Planning for a Lunar Eclipse Shoot

Time Slice of Lunar Eclipse 04.04.2015 South Haven, Michigan, USA

Time Slice of Lunar Eclipse;  04.04.2015 ; South Haven, Michigan, USA

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It all started with a idea …

This article is about how this Time Slice shot of a Lunar Eclipse was made. Its focus is mainly on the planning that went into it, even before the first shutter click. Let us start off by getting some key details of the event. There are several web sites that provide details on the astro events (like Space, SpaceDex, TimeAndDate, EclipseWise to name a few) and social channels.

EVENT UTC TIME TIME IN CHICAGO VISIBLE IN CHICAGO
Penumbral Eclipse began Apr 4 at 9:01 AM Apr 4 at 4:01 AM Yes
Partial Eclipse began Apr 4 at 10:15 AM Apr 4 at 5:15 AM Yes
Full Eclipse began Apr 4 at 11:57 AM Apr 4 at 6:57 AM No, below horizon
Maximum Eclipse Apr 4 at 12:00 Noon Apr 4 at 7:00 AM No, below horizon
Full Eclipse ended Apr 4 at 12:02 PM Apr 4 at 7:02 AM No, below horizon
Partial Eclipse ended Apr 4 at 1:44 PM Apr 4 at 8:44 AM No, below horizon
Penumbral Eclipse ended Apr 4 at 2:59 PM Apr 4 at 9:59 AM No, below horizon
Though the complete Eclipse wasn’t visible, it turned out to be an advantage. As the moon was setting, it appeared to be dissolving into the the horizon.

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Visualize :

Initial sketch on Napkin

Initial sketch on Napkin

It is the vision, that drives the planning, that drives the execution.

Create a vision in the mind’s eye as how u want to capture the event. This might not sound crucial, but does drastically increases the success rate of the final shot.

It all starts with the vision. It is the vision, that drives the planning, that drives the execution. I have seen this to be true, not just for photography, but in other walks of life too :) There are a multitude of ways to capture the lunar eclipse. It can be just focused around getting the different phases of the eclipse or it can be getting a lovely composition of the landscape along with the blood red moon. It can even be a composite of the foreground along with the lovely moon set as depicted above !

Many a time, the final shot is NOT going to be a result of just a random snapshot. It is something that starts with the vision, evolve as you go thru the different phases of planning and culminates in the final shot. Have the planning phase fluid enough and accommodate changes as needed.

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Location Location Location :

If you don’t know where you’re going, You’ll probably end up some place else!

If you are planning to capture the Lunar eclipse along with the landscape, the location is very critical. The foreground element generally adds a lot to the shot. It not only defines the foreground composition, but also aids in perspective by the size of the moon (read more on this compression effect can be taken to advantage). The planning in this case becomes even more significant, as the path of the moon is not static even for a given landscape. Below are some of the tools that aid in zeroing down on that particular spot and identifying when and how the moon would rise for the identified landscape.

Google Maps

Google Maps – Yeah the same application that you use to get directions, that has lot more data that can be used for Photo shoot pre planning. From Street view to the photos in a given location, it is very handy. The first use of the tool is for virtual scouting of any given location. It has amazing amounts of data that can literally help u get a feel for the area, without being anywhere close to it. Google Maps is almost always my go to tool for scouting.

Play around with the Street view and Earth View as you look around the environment. Street View helps to visually see how the foreground is laid out, where that one tree is located, or if you have an open corn field toward your right. And while you are there check out the photos of the key spots on the bottom bar. This is not as great as Flickr, but does provide details on the surroundings.

In case of remote locations or countryside the street view might not be available. In those cases the Earth view and the photos listed provide the required contextual information.  It is really handy to see if a road leads to a particular river bank or if there is a path way to get to a particular spot that you can set up the tripod :)

Use Arrow Keys or Mouse Hover for Navigation keys to check out all slides

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Flickr

Flickr might not be as popular now, but it still hosts amazing number of images for any given location. I generally search in flickr with the location details [maps view] to get a feeler for what kind of shots / views are possible for the given spot. Don’t forget to check out the exif information. This can provide valuable inputs on the zoom, giving a hint on where the shot might have been composed from. If I am not able to get any hits, I fall back to Google Images.

Google History

Google History – Nothing beats it being there in person. But not every place has a fixed address. There might be a tree – that u remember from a drive that you took 3 months, that might make a great foreground , but not sure of its exact location. Fear not, Google comes to the rescue again. If you have not explicitly disabled, all your location history is saved in your account (visible only to you). This is very handy to get back to a specific date & time and reverse look up in the Street view to get the location of that scene you want to get back to.

Scouting from the previous night !

Scouting from the previous night !

TPE

The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) helps plan landscape and urban scenes. It’s a map-centric sun and moon calculator: allows to see the the path the sun or moon, direction of light for any location on earth. Of course there is an app for that :)

Check out this article for a step by step guide to using TPE to shoot the moon against a given landscape or even a cityscape.

Stellarium

Stellarium – especially the desktop version is very handy for pre-planning. One can easily see the stars / galaxies that would be prominent for any given coordinates and time. To locate Milkyway – look SE in the spring a couple hours before sunrise, look South in the summer around midnight, and look SW during the fall an hour after sunset. You can even download landscape for prominent locations or create custom skyline for your particular location. In addition you can also look for specific galaxies, planets, or even check if International Space Station (ISS) would be crossing the frame when you are shooting. In our case just search for moon and they play around with the date / time to see how the position of the same changes.

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Weather Weather Weather :

Now that you zeroed down on the right spot, you want to ensure the clouds or rain don’t spoil the show !!!

Accuweather

Lately, had found accuweather handy, to check extended forecast for more than a month ahead. Check out the trend / Forecast Maps for high level planning. Once you finalize the location you can drill down to location specific extended Forecast for up-to 45 days.

Clear Dark Skies

Clear Dark Sky allows you to get details about the humidity, transparency, temperature etc. along with the cloud cover for the given location. if you are not geeky, just use the tool and ensure to have dark blue / black forecast under Cloud Cover for better visibility. You can use the website for planning on desktop or get it as an app to for use in the field.

Dark Skies

Dark Sky Finder is not as important as clear skies tool for shooting the Lunar Eclipse, but again, it all depends on what u want to shoot. If location is more important – like the foreground then this takes a back seat. But if u would like to shoot the eclipse against the stars (i really want to, presuming with the moon in the shadow, it would help to shoot along with stars and still not blow out the moon :)). Basically in this tool, you need to look for a location that is under Green or Dark blue, to be able to view and shoot the stars (milky way) in the night sky.

TimeZone – This depends on your locations. While you are keen on planning the location, checking weather etc. just make sure you take a note of the time zone on which you would be shooting. This becomes crucial if you are located near multiple time zones or if you are final spot is located in the adjacent time zone. Just be sure to be aware of the local time especially for events like lunar eclipse.

P.S : Some apps like Photophills combine lot of these tools to have a smooth planning experience. Unfortunately it is available only on Apple devices for now. Even if u use all the above on desktop for your planning, I could clearly see the value of Photophills as it is handy in the field – one stop shop.  Come on Photophills, get us an android version already ;-)

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Closing down on the Final Plan :

We had seen all the tools, options and technologies that would help us. In addition would like to share with you an actual planning that I did earlier this year. Thought the process of finalizing the spot, might help in your planning for subsequent events.

As I was planning for the Lunar Eclipse (April 2015), the event was on the early mornings of April 4th. The moon would be setting towards west as it was getting into full eclipse over the horizon.

Living near to Chicago, and wanting a open horizon view to the west, zeroed on the west coastal side of the Michigan lake. This has the highest potential of having a open horizon view in the early morning, when the eclipse was occurring. Based on the same started looking at couple of light houses from the area. Further planning was driven by weather.

In addition to the clear skies, for the image to really make an impact, the size of the moon against the lighthouse plays an important role. This is achieved by something called as compression effect. For this ideally I would need to be more than 1500+ feet from the foreground element. This would aid to capture the lighthouse along with the lighthouse.

Follow thru the below slides (hover over and use the left or right navigation keys to read more on the key steps…

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I just love it, when a plan comes together :) The details are at a high level, but you would get a hold of it, once you start using each of these tools, apps & services. The links to the same with tutorials are in the next section. Feel free to ask any question in the comments !!!

All the best for the upcoming planning ! The next big lunar eclipse is on Sept 27, 2015 !!!

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Tools

along with links to Web and Mobile Apps

Google Maps Android iPhone
Google History  –
Google Images  –
Clear Sky Chart Android iPhone
Dark Sky Finder  –
AccuWeather Android iPhone
TPE Android iPhone Tutorial
Stellarium Android iPhone Tutorial

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6 Responses to “Planning for a Lunar Eclipse Shoot”

  1. Nice writing. You may check out an app I created called PlanIt! for Photographers. It can pretty replace all the tools you are using, which was the main reason I decided to write my own app for landscape photographers. Here is a video I created to show you how to plan the event. It can simulate how the moon moves in a simulated viewfinder with foreground.

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    • That looks awesome Yingwentech ! Had been looking for something similar to PhotoPhills. Will definitely check it out !

      P.S : Edited ur comment to include the link to Android App …

      Like

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