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As celestial events go, a total lunar eclipse knows how to dazzle, and the best news is, there’s one passing this way at about 9pm on 27 July. Make sure you’re ready!

A total lunar eclipse can only happen when there’s a full moon. It takes place when the entire moon passes through the earth’s shadow. Since the moon gets its light by reflecting the sun’s rays, during a total lunar eclipse, what you’re witnessing is the shadow of the earth on the surface of the moon.

During the event, the earth bends the sun’s light, and colours with longer wavelengths like red and orange fall on the surface of the moon, turning it a bright blood red, easily visible to the naked eye, known as a “blood moon”.

Minute by Minute

Given the long days at this time of year, we’ll miss the very start of the total lunar eclipse. However, the good news is that this one is predicted to be one of the longest in centuries. Officially starting around 9pm, it should become visible in the south of the UK from about 9:20pm, with the total eclipse ending at about 10:13. The further north you go, the lower in the sky the moon will appear and the later it rises (around 9:22pm in Edinburgh).

To see it at its peak, and for the best photos, ideally you want to get away from any light pollution, or at least minimise it as best you can. If you were able to escape light pollution altogether then, during the total phase of the eclipse, it would be possible to see the Milky Way.

Decide on the type of shot you want – a close-up of the moon, filling the frame, or a wider angle that takes in the path of the moon during the event and ultimately reveals all phases in a single shot.

Think Big

If you want to capture the entire event, mount your camera on a sturdy tripod, and frame your scene so you can follow the path of the moon from beginning to end. When the event starts, take a shot every 10 minutes. Afterwards, you can piece them together in Adobe Photoshop.

Notice the way the light changes through the course of the event

If it’s a close-up you’re after, the longer your zoom, the more detailed your shot. A 400mm lens works fine but even bigger is better. In an upcoming blog we’ll take a look at how to shoot the moon any night of the week but what makes a lunar eclipse more tricky is the light (or rather, the lack of it).

Because it’s so dark out there, you’ll need an ISO between 200 and 400. Normally you’d aim for an F8 aperture, but during a lunar eclipse the shutter speed could vary from a second to eight minutes, depending on which stage of the eclipse you’re at. Anything slower than about 1/60s and you’ll notice less definition and softer edges. If you increase the ISO you’re opening yourself up to noise and if you select a wider aperture your image won’t be so crisp and clear. The trick is striking a balance between speed, aperture and ISO but this is made particularly difficult because light levels are constantly changing (with more light at the periphery of the event). Try opening the aperture to F4 or even F2.8 and see where this gets you. Cameras are better than they used to be at handling noise and a wider aperture still gets good results so play around and find the best settings. One thing is certain, you’ll have plenty of time – a lunar eclipse happens more slowly than a solar one, and this is the longest lunar eclipse in centuries.

At the beginning of the event, focusing is easy and your camera’s auto-focus should have no problem locking onto the moon. It might struggle when the sky darkens so switch over to manual before then.

When you’re finished, take your best shots into Photoshop or Lightroom where you can bring out extra detail with sharpening filters and by playing with contrast, highlights and shadows.

Guaranteed Gathering

On the night of 27 July, one thing is certain: thousands of people will be taking shots of the blood moon. So the real challenge is not how to do it, but how to make your pictures different. Show the moon reflected in a lake? Partially obscured by a landmark? Illuminating an ominous scene? Or a very long exposure that transforms the event into a line that streaks across the frame? Drones can be used to find all the best angles, but a silhouette of a drone in front of a blood moon… now there’s a challenge! You could even shoot a timelapse video of the whole event so you can watch it again and again and again.

This shot by Andy Gardner was of the last Strawberry Moon. Notice how he’s shot it through the legs of Brighton Pier for greater interest. See more of Andy’s photos on Instagram, @andy.gardner.photography

We hope we’ve inspired you. Now we’re looking forward to showcasing what you come up with. Send us your photos of the big event - post them to our Jessops Facebook page or upload them to Instagram (and tag them tag them #jessopsmoments). We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

BTW, just in case you miss this one, the next total lunar eclipse comes round on 21 January 2019.