If you are an astro-photography fan it will be worth setting your alarm extra-early on this coming Monday 21st January to see if we have been blessed with a clear sky. Should we be lucky, we may well be able to witness a large Moon glowing red in the sky over the UK creating quite a drama – as well as a fabulous photo opportunity.
A super blood Moon occurs during a lunar eclipse, as a full Moon passes into the shadow of the earth. During the beginning and latter part of the eclipse the Moon goes dark, but as the eclipse becomes total it will take on a red coloured tint. This happens as sunlight is refracted through the earth’s atmosphere, bending around the earth to cast a faint warm copper-coloured light on the Moon.
As the Moon will also be at one of its closest distances to earth at the time it will appear larger in the sky than usual – making the spectacle even more impressive. This will be a great opportunity to balance the brightness of the Moon with the stars around it in the same exposure, as there will be less light reflecting off the Moon during the eclipse– a rare chance to show the Moon and the stars together in one shot.
If you fancy having a go – and it isn’t cloudy – Lumix users might start with a few basic settings. Set the camera on a tripod and set it to manual exposure. Start with an ISO of 400 or 800 and open the aperture to its widest setting – if your lens has a smaller widest aperture switch up to ISO 800, and for fast apertures ISO 400 will be better. Make some test exposures varying your shutter speed from five seconds to 40 seconds until you get the effect you want. Exposures longer than 40 seconds will produce star trails – which may or may not be desirable. Shoot in raw if you can, to give yourself some flexibility in processing, or use the Natural or Portrait Photo Styles in JPEG mode to make the most of the dynamic range of the camera.
Your auto focusing will work fine so there’s no need to switch to manual unless you are keeping the moon particularly small in the frame or if your lens has a very small maximum aperture. If you find the camera won’t focus, switch to manual and use the magnified view to help you get it sharp.
To avoid vibrations during these long exposures use the Panasonic Image App to control your camera without touching it. A longer method is to use the self-timer.
Don’t forget that it isn’t compulsory to fill the frame with the Moon. It is often a more interesting option to use a wider focal length to include some of the earthly environment around you to give the image some context.
According to the Royal Astronomical Society ‘On 21 January 2019 the Moon will enter the penumbra at 0235 GMT and the umbra at 0333 GMT. The full eclipse (totality) begins at 0440 GMT, with mid-eclipse at 0512 GMT – this is time when the whole Moon will appear red – and it ends at 0543 GMT. The Moon exits the umbra at 0651 GMT and the eclipse comes to an end as it leaves the penumbra at 0749 GMT.’
If you want some more advanced tips on shooting the super blood Moon take a look at Mr Eclipse. For astro enthusiasts there’s an app called PhotoPills that will help you plan your shots and decide from where to view the event. And good luck. If we get a clear night I expect to see some stunners in the gallery on Monday morning.