camera. Keep those filters on. If there is a lot of cloud and you’re tempted to take the filters off, don’t ever look through your camera’s optical viewfinder – use the LCD screen.  

3 Planning for ‘the big one’

Just occasionally the Moon perfectly blocks the entire disk of the Sun for a few minutes to cause what’s called a total solar eclipse. It’s a magical few minutes not because it causes a brief twilight during the day, but because it reveals the Sun’s corona. This tenuous outer atmosphere appears ice-white and can be viewed naked-eye just for a few precious minutes. So while you need solar filters for the preceding and ensuing partial phase, for this totality itself you must remove all filters (and solar eclipse safety glasses). The event begins and ends with a dramatic “diamond ring” as the last bead of sunlight disappears then reappears. It next happens for about 62 seconds on April 20, 2023 at Exmouth Peninsula in Western Australia, Timor Leste and West Papua. After that comes the next ‘Great American Eclipse’ on April 8, 2024. Occurring six and a half years after a similar event in 2017, this total solar eclipse will last a whopping 4 minutes 28 seconds and be visible from parts of Mexico, 13 U.S. states and eastern Canada.

The Great American Eclipse, August 2017. Photo by Jeffrey Schwartz - f/6.7 | 1/90s | ISO 250
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Solar eclipses are the result of the Moon being 400 times smaller, but also 400 times closer than the Sun. By chance the apparent size of the Moon and the Sun are virtually identical – but only on average. The Moon orbits Earth in a slightly elliptical path so it sometimes appears to be 0.9 the size of the Sun and sometimes 1.1. When it’s 0.9 it can’t cover the entire disk of the Sun, resulting in an annular solar eclipse – often called a “ring of fire”. That next happens on October 14, 2023 across the southwest US. The “ring” phase will last about 4 minutes 40 seconds and across Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah, and Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. It will also cross Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia and Brazil. 

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4 The next total lunar eclipse

The next lunar eclipse will occur on November 8, 2022 – and it will be the longest one until June 26, 2029. It’s a total lunar eclipse – also known as a ‘Blood Moon’ – which will see the Moon’s surface turn a reddish colour for a whopping 84 minutes. That’s really long and it’s a gift to astrophotographers. It will be best seen from North America – particularly the west coast – with Australia and southeast Asia also getting a good view. It’s a twin event to another almost identical total lunar eclipse that occurred on May 16, 2022, but four seconds longer! You can plan using this interactive Google Map, though since lunar eclipses occur for the entire night-side of Earth they’re not as geographically restricted as solar eclipses. More important will be finding clear skies because the eclipse occurs at a time of year when clouds are likely to be a big problem.

Composite of a full sequence of a lunar eclipse. Photo by Scott
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There are three kinds of lunar eclipse; penumbral (when the Moon travels through Earth’s fuzzy outer shadow), partial (when it clips Earth’s central shadow) and total (when it travels through the dark centre of Earth’s shadow). The last one is the best one to photograph because it includes a totality phase where the entire lunar surface turns reddish. Even better, it also includes the other two phases either side of totality. The next total lunar eclipse after November 8, 2022 is on March 14, 202, so make the best of this one! 

5 Capturing a lunar eclipse

There are two compositions to think about for a total lunar eclipse; close-up and wide-angle. For the former you’ll need a 300mm lens (at least) and starter settings for totality of ISO 800, f4-f8 and a shutter speed faster than half a second. For the partially eclipsed phases either side try ISO 100, f/8 and 1/125-1/250 seconds. However, these are only rough settings because the darkness of a totally eclipsed Moon can vary dramatically according to several factors. The most important is the atmosphere. For example, if there have been forest fires in recent days then the Moon can seem a dark blood-red. Exactly where the Moon travels through Earth’s shadow also has an effect; if it only clips it, then the eclipsed Moon can seem a light pinkish colour while if it travels through the centre of Earth’s shadow it can appear relatively dim. 

Total lunar eclipse of Super Blood Wolf Full Moon on 21 January 2019, shot in Sussex, England in the Northern Hemisphere. Photo by Susan Robinson - f/8 | 1/6s | ISO 6400
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Solar and lunar eclipses always come in pairs; the partial solar eclipse of October 25, 2022 is followed two weeks later by a total lunar eclipse on November 8, 2022, Why? Every six months the Moon is lined-up perfectly to intersect the apparent path of the Sun through our daytime sky (called the “ecliptic”) and the plane of Earth’s orbit around the Sun. The result is an ‘eclipse season’ lasting between 31 and 37 days during which a solar and lunar eclipse can follow each other.