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You’ve done your homework, scouted your location, checked the timing of the various eclipse phases, and understood the position and movement of the sun during the event. Your camera bag is packed, sensor cleaned, batteries charged. What could possibly go wrong?

In this post, I’d like to cover just some of the key aspects of planning that you might want to double check to avoid disappointment during the “supermoon” total eclipse on Sunday/Monday. After all, the next “super eclipse” is not until 2033, so it’s going to be critical to get things right on the night!

In planning your shot, you may have made use of The Photographer’s Ephemeris to check the moonrise times and directions. While the information the app produces is very accurate, it’s important to make sure you’re asking the right questions. Here are a few potential gotchas.

The moon didn’t rise where you said it would! (Part 1)

One of the most common mistakes is to take the time and direction of moonrise (or sunrise, sunset, moonset etc.) and plan around that when you don’t have an unobstructed view of the horizon. If there’s a building, a hill, a ridge or forest in the way, then you can’t see the horizon and the moon won’t appear at the given moonrise time.

If there’s a building, a hill, a ridge or forest in the way, then you can’t see the horizon and the moon won’t appear at the given moonrise time.

Rise and set times and directions are always calculated relative to an unobstructed horizon. When you hear the TV weather person say the sun will rise at 6:42am in London, they’re meaning that’s when the top of the sun will peek over the ideal horizon. You don’t hear different sunrise times for people living west of Primrose Hill vs. those in Wapping. That’s because the sunrise time assumes an unobstructed horizon.

Therefore, if your shot depends on the moon appearing from behind Mt. Baker on cue, you can’t simply use moonrise time with the red pin dropped on the mountain.

So what should you do? Use TPE’s Geodetics function to determine the angle from your shooting location to the top of the obstruction, and then find when the moon is at the same or higher altitude. Here are some tutorials on how to do it:

The moon didn’t rise where you said it would! (Part 2)

So, you have an unobstructed view of the horizon. You’re in position at the appointed time, and looking in the right direction, determined using a high quality field compass.

The moon appears at the right time, but off by several degrees to the right or left. Why?

Chances are there’s a mix up between magnetic north and true north. In TPE for Desktop and TPE for Android, all azimuths and bearings are relative to true north. Your field compass will indicate bearings relative to local magnetic north, which can be several degrees different, depending on your location.

Magnetic declination difference

TPE for iOS allows you to choose between true north and magnetic north in settings: make sure you have the right setting selected based on how you’re planning on sighting your shot in the field!

Knowing the local magnetic declination (difference between magnetic and true north) is essential when using a field compass, and allows you to convert freely between azimuths relative to either pole.

The moon didn’t rise where you said it would! (Part 3)

You’ve checked the horizon, geodetics and ensured that you have the right azimuth. Moonrise comes and goes, but you still can’t see it. Why?

At full moon, the moon is rising near the time of sunset, and typically the skies are still bright. Combined with haze, pollution or cloud on the horizon, this can often make it difficult to see the moon at the moment of moonrise. (And remember, moonrise is the moment when the top of the moon is at the visible horizon – i.e. most of it is below the horizon.)

So, it’s perfectly normal not the see the moon for a few minutes after moonrise as it clears the layer of haze and the skies darken.

If you’re lucky enough to be in one of the locations where the moon rises or sets during the total eclipse, it may be doubly hard to see as it approaches the horizon. A totally eclipsed moon is much much darker than normal. You’ll see big differences in exposure settings between partial and total eclipse phases. There’s even a special scale to measure the darkness of a totally eclipsed moon: the Danjon number.

There’s even a special scale to measure the darkness of a totally eclipsed moon: the Danjon number.

To be sure of capturing the totally eclipsed moon as it rises or sets, try to plan to shoot it during the early part of dawn or the later part of dusk (i.e. civil twilight), when the sun is below -4° Above that attitude, and the combination of brightness in the sky and atmospheric conditions might make it tough to see.

There are too many people! I can’t get to my spot

I suspect that the Sep 2015 Blood Supermoon will likely be the most watched moon event ever. The level of press coverage is off the chart. Additionally, there are more well-informed photographers than at any point in human history.

Chances are you won’t be alone at your planned location, so be sure to get there early. And if things get over-crowded, just try to soak up the spectacle and avoid any photography stress!

Why isn’t the moon eclipsed? It should be!

Time zone. This is the most likely reason why the moon isn’t appearing as you expect it. NASA gives the times of the eclipse in UT (Universal Time). So, if you’re translating to your local time zone, be sure to allow for correct difference from UT and also for any daylight saving time adjustment.

Of course, there are easier ways:

  • The moment of greatest eclipse occurs 3 minutes before full moon, so, if you know the moment of full moon, you’re pretty much on the money for the eclipse too. Given that the eclipse lasts 1 hour and 12 minutes, you should plan on being ready at least 45 minutes before full moon to capture all of totality
  • This link will open the TPE web app right at the moment of greatest eclipse: http://ephemer.is/1OzXsDx. You can change the location to find the local time in your area (the moment of greatest eclipse doesn’t vary with your location on Earth).

The detail in the moon is blown out in my shot

The first factor that might cause this is variation in lunar brightness. As mentioned already, the brightness levels of the moon vary wildly during a total eclipse event. You’re going to need to adjust your exposure as you go to compensate for the amount of sunlight reaching the moon.

Secondly, it’s not always going to be possible to expose for both the moon and a foreground in your shot. If you’re shooting the partially eclipsed moon rising over a city skyline, you’ll probably be fine for the first 10 minutes or so after sunset. However, once the skies darken (e.g. when the sun is more than 3° or 4° below the horizon, the partially eclipsed moon will be very bright relative to the cityscape. Chances are your camera won’t have sufficient dynamic range to capture both.

In this case, you can combine multiple exposures one for the moon, one for the foreground (but please – don’t cheat and paste the moon in where it “looks good” ;) ).

Alternatively, find an object to silhouette against the darkening sky and expose just once for the moon. I like this approach as it keeps things real and avoids messing about combining exposures in post-production (although many people enjoy that, I know!).


There’s still time for a practice run at your planned location this evening here in the US – if you can, head out to scout things out on the ground. Tomorrow, be sure to devote some time to a mental rehearsal of the shots you want to capture. And of course, double check the points in this post!

Wishing you all a spectacular “Blood Supermoon”!

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Our infographic from last weekend generated a ton of shares, comments, likes and other social media goodness, in addition to questions about what would be visible in other locations around the world.

Because you asked so nicely, here’s Blood Supermoon Infographic Version 2!

Blood Supermoon Sep 2015

Here are some example shot plans that you can open in TPE for each of the locations shown above:

San Francisco Web iOS
Portland, Oregon Web iOS
Devil’s Tower, Wyoming Web iOS
New York Web iOS
Rio de Janeiro Web iOS
London Web iOS
Berlin Web iOS
Cape Town Web iOS
Cairo Web iOS
Moscow Web iOS

Want to plan a shot for your exact location? You can use The Photographer’s Ephemeris app to do it:

Get TPE for Desktop

Get it on Google Play

What about down under?

Sadly, no eclipse for most of Asia Pacific this time around. As you can see below, you’ll be enjoying a busy Monday with the sun high in the sky during the eclipse:

No eclipse in Aus and NZ

Some tips for shooting the lunar eclipse

When looking for optimal conditions to photograph the blood supermoon, remember:

  • The red colour is most intense at the moment of greatest total eclipse (02:47 UT)
  • Totality during early civil twilight produces the most appealing combination of red moon and deep blue sky i.e. the sky is neither too dark nor too light
  • A totally eclipsed full moon, visible in early civil twilight and low on the horizon, means you can juxtapose a famous landmark or building

Of course, these conditions only exist for a few places on the globe. But if you are not at one of those locations, do not despair:

  • Once the moon moves out of totality, there is still some red colour in the moon, but it will be dominated by a white crescent. This is the sun hitting the moon’s surface as it moves out of the shadow of the earth. The bright white of the partially eclipsed moon has its own shape and is unlike a crescent moon, so still well worth shooting!
  • Getting interest in the sky is important, so use TPE to check when the partially eclipsed moon is visible in late nautical or early civil twilight
  • The silhouette is your friend: get close to objects, either natural or manmade, and use them to frame the moon. This is better during astronomical or nautical twilight rather than in total darkness, so there’s some contrast between the object the sky

If supermoon hits totality overhead in a pitch-black sky, you have a couple of options:

  • The moon moves approximately 1° every 4 minutes and is about 0.5° in apparent diameter (slightly more this time around, as it’s a supermoon).
  • You can plan a time-lapse of the moon moving through the sky, or create a composite from multiple separate exposures
  • The total eclipse lasts a generous 1 hour and 12 minutes and the moon will change its precise shading throughout, giving plenty of variation to capture

We hope you have a successful blood supermoon shoot this weekend! Please share your photos with us via Facebook, Twitter and Google +

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Total Lunar Eclipse, April 2014. Photo: Stephen Trainor

The Harvest Moon of September 2015 is remarkable in two respects: it's the largest full moon of 2015, and therefore a ‘supermoon’, and it coincides with a total lunar eclipse, often referred to as a ‘blood’ moon.

The last ‘blood supermoon’ was in 1982 before we even used the term ‘supermoon’. The next one will not occur until 2033, making it a once-in-a-photographer's-career event!

‘Blood supermoon’ will be seen on the evening of Sunday 27 September in the Americas, and during the early hours of Monday 28 September in Europe, Africa and Middle East. Asia and Australasia will miss out this time around.

You can use The Photographer's Ephemeris to check the exact position of the moon during all stages of the eclipse.

Let's take a look at what you will see in five locations around the world:

Blood Supermoon 2015 Infographic

San Francisco

  • Partial eclipse begins 6:07pm, before moonrise
  • Total eclipse begins 7:11pm, with moon rising during civil twilight
  • Greatest eclipse: 7:47pm, with moon at +9.1° altitude

Like much of the west coast of North America, San Francisco is ideally placed to photograph the rising full moon fully eclipsed during twilight.

The total lunar eclipse will begin just 15 minutes after moonrise, with the moon due east at just 2.4° above the horizon. As seen from Marin Headlands, the moon will be hanging in the sky near the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge at around 7:11pm, and tracking southward and upward from there.

A fully eclipsed moon is very much darker than the normal brightness of the moon, so you may need to wait for the sky to darken a little for the moon to become clearly visible (particularly if there is any haze to the east).

Devil's Tower, Wyoming

  • Partial eclipse begins 7:07pm, with the moon low in the eastern sky
  • Total eclipse begins 8:11pm, with the moon at +14.6° during astronomical twilight

Farther east in North America, the eclipse doesn't get started until after moonrise. However, this will provide the opportunity to shoot the partially eclipsed moon low in the sky to the east.

At the famous Devil's Tower in Wyoming (which Richard Dreyfuss attempted to build in his lounge in Close Encounters of the Third Kind), by around 7:30pm, the moon will be well into the partial eclipse.

You can juxtapose the partially eclipsed moon against any prominent tall landmark or building, silhouetted against the deep blues of nautical twilight. For example, here, the moon is positioned to the right of the Devil's Tower (be sure to scout out a safe shooting location in situ in advance if you feel like attempting this shot):

Screenshot of Moon by Devil's Tower, WY

The Photographer's Ephemeris for iOS: Devil's Tower, WY

The partially eclipsed moon remains a very bright object in the night sky, and so it will be almost impossible to expose for both the moon and foreground object: hence a silhouette is the best bet, and will also capture the twilight character of the scene.

London

If you're not at the ‘margins’ of the visibility zone for the eclipse, then you'll probably find yourself needing to stay up late, or get up very early to see it. At the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, the eclipse will be visible through the middle hours of the night, ending before dawn.

The one advantage of this timing, is that the moon is relatively high in the sky, and so usually easily visible and clear of any haze or pollution in the atmosphere. Try shooting a composite sequence or timelapse of the eclipse from beginning to end (see the image at the start of this article).

Blood Moon Setting

Blood moon setting over the Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado, April 2015. Photo: Stephen Trainor

Berlin

  • Total eclipse ends at 5:23am on Monday Sep 28 during astronomical twilight
  • Partial eclipse ends at 6:27am at dawn, with the moon low in the western sky

Berliners, and others in Central Europe will be able to see the whole eclipse if they get up early enough. The partially eclipsed moon will be visible low in the sky to the west before dawn, when the sky will be a deep twilight blue (similar to circumstances in Wyoming described above).

Moscow

  • Total eclipse ends at 6:23am, 2 minutes before sunrise, and only 6 minutes before moonset

Parts of Russia, the Middle East and East Africa will see the totally eclipsed moon disappear into the morning twilight sky as it sets in the west. The moment of greatest eclipse will occur just at the start of civil twilight, which should provide an ideal balance of light for some spectacular photographs.

Don't wait too long after this though, as the moon will fade as the sky brightens.

Here's wishing you clear skies and functioning alarm clocks!

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The September full moon – traditionally known as the Harvest Moon – has long been one of the more popular full moons of the year, it seems.

This year’s promises to be a spectacular one: not only is it the largest full moon of 2015 (i.e. a “supermoon” in modern media/astrological parlance), but it is accompanied by a total lunar eclipse (or a “blood” moon, according to the more excitable elements of the press).

We’ll be publishing more over the coming days on how and where to shoot this event, but to get the ball rolling, we’ve just added new events to TPE for iOS detailing the key timings and phases of the event.

Just tap the date at the top of the screen in TPE for iOS to see the newly added events for partial eclipse start and end, totality start and end.

Choose an event to read more details and then tap Select to go the precise date and time. You can then immediately see where the moon will be in your location to help plan your shoot.

"Blood Supermoon" details in TPE for iOS

Note: this event will occur on the evening of Sep 27 for those in the Americas, and in the early hours of Sep 28 for Europe/Africa. TPE will always use the time zone applicable for the location of the red pin, so you don’t need to do the time calculations yourself.

Watch this space for more information on the supermoon in the coming days!

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We’re pleased to announce that the Skyfire team rolled out some major updates to the forecasting algorithm this week.

If you don’t know about Skyfire, it’s a sunrise/sunset color prediction service for photographers, currently with coverage of the lower 48 states of the USA. You can read more here and reviews here and here.

Skyfire now includes three distinct weather forecasting models as inputs to its algorithm, with the latest addition being a higher resolution model that has excellent cloud resolution and handles storms and severe weather particularly well.

Skyfire screenshot - landscape

Changes released this week include:

  • An additional forecast run for sunset in the mid-afternoon
  • Haze analysis to allow better analysis of pre-sunset lighting conditions especially along the coast
  • Added an additional NOAA data source to the ensemble forecast which utilizes the newest weather models available
  • Multi-level cloud analysis will provide greater accuracy in some of the more complex weather cases, and take into consideration when multiple cloud levels are visible
  • Better handling of seasonal shifts

Skyfire is offered as an in-app subscription in TPE for iOS. There’s a free 30 day trial available, so give it a go and see if it can help you capture the best possible light!

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