A total lunar eclipse – also known as a ‘blood moon’ – is coming this weekend and it will be visible to the whole of North America and South America, with western Europe nd western Africa getting a glimpse. This spectacular event occurs when the full moon turns red as it enters Earth’s shadow. The eclipse will occur at the same global time, but will be seen during the evening of Sunday, 15 May, 2022 in North America and in the pre-dawn hours of Monday, 16 May, 2022 in Europe. In the UK it will be possible to see the first 42 minutes or so of totality before the moon sets and dawn breaks.
Although the Moon’s orbit around Earth is a global phenomenon with a global schedule, whether our satellite will be above the horizon when it begins to turn strange colors will depend on shadows, angles and the quality of light visible where you are on the planet. Clear skies allowing, of course.
It all begins with a faint penumbral eclipse as the Moon enters Earth’s outer shadow. That’s not much to look at, but it is a good time to photograph a full moon because it will be much dimmer than usual. It’s followed by a partial eclipse as the moon begins to turn red. The event peaks with totality, during which the moon will be a dark reddish copper color. That will last for 84 minutes – much longer than average. The spectacle then goes into reverse as the moon exits Earth’s shadow.
The eastern half of North America will witness the entire thing on Sunday through Monday, the western half will get totality early on Sunday evening (making it the longest prime-time eclipse of the century (opens in new tab)) and Europe and Africa will see it just before dawn on Monday.
For all locations the moon will be turning dark red while situated very close to the Milky Way. But before we turn to photography let’s consider just what’s going on here, who’s going to see what, and when…
What is a lunar eclipse?
Also called a ‘Blood Moon’, a lunar eclipse is caused by a full Moon passing through Earth’s shadow in space. The Moon orbits Earth every 27 days, during which time it passes roughly between the Earth and the Sun (an invisible New Moon) and, 14 days later, moves to the other side of Earth to the Sun (a full Moon). The latter sees its near-side 100%-lit by the Sun, but just occasionally it travels precisely through the middle of Earth’s dark circular shadow in space.
When that happens – something that can take hours – the only light that can reach the lunar surface has first been filtered through Earth’s atmosphere. Short-wavelength blue light from the Sun tends to hit particles in Earth’s atmosphere whereas longer-wavelength red and orange light mostly travels right through.
The result, of course, is a ‘Blood Moon’, though in truth it’s more of a copper-reddish color. Because it’s traveling through the darkest part of Earth’s shadow the moon is expected to be a dark red. The effects on Earth’s atmosphere of the Tongan volcano in January 2022 (opens in new tab) is also likely to make this a relatively darker lunar eclipse.
• Read more: How to create a moonstack (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
Where and when to see the ‘Blood Moon’
Will you see it? You can easily find out exactly what time the eclipse will be visible from any location. Definitely be outside from when the partial eclipse begins. However, ‘maximum eclipse’ is the time you need to be ready for – and that’s 01:32:05 Universal Time on 16 May 2022. Take into account how high the Moon will be in the sky (its altitude) and also note its compass direction.
You can also sort out your angles and the position of the Moon in the sky from wherever you are by using The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE) (opens in new tab) or PhotoPills (opens in new tab).
Here’s when to see the ‘blood moon’ totality period of the total lunar eclipse, which will last for 84 minutes (though do consider being outside for an hour both before and after to watch the partial phase):
11:29 p.m.-00:53 a.m. EDT on Sunday May 15-Monday, 16, 2022
10:29-11:53 p.m. CDT on Sunday May 15, 2022
9:29-10:53 p.m. MDT on Sunday May 15, 2022
8:29-9:53 p.m. PDT on Sunday May 15, 2022
04:29 a.m. - 05:11 a.m. BST (moonset) on Monday, 16, 2022(opens in new tab)
How to photograph a lunar eclipse
This lunar eclipse is a relatively long, lazy spectacle where you can try a few things out, fail, and try again. You’ll have 84 minutes to photograph the red moon as well as an hour either side of that to take a photo of the half-red moon with the added spectacle of a bizarrely curved line across its surface – the outline of Earth’s shadow.
The most important thing you need is a clear sky. This is your number one priority. Check the weather reports and be mobile in the hours beforehand to maximize your chances. The western of the United States has the highest chances.
Equipment you’ll need, how to focus, and settings(opens in new tab)
For a close-up of the Moon you’ll need a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a 300mm telephoto lens on a tripod - but ideally one that is at least 600mm long. Alternatively a bridge camera (opens in new tab), with its built-in superzoom will do the trick. Be sure to properly focus your lens. Using infinity focus might work, depending on your lens. An alternative that will work for all lenses is to use your camera’s LCD screen to look at part of the Moon zoomed-in, and then to focus until sharp (either manually or using auto-focus, though if the latter you must then switch to manual mode to prevent your camera from refocusing for your next shot).
With a shutter delay set, and shooting in RAW, during totality keep the aperture as wide as possible (a low f-number), begin with ISO 800 and use a fast shutter speed – about 1/100sec – to keep the shot sharp. It’s all a trade-off between ISO and shutter speed, but a Lunar Eclipse Exposure Calculator (opens in new tab) will help you figure out base settings for your lens. Bracketing either side of your target exposure is the way to go.
How to photograph the full moon
Here’s something the entire world can do – as wherever you are in the world, there will be a full moon for you to photograph. Start-off with your camera set to ISO 100, f/10 and 1/125sec, but the exact settings will depend upon your lens and the quickly changing light.
The best captures of a supermoon rising and/or a lunar eclipse close to the horizon are those that have creative compositions. If you have enough ambient light to bring out the foreground, pan out a bit from the lunar disk, find something else of interest for your composition – a building, a mountain, people or preferably something unexpected – and let the majestic Moon (and perhaps also the Milky Way) help you create an out-of-this-world shot.
The next lunar eclipse
If it is cloudy this weekend then there is another opportunity to see a total lunar eclipse in 2022. On 7-8 November the moon will again turn reddish for 84 minutes as seen from North America and South America. Not only is it very rare to have two lunar eclipses of identical length in succession, but it will be the final lunar eclipse until 2025 and the longest lunar totality until 2029.
Jamie Carter is editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com (opens in new tab)
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