The Shortest Lunar Eclipse of the Century

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Total Lunar Eclipse, April 15 2014

Saturday’s total lunar eclipse is expected to last a mere five minutes, making it the shortest of the century. If you want to capture a memorable photograph of the eclipsed full moon, some planning is going to help.

While Europe will miss out on this eclipse, the timing works out well for western parts of the Americas and Asia.

The eclipse occurs at moonset in the Americas, and as it’s a full moon, moonset occurs early in the morning. Let’s look at a couple of examples from opposite sides of the world:

Boulder, Colorado

Total eclipse will happen at 6:01am on the morning of Saturday, April 4, 2015. The moon will be setting to the west during late nautical twilight, meaning the sky should be a perfect complementary deep blue to the striking deep orange of the eclipsed moon.

Boulder looks up to the foothills of the Rockies to the west of town. If we can be sure that the moon is high enough in the sky, we should be able to capture it hanging above the famous Boulder Flatirons, a group of sandstone formations that sit above the south part of town.

Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris app on iPad, we can see that indeed, the moon will still be high enough in the sky to be visible above the Flatirons. In fact, it will be sitting above a gap just to the south of the main Flatirons group, if we shoot from the trail near South Boulder Road, which offers some decent foreground opportunities as well as relatively unobstructed views westwards:

TPE Screenshot

This is roughly where I plan to be this coming Saturday – hopefully, the weather will cooperate and there’ll be some decent shots there for the taking!

Singapore

In contrast to America, Singapore and other parts of Asia will see the total eclipse around moonrise. In Singapore, maximum eclipse occurs again during nautical twilight, with the moon rising to the east.

Singapore is a wonderful location for architectural photography. Since I was last there ten years ago, a number of striking new buildings have been constructed. One of the most prominent is the Marina Bay Sands.

Marina Bay Sands in the evening
Marina Bay Sands in the evening – 20101120“ by SomeformofhumanOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Might it be possible to shoot the eclipsed moon juxtaposed with this building?

It appears that the answer is yes – and even better, it looks like it should be possible to catch the moon in a gap between the towers. From Wikipedia we can find the building’s height of 200 metres (656ft). We can use the geodetics feature of The Photographer’s Ephemeris app on iPad to visualize the height of the moon in the sky relative to the building height.

If the moon lies below the top of the building when viewed from a suitable distance, and if we align ourselves with the gap between the towers, then we should be able to shoot the moon through the gap. The screenshot below shows a possible shooting location on the west shore of the bay (the map is rotated to view more or less due south), facing eastwards to align the rising moon with the Marina Bay Sands building:

TPE Screenshot

As you can see, the moon does indeed lie below the top of the building at the moment of maximum eclipse (8:01pm local time): the chart beneath the map shows the relative altitude of the building (the solid white line on the right hand side) and the moon (blue line). Using the tilt feature of Google Maps, it’s possible to check that we are aligned with the leftmost gap between the towers.

A 5-minute window of opportunity

Although it’s short, the April 2015 lunar eclipse is a gift for photographers: with the moon visible low in the sky at either moonrise or moonset during twilight, there are a huge number of possibilities for attractive compositions that place the moon next to a landmark, building or natural feature.

There’s still time to plan your shot, so don’t delay!