“F-Stop Collaborate and Listen” Podcasts, January 2018

Hosted by landscape photographer Matt Payne, the podcast series “F-Stop Collaborate and Listen” presents informal conversations with nature photographers. They discuss the photographer’s motivations, explore his or her personal journey and perspectives on important issues facing landscape photographers today.

Listen to last month’s podcasts below.


January 4th – Episode 37 – Gary Randall

  • Gary’s Journey into landscape photography
  • Gary’s personality and openness on social media and authenticity
  • Permits in national forests
  • Motivating others through your work
  • The importance of collaboration and finding positive people in your life

January 11th – Episode 38 – Randall J. Hodges

  • Randall’s journey into landscape photography
  • His style of “all-in-camera” photography
  • The trials and tribulations of being a gallery owner
  • The importance of finding your own vision and doing your own thing
  • Filling your spirit as a landscape photographer

January 17th – Episode 39 – Willie Huang

  • Willie’s journey into landscape photography
  • Some stories from the field
  • Shooting slot canyons
  • How Willie approaches composition
  • Social media’s effect on landscape photography
  • Advice for new photographers

January 23rd – Episode 40 – Alex Nail

  • Alex’s journey into landscape photography
  • Photographing hard to reach places
  • Time-lapse photography
  • Keeping his work fresh while trying to promote his book without sharing images from the book
  • Critique
  • The “online arms race” for self-promotion and its impact on landscape photography
  • The difference in processing styles between USA and European artists

January 30th – Episode 41 – Eric Bennett

  • Eric’s journey into landscape photography
  • How photography can help preserve our wilderness
  • Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
  • Becoming a full-time professional photographer and the concept that money is the result of the cause and not the cause of the result
  • Backpacking
  • The pros and cons of travelling for long amounts of time as a photographer
  • Collaboration vs. competition

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Photo Of The Day By Rom Savage

Today’s Photo Of The Day is “Angel Falls” by Rom Savage. Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Photo By Rom Savage

Today’s Photo Of The Day is “Angel Falls” by Rom Savage. Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Photo of the Day is chosen from various OP galleries, including Assignments, Galleries and the OP Contests. Assignments have weekly winners that are featured on the OP website homepage, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To get your photos in the running, all you have to do is submit them.

The post Photo Of The Day By Rom Savage appeared first on Outdoor Photographer.

Jump Start Your Photo Bucket List

What are the photographic dreams that you would like to fulfill? Have you ever thought of your photo bucket list of locations? Where in the world would you go? What would you want to see? I would like to take you on a tour of my five favorite dream adventure locations to help you get your bucket list jump started.

Hiking A Volcano

One of my first and longest-held photo bucket list items is hiking a volcano. It is so amazing to look into the Earth’s core and see molten rock bubbling, exploding and running into the ocean, creating brand new land. I will try to explain the glow, the sounds of the explosions and crackling of the 2,000-degree Fahrenheit lava as it flows down the path of least resistance. The image here is from a trip I took to the Big Island of Hawaii.

Photo Bucket List: Hiking A Volcano
Hiking A Volcano. Canon EOS-1D Mark III, Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM at 270mm, Really Right Stuff TVC-34 tripod and BH-55 ballhead. Exposure: 1 sec., ƒ/20, ISO 200.

Hiking out to reach the ocean entry or flying in a helicopter over the Pali (hillside) will have you rising in the middle of the night to be out and in place during the best viewing time, the transition from night to day. If conditions allow hiking, I generally begin my hike around 3 a.m. since it may take nearly three hours to reach the coast. It is not always accessible or safe by hiking—the only way to determine this is to hire a guide to safely take you out and back. This is not something that you should try on your own.

My absolute favorite way to reach the ever-changing lava is by helicopter. I fly with a very knowledgeable team of pilots who know the lay of the land. They can put me directly over the lava flow, and, if it is safe, provide me a perfect view of what breakout is happening. Going by helicopter means being at the airport about 90 minutes before sunrise in order to begin capturing imagery as soon as the light is right.

When flying in a helicopter or small plane, you will want to minimize what you take with you. There probably won’t be room for a camera bag nor a good opportunity to change lenses inside the helicopter, so do a little bit of pre-visualizing to determine what lens you might need. I fly with a UV filter on my lens, and I start the flight with freshly charged batteries, ample digital media and no lens hood or anything that could come off of the camera due to the wind created with the doors off of the aircraft. We don’t want anything falling out of the copter as we move along.

Within a moving or hovering aircraft, you will need to be ready at all times to capture images. The amount of time that you are in the air will depend upon your budget, so be ready to snap images quickly.


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There is one more option to see the lava enter the ocean, and that is from a boat that will bring you within 30 to 50 feet of the flow, depending upon the steam that is directed by the wind. This steam is sulfuric, and the boat captains did a great job of steering us all away.

In a moving vehicle of any kind, I use mostly aperture- or shutter speed-priority modes in conjunction with Auto ISO. This allows me to maintain my shutter speed, regardless of the light level. Setting my shutter speed to 1/2000 sec. will guarantee solid, sharp imagery. I do not need much depth of field, so I will select an aperture in the “sweet spot” for my lens—typically about two stops down from wide open. I also enable the image stabilization to help eliminate vibration and any movement from the vehicle.

Whichever method that you choose, you will be ecstatic seeing this fantastic example of Mother Nature.

Chasing A Monsoon Storm

Living in the southwest desert offers certain benefits photographically. Here in Phoenix, Arizona, we have a bucket-list season every summer called monsoon. Each day, we have isolated, photogenic “cells” build during the heat of the day, culminating in a daily thunderstorm.

Photo Bucket List: Chasing A Monsoon Storm
Chasing A Monsoon Storm. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM at 24mm, Really Right Stuff TVC-34 tripod and BH-55 ballhead. Exposure: 1/5 sec., ƒ/18, ISO 100.

These monsoon thunderstorms are lightning-generating and often kick up dust storms called haboobs. This is the time of year where morning, noon and night provide excellent weather-related opportunities for amazing sunsets, thunderstorms, dust storms and dust devils that make for incredible landscape photographs. Dimensional cumulus clouds will be your subjects from sunrise throughout most of the day. Once those cumulus clouds start to tower, you will see lightning develop and transform the puffy, pretty clouds into dramatic storms that are fun and easy to chase, providing colorful sunsets that transfer into the evening storms. You will have long, productive fun days with many photo opportunities.

I most often capture my landscape photographs on a tripod and in aperture priority-mode to control the depth of field. I use a cable release to fire the camera so I don’t move it, especially important if the exposures start to get long later in the day or at night.

Flying In A Hot-Air Balloon

Who hasn’t dreamt of the romance and beauty of flying in a hot air balloon? I was mesmerized from the first hot-air balloon event that I attended in Norwalk, Connecticut, many years ago. I was so taken with the concept of flying in a hot-air balloon that a few weeks after I captured my first images, I drove to another balloon event in upstate New York and ended up flying. It wasn’t long afterward that I would buy a balloon and found a pilot to teach me how to fly.

Photo Bucket List: Flying In A Hot-Air Balloon
Flying In A Hot-Air Balloon. Canon EOS-1D X, Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM at 50mm. Exposure: 1/800 sec., ƒ/18, ISO 6400.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to photograph the balloon capital of the world, Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the largest gathering of hot air balloons in the world, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. More than 600 balloons flying every day, weather permitting. They fly in the morning when winds are gentle and temperatures are cool.

There are so many activities for you to capture there. There is Dawn Patrol, where balloons lift off in the dark, a laser light show and finally the stars of the show, the hundreds of hot-air balloons filling the skies. Since we are photographing in low-light conditions, I bring fast lenses (ƒ/2.8 or faster) so I can use as low of an ISO as possible to make images in the dark as the Dawn Patrol inflates and then flies into the pre-dawn sky.

Once the balloons begin to inflate, you will find a huge smile on your face as you have the chance to create backlit images of the inflating waves of balloons. You will find colorful fabric being inflated by gasoline-powered fans beckoning you to come and make images. Before long, the skies will fill with those gorgeous balloons, providing you unending possibilities of spectacular compositions.

If you are able to spend a few days at Fiesta, you should consider making arrangements to fly in a hot air balloon and shoot from the air, passing over other balloons as they inflate. The experience will amaze you.

Witnessing Aurora Borealis

Another of my absolute favorite dreams, looking up to the heavens and watching the sky dance! Witnessing the northern lights has been at the top of my bucket list since I was a teenager. To view and photograph the Aurora requires some planning.

First, you will find yourself packing lots of warm clothes since you will most likely be traveling to a city near the Arctic Circle. The warm clothing comes into play because you will be traveling between mid-September and mid-April, when the winter nights are long and cold near those latitudes. Places to see the Aurora Borealis include Alaska, the Northwest Territories of Canada, Iceland and Nordic countries like Finland and Norway.

Photo Bucket List: Aurora Borealis
Witnessing Aurora Borealis. Canon EOS 5DS R, Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM, Really Right Stuff TVC-34 tripod and BH-55 ballhead. Exposure: 30 sec., ƒ/2.8, ISO 3200.

One unusual thing is having to sleep during the daylight hours, since you will be awake searching for the “lights” through the night. Meals will be adjusted a little bit differently because of the long nights—be sure to bring snacks to hold you over. What makes these efforts worth it will be the spectacular, omnidirectional show of color across the sky.

Since all images of the Aurora will be taken in the dark of night, sometimes with the moon above the horizon and other times with no moon, you should always use a sturdy tripod to support your camera. I recommend choosing a fast wide-angle lens and using a cable release.

You will want to consider working with high ISOs like 3200, 6400 or even higher, in order to keep your exposure times as short as possible. The Aurora is always moving and changing. I would suggest keeping your shutter speeds relatively fast for night exposures (that could be one second long or up to 30 seconds) so that you can freeze the dancing of the Aurora.

As you are scouting the shooting location, look for some beautiful elements to act as a foreground for the moving colors across the sky. Providing multiple layers in your composition will help hold your viewers’ attention.

Capturing The Milky Way

Here is another opportunity to head out in the dark of night to capture the vibrancy and colors of the nighttime sky. The Milky Way and its spectacular galactic core visit the northern hemisphere from mid-April through mid-September.

Photo Bucket List: Milky Way
Capturing The Milky Way. Eleven-image panorama. Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM, Really Right Stuff TVC-34 tripod and BH-55 ballhead. Exposure: 30 sec., ƒ/2.8, ISO 6400.

There are not too many nights that are Milky Way-friendly, so you’ll want to plan ahead. What is necessary is a clear, dark sky. Many of us have to drive a fair distance away from our light-polluted neighborhoods. The best time to make images of the Milky Way is during the new moon, when there is no moon and the sky is the darkest. Early in the season, the Milky Way rises in the eastern sky and slowly anchors itself in the southern sky.

Learn how to successfully photograph the Milky Way.

I recommend using a wide-angle lens, again on a tripod and with a cable release. Basic exposure settings would be around 30 seconds. Pack a cooler and a chair to be comfortable outside in the dark, enjoying the beauty of the galaxies in front of you.

To me, the best part about a bucket list is that it’s never too soon to get started, nor is it ever too late to begin. Once you accomplish one of your bucket list items, you can simply add a new one to the list. It’s a list with no end, so start yours today.


See more of Ken Sklute’s work at serendipityvisuals.com.


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Surf Photography: Catching The Wave

Surf photography using a blur effect
A long-exposure motion blur image of a surfer riding a perfect tube at Banzai Pipeline on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. To get this image, I panned the camera as smoothly as possible as the surfer flowed across the wave face.
Nikon D700, AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II @ 400mm, Gitzo tripod, Wimberley gimbal head. Exposure: 1/25 sec., ƒ/4, ISO 200.

Surfing is one of the most exhilarating adventure sports, bar none. The athleticism and skill on display by world-class surfers pushing the boundaries of what is humanly possible on huge waves is a visual feast for any photographer. Because of this, there has been a swell of interest in surf photography. From exploding waves to surfers launching down huge wave faces, the number of photographers interested in surf photography has grown exponentially. In this article, we’ll discuss the basic techniques and what’s involved when heading out to shoot surfing.

There are typically three ways to photograph surfing. First, you can shoot from the beach or a nearby pier. Second, you can shoot from a boat or a jet ski. Both of these first two options use a telephoto lens to shoot from a distance. Third, you can get in the water and shoot from inside the wave or under it. In each scenario, there are different considerations in regard to the equipment required, composing the image, focusing the camera and achieving an accurate exposure.

Shooting From The Beach Or A Pier

Working from the beach or a nearby pier is the easiest option when it comes to shooting surfing, and it normally requires a big lens, usually a 600mm lens or the equivalent. Unless you are Arnold Schwarzenegger, you’ll also need a sturdy tripod and ballhead or a gimbal head that can deal with such a massive lens.

In the old days, getting these long focal lengths meant using a 500mm f/4 or a 600mm f/4 lens. Nowadays, there are quite a few smaller and much less expensive options like the current crop of 150-600mm zoom lenses. One critical factor to think about when choosing a lens is that autofocus speed and accuracy will be tested while shooting surfing. In my experience, anything but the best telephoto lenses will miss autofocus more often than I would like, which is why I always rent a top-end 400mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4 or 600mm f/4 lens when shooting from the beach. I highly recommend draping a towel over your lens and camera to keep them from getting worked over by the corrosive ocean spray.

Surf photography, Mark Healey drops in on a big wave
Mark Healey dropping in on a big wave at the 2009/2010 Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau big wave surfing competition in Waimea Bay, Hawaii. On these 40- to 50-foot waves, the surfers would free fall for 10 or 15 feet before they even hit the wave face, which made for amazing images. Shot from the beach.
Nikon D700, AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR, Gitzo tripod, Wimberley gimbal head.
Exposure: 1/2500 sec., ƒ/7.1, ISO 400.

In addition to a long lens, a camera that can shoot at a fast frame rate will be critical to catch the split-second action. I recommend a camera that can shoot at eight frames per second or faster. The faster the frame rate, the higher the chance of capturing the height of the action. The flip side of this, though, is that a faster camera will produce more images to go through after the fact. In general, if you shoot a full day, you can expect to have three to four thousand images or more to edit. The reality is that if you are not capturing thousands of images, then you are missing a lot of would-be-amazing surf action images.

Another issue is staying ready to shoot at any moment. On the beach there are a lot of distractions, and after a few hours it is easy to fall into a lull. Because the surfers are catching waves at will, you need to stay sharp and pay close attention for that split second when they go for a wave. Any slip in your concentration could cost you the best shot of the day. And with such a big lens, you have to be looking through the viewfinder and ready to shoot before the action starts, or you will have already missed the shot.

To get sharp images, I set the autofocus to continuous mode so the camera will continually adjust the focus as the surfer moves toward me. To compose, I choose a focus point where I want the surfer to be in my frame and then put that point on the surfer, being mindful of the shape and size of the wave. In general, you want to see the entire wave as it curls up above the surfer—especially if it is a big wave. Nikon’s 3D Focus Tracking, which is what I typically use these days, frees you up from having to concentrate on keeping the AF point over the subject and really helps when composing. Note that I also shoot at shutter speeds of 1/2000 sec. or faster to freeze the action.

Surf photography, Michael Ho rides the wave
Michael Ho trying to stay ahead of a big wave at the 2009/2010 Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau big wave surfing competition in Waimea Bay, Hawaii. This image was shot from the backyard of a house that is right on the point where the wave breaks.
Nikon D700, AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR, Gitzo tripod, Wimberley gimbal head.
Exposure: 1/3200 sec., ƒ/7.1, ISO 400.

To find different angles, it is easy enough to walk up and down the beach, but if you get too far away you’ll need a 1.4x teleconverter to help pull in the distant surfer. How you position yourself relative to the wave depends on the surf break and what you are going for. If you position yourself perpendicular to the wave, then you’ll be able to shoot both sides of the wave if there is a left and right break or surfers are dropping in “off the wall.” If you want to see the surfer in the tube, then you’ll have to walk down the beach for an angle that lets you see into the tube. If there is a nearby pier or jetty, either can offer a great way to line up parallel with the wave, which is an otherwise difficult proposition.

No matter where you shoot from, the key thing to keep in mind when composing the image is that you always want more room in front of the surfer than behind them. This is a typical rule of thumb when photographing any sport but especially so when shooting surfing. For surfing, this becomes tricky when the surfers cut back on the wave and change their body position. W­­­­hen the surfer cuts back on the wave, quickly recomposing so that there is more room behind them is key for the composition. When in doubt, I recommend shooting more loosely with a wider lens (maybe a 400mm instead of 600mm) and then cropping after the fact.

Surf Photography From A Boat Or Jet Ski

Photographing surfing from a boat or the back of a jet ski offers an incredible vantage point. Working from a boat or a jet ski isn’t much different than shooting from the shore, but it does add some complications. You have to deal with the motion of the sea, getting into and maintaining your position, and protecting your camera.

Surf photography, taken from a boat in Tahiti
This image was shot from a boat in Tahiti at Teahupo’o, which is one of the world’s most famous waves. As can be seen here, the perspective from the boat allows us to shoot straight into the wave, giving a totally different vantage point than is possible when shooting from the beach.
Nikon D700, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II @ 180mm.
Exposure: 1/3200 sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 400.

To deal with the motion of the waves, it’s easy enough to shoot with a high shutter speed and opt for lenses with built-in image stabilization. To maintain your position, it is a good idea to have someone else driving the boat or jet ski. On a boat, you probably won’t need anything to protect your camera, but when working from a jet ski, I recommend using a surf housing and a lens port that works with a 70-200mm zoom lens.

On a jet ski, a 70-200mm zoom will usually suffice since you are generally closer to the wave than when on a boat. If you are on a boat, you probably need a bit more reach—either a 300mm or a 100-400mm zoom.

One last note: If you are on a jet ski in big surf, it is highly recommended that you are ready to swim at any moment. If you are in this situation, the odds are high that you are a surfer, but for the uninitiated, having your surf fins on and your camera in a surf housing would be the basic safety precautions. At any moment while sitting on the back of a jet ski, especially when going over large waves, you could get bucked off and be forced to swim.

Surf photography taken from a boat
One of the advantages of shooting from a boat is that you are higher off the water and can get these wild vantage points (like in this image) where you are looking down into the barrel of the wave. This is another image shot in Tahiti at Teahupo’o.
Nikon D700, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II with a 1.4x teleconverter @ 270mm.
Exposure: 1/1250 sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 400.

Shooting In The Water

One of the biggest decisions any surfing photographer has to make when they get to the location is whether to shoot from the beach or a boat, or to get into the water. In reality, the decision might be made for you depending on the size of the waves and your swimming skills. Getting into the water requires an entirely different skill set than shooting from the beach. It certainly helps if you are a surfer, so you can judge when and where the surfers will be as they come down or across the wave. Because you will typically have to swim a fair distance from the beach in sizable waves, it is a critical that you are a very strong swimmer and in excellent shape. There is some serious technique involved to get yourself into a wave safely and snapping the shutter as the surfer comes past you.

Surfing photographers take a pounding to get images while treading water at close proximity to surfers and know just when they need to pull through the back of the wave to stay out of trouble. It may seem obvious, but I’d recommend you take it easy and improve your skills in moderately sized waves if you are just starting to shoot surfing from the water. I’d also highly recommend wearing a hard-shell surf helmet and a pair of bodysurfing fins. The helmet will save your life if you misjudge the distance and speed of the surfer and get whacked in the head by a surf fin. The helmet will also protect your head if you smack the reef, which is a much bigger issue in many locations than getting hit by a surfboard.

Surf photography, shooting from the water with a waterproof housing
For this image, I was trying to get an over/under surf image. The waves this day at Sunset Beach on the north shore of Oahu weren’t that big, which is what allowed me to position myself right in front of the wave. The whole point of this image is to show the razor sharp reef just 6 feet below the surface of the water. By using a fisheye lens and a fisheye port on my surf housing, I was able to catch both the surfer above the water and the reef below.
Nikon D4, AF Fisheye-Nikkor 16mm f/2.8D, CMT carbon fiber surf housing with a fisheye port.
Exposure: 1/3200 sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 800.

When shooting in the water, a surf water housing is required. Surf housings are waterproof down to around 35 feet or so. Because you will have to swim through oncoming waves, the lighter the surf housing, the better. There are a number of surf housing manufacturers, including AquaTech, SPL, CMT and Liquid Eye, among others. A pistol grip is required to hold the camera in position, and a leash will keep you from losing the camera in heavy surf. Lastly, be sure to get a lens port for a fisheye and a 70-200mm zoom lens if you want to shoot from a jet ski or outside the wave. Because each housing is specific to the camera model, choose your housing wisely and pay close attention when inserting your camera into the housing to avoid having your camera flooded, which is an extremely expensive nightmare. I would also highly recommend using larger 64GB or 128GB memory cards so that you don’t run out of memory space while out in the water.

In general, the go-to lens for surf photography while in the water is a fisheye lens. When using a fisheye, you’ll want to turn off the autofocus and use a hyperfocal distance method to make sure everything you point the camera at is in focus. To make sure that your foreground (i.e., the wave) is still sharp, you’ll want to modify your hyperfocal focus so that you are just off the infinity mark on your lens. The odds are good that you’ll be close enough so that the surfer is only about 10 to 20 feet away, not at infinity, so this method works quite well. A good trick is to tape the focus ring on your lens (with gaffer’s tape) before you put it in the surf housing, so that when you are getting rolled around like a cat in a washing machine, the hyperfocal distance focus setting doesn’t shift inside the housing.

When using a surf housing, you’ll have to set most of your camera’s settings before you get into the water, particularly the ISO. Because it is sometimes darker inside the wave, I would suggest setting the camera to ISO 400 (or use Auto ISO) and using a small aperture like ƒ/8 or ƒ/11 to get as much depth of field as possible. When working with a fisheye lens, I shoot for ƒ/11 if I can get it. I typically have my camera in Aperture priority mode, so that the aperture stays fixed and I use an appropriate ISO setting to make sure the shutter speed is fast enough to stop the motion. Some cameras allow for setting a minimum shutter speed when using Auto ISO; if yours has that feature, I would highly recommend using it.

Surf photography from below the water with a waterproof housing
Diving under the surfers offers a unique perspective. In this image, the surfer is waiting for a wave, and I dove under her to show what it looks like from beneath the surface. Note that this image was shot on the north shore of Oahu in Hawaii, so the water there is very clear, which is key to getting an image like this.
Nikon D4, AF Fisheye-Nikkor 16mm f/2.8D, CMT carbon fiber surf housing with a fisheye port.
Exposure: 1/3200 sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 800.

One of the recent trends in surf photography is a pulled-back look using a 50mm lens and moving farther away from the action to show the entire wave. Another alternative is to shoot with a 70-200mm lens while sitting outside the wave. When using anything other than a fisheye, I recommend that you engage the autofocus while shooting in the water. One of the big issues when shooting in the water is that there might be quite a few other photographers trying to shoot with fisheye lenses—especially at the famous surf breaks like Pipeline and elsewhere. Good communication, both with the other photographers and with the surfers is key for everyone’s safety.

Lastly, if you are looking to get epic surf images, I recommend traveling to well-known surf breaks. Hawaii, Tahiti, Indonesia, Fiji, Australia, California and Mexico all have some of the world’s top surf breaks. All of the images included with this article were shot in either Hawaii or Tahiti. Showing up during a big swell at a famous surf break makes a huge difference—and more than likely the best surfers in the world will rally to those locations as well.


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Photographing A Lunar Eclipse

Photographing a lunar eclipse at Trona Pinnacles, California
Lunar eclipse sequence, April 14th and 15th, 2014, Trona Pinnacles, California.

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a total lunar eclipse coming up on January 31, 2018. The total eclipse will be visible in central and western North America, Australia, and much of Asia. It will also be a “blue moon,” (the second full moon of the month), and a “supermoon,” (with the moon closer to the earth than normal, so it will look slightly larger). This page at timeanddate.com shows where the eclipse will be visible, as well as the timing of the event.

In North America the eclipse will occur as the moon is setting in the west just before sunrise. The further west you go, the higher the moon will be during totality, and the longer the eclipse sequence you can see. People in the mountain states should be able to see the entire one hour and sixteen minutes of totality, while those of you in the northwest could see (with clear skies) all of totality plus all of the partial eclipse phase afterwards. Unfortunately, the total eclipse will not be visible on the east coast of the U.S. and Canada.

Since the eclipsed moon will be low in the sky to the west in North America, there should be some great opportunities to juxtapose the moon with natural or manmade features. I’m sure we’ll see photos of the eclipsed moon next to the Space Needle if there are clear skies in Seattle. And the same goes for the Golden Gate Bridge. But any spot with an interesting view to the west could work, so there are tons of possibilities.

Equipment for Photographing a Lunar Eclipse

  • DSLR or mirrorless camera with full manual exposure control. Test your mirrorless camera first to make sure you can focus and compose in the dark with the electronic viewfinder (see “Focusing” below)
  • At least two fully charged camera batteries
  • Sturdy tripod
  • Cable release, electronic release, or remote
  • Interval timer or watch
  • Flashlight or headlamp

Moon Position and Timing

When the partial eclipse begins the moon will become a smaller and smaller crescent as the earth’s shadow seems to take a bite out of the moon. During the total eclipse the moon will look much dimmer, and turn orange or even red-orange in color. The sky will be full of stars, as if on a moonless night. Just after the total eclipse the moon will return to a slender crescent and then get larger and larger, until the eclipse ends and the moon becomes completely full again. (You won’t be able to see this last partial phase in much of North America during the January 31st eclipse.)

With most nighttime images you want to get away from city lights and light pollution. You don’t necessarily need dark skies for a lunar eclipse, as the moon should be clearly visible even in urban areas (and even during the maximum eclipse). Having said that, the moon will stand out more clearly with darker skies away from city lights.

To calculate the moon’s position accurately — if you want to line it up with a building or mountain, for example — you’ll need an app like The Photographer’s Ephemeris, The Photographer’s Ephemeris 3D, or PhotoPills. And you’ll need to know the timing of the eclipse, so here are the important moments:

Partial eclipse begins: 11:48 UT, 3:48 PST
Total eclipse begins: 12:52 UT, 4:52 PST
Maximum eclipse: 13:30 UT, 5:30 PST
Total eclipse ends: 14:08 UT, 6:08 PST
Partial eclipse ends: 15:11 UT, 7:11 PST

Knowing the timing of the eclipse, you can use one of the aforementioned apps to figure out exactly where the moon will be from a given location at each stage of the eclipse. For example, from my house in Mariposa, California, at 5:30 a.m. (the maximum eclipse), the moon will at an azimuth (compass direction) of 277 degrees, and an altitude of 18 degrees. I won’t be able to see the end of the partial eclipse from here, as according to The Photographer’s Ephemeris the moon will be at an altitude of -0.4 degrees at 7:11 a.m. — just below the horizon. (It will also be getting pretty light by then, since sunrise will be at 7:04 a.m.)

Photographing a lunar eclipse in Yosemite, California
Lunar Eclipse Sequence, 1:23 a.m. to 4:49 a.m., August 28, 2007, Yosemite National Park, California.

Focusing

Since most modern lenses focus past infinity, you can’t just crank the focusing ring all the way to the end and expect to get sharp photographs. The most accurate way to focus in the dark, by far, is to use live view, magnify the image to zoom in on the moon, and focus manually. Autofocusing on the moon should also work if the moon is bright enough (like before the total eclipse begins) — but be sure to then turn autofocus off so that the camera doesn’t accidentally focus on something else when you press the shutter button.

Exposure

Light meters are useless for getting good exposures of the moon, because even a one-degree spot meter can’t read just the moon, but will also include some of the surrounding black sky. So here are some suggestions based on past experience, including making the accompanying photographs. You’ll need to use manual-exposure mode, and check your camera’s highlight alert (the blinkies) to make sure you’re not overexposing the moon:

Full moon, or moon more than half visible: 1/60 sec. at ƒ/11, 200 ISO
Half to one-quarter of the moon visible: 1/30 sec. at ƒ/11, 200 ISO
Less than one-quarter of the moon visible: 1/15 sec. at ƒ/11, 200 ISO
Just the edge of the moon lit: 1 sec. at ƒ/11, 200 ISO
Fully eclipsed at the beginning and end of totality: 8 sec. at ƒ/11, 800 ISO
Fully eclipsed, deepest totality: 8 sec. at ƒ/11, 1600 ISO

In these examples I’ve kept the aperture constant at ƒ/11, but if you need more depth of field you could use ƒ/16 and either double the ISO or the length of the exposure. But you want to keep the exposures relatively short, otherwise the moon will move and blur. You can get away with eight or maybe even fifteen seconds with a wide-angle lens, but with a telephoto lens you need to use shutter speeds of four seconds or less. To find the maximum exposure time for your lens before movement appears, divide the focal length into 400. So 400 ÷ 25mm = 16 seconds, or 400 ÷ 100mm = 4 seconds. Bracketing exposures is a good idea.

Eclipse Strategies

Trying to include a foreground makes things more complicated, so the simplest way to photograph a lunar eclipse is to take a long lens and zoom in on the moon. If you photograph the eclipse from beginning to end you can even use Photoshop to assemble your images into a montage showing the whole sequence.

A more evocative approach — but a more complicated one — is to use a wide-angle lens and capture the eclipse sequence with a foreground, as I did in the accompanying images. To do this you’ll first need to figure out the exact path the moon will take so you can compose your photograph accordingly. The apps I mentioned above, PhotoPills, The Photographer’s Ephemeris, and The Photographer’s Ephemeris 3D, are invaluable for this. And you’ll want to get to your chosen spot early enough to capture the entire eclipse sequence, from full, to partially eclipsed, to fully eclipsed, and (if possible from your location) back through the partially-eclipsed stages.

Once you’ve composed, make sure your tripod is solidly planted and locked tightly. If your composition includes a foreground you’ll want to focus at the hyperfocal distance, which will be somewhere between the closest object to the camera and infinity, but closer to the foreground. (If you don’t know how to find the hyperfocal distance, just focus on the foreground.) Then use a small enough aperture to get both foreground and moon in focus. (A bright flashlight and live view are helpful for focusing on the foreground.)

Then make a series of exposures to capture the eclipse sequence. In the three photographs here the interval was ten minutes between each moon capture, but you could make it fifteen or twenty minutes if you want to space the moons farther apart. Just make sure you keep the interval the same throughout the sequence. You can use an interval timer for this, or just use a watch and trip the shutter manually (using a remote or cable release, of course). You’ll need to adjust the exposure times (and possibly the aperture or ISO as well) as the moon dims and brightens.

In the accompanying photographs I used electronic flash or a flashlight to light-paint the foreground in between making exposures of the moon. Light painting is a complex subject that I won’t get into here, and if this is the first time you’ve ever tried photographing an eclipse I’d suggest you keep it simple, and don’t try light painting. Just try to capture single images of the moon itself, or perhaps a sequence with silhouetted trees or other objects in the foreground.

You might also capture a frame to use as the base (background) layer in Photoshop. For example, in the sequences from the Trona Pinnacles (first image, above) and Yosemite (second image, above), during the total eclipse I made an exposure for the stars, and used that starry sky as the background for the eclipse sequence. For the sequence with the oak tree from the Sierra foothills (below) the background is an exposure made as the sky was beginning to lighten and turn blue at dawn:

photographing a lunar eclipse
Oak tree and lunar eclipse sequence, December 10th, 2011, Mariposa County, Sierra foothills, California. This was a also a winter eclipse that occurred just before sunrise, so the moon’s path was quite similar to the path the moon will take during the upcoming eclipse on January 31st in North America. The moon’s path will curve to the right as it descends, and in most of the continent the sky will start to lighten during the total eclipse, as it did here.

Assembling A Sequence

If you get ambitious and try a sequence, the final step is to assemble the images in Photoshop. From Lightroom you can select the images and choose Photo > Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop, and Photoshop will stack the images into one document as separate layers. Or you can do this by hand using the Move tool to drag one image on top of another; just make sure you hold down the shift key while dragging so that the images align properly.

Drag your background layer to the bottom of the stack in the Layers Panel. Then change the blending mode of every layer except the bottom one to Lighten. This makes light areas override dark areas, so the moon from one frame will override dark sky from another frame. As you do this you’ll see all the moons magically appear and complete your sequence. If you light-painted a tree or other object, that too will appear when you change the blending mode for that layer. And if you used a telephoto lens to capture the whole eclipse sequence, you can use the Move tool to drag each layer around and arrange the moons on your canvas.

Upcoming Lunar Eclipses

Photographing a lunar eclipse takes planning, and a willingness to lose some sleep, but it can be a tremendously rewarding experience. And if your photographs don’t turn out as well as you hoped, you might get another chance soon. There will be another total lunar eclipse on July 27th this year, visible in Europe, Africa, and much of Asia. And on January 21st of 2019 a total lunar eclipse will be visible in all of the Americas, Europe, and some of Africa.

Good luck!

Read more articles like this on Michael Frye’s blog at michaelfrye.com.


Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite MeditationsYosemite Meditations for WomenYosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital DarkroomExposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.


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