lunar eclipse

Moon Shots: What We Learned from Photographing the 2019 Lunar Eclipse

While lunar eclipses aren’t as jaw-droopingly exciting as total solar eclipses, they are still an amazing thing to witness, as well as to capture as photographs. And a lunar eclipse comes with a big benefit: totality lasts much longer than during a solar eclipse, so you have more time to get creative as well as not stress out!

I had last shot a lunar eclipse in 2014, which was a very special time. That blood moon was the second of a tetrad, a series of four consecutive total eclipses that occurred in approximately six-month intervals. The next time that will happen will be in 2032-33. I wonder how we will capture it then! Technology made a major leap from 2014 to 2019, so who knows how it will leap in another 13 years. Maybe we will be able to witness those lunar eclipses from the moon!

The next lunar eclipse will occur in two years, on May 26, 2021. In the meantime, we wanted to share a few tips that we learned this year to help you better prepare not only for the next eclipse but for shooting the moon in general.

And by “we,” I mean a few more people than usual. First I’ll talk about my experience shooting the eclipse this week, and then Matt will add some thoughts from his experience. Finally, we have invited six of our National Parks at Night workshop alums to share their images and lessons learned.

Onward … to the moon and beyond …

11 Tips and Tricks from the 2019 Lunar Eclipse

1. Do your research.

Understand the location you will be in to capture the moon. Will you be in an urban or rural environment? How can this location help tell your story? I saw lots of wonderful lunar eclipse phases placed over breathtaking landscapes, buildings, etc. You could do the same in an urban location.

For this year’s lunar eclipse, I was in Atlanta, a city I wasn’t that familiar with and had little time to scout. I was inspired by the skyline I saw while driving into the city, and I noted that there were plenty of overpasses that could provide a good vantage point.

2. Ascertain the elevation of the eclipse.

The 2019 super blood wolf moon (aka the lunar eclipse) over Atlanta. Foreground: 35mm lens, 25 seconds, f/16, ISO 200; background (moon): 600mm lens, 1/2 second, f/5.6, ISO 3200.

You want to foresee what foreground you can include in a single shot. I was really taken aback by how high in the sky this lunar eclipse was. It was very difficult to introduce foreground into the scene unless you were really far away or made a composite.

In hindsight, I could have gotten under the Skyview Atlanta Ferris Wheel downtown and probably made a pretty cool shot—but my last photo of a lunar eclipse (in 2014) included a Ferris wheel and I didn’t want to be known as that guy! This did make me realize that figuring out the problem—i.e., the height of the moon in the sky—can lead to unusual solutions like actually getting under your foreground to get the shot!

3. Go with two rigs.

The lunar eclipse lasts approximately 4 to 5 hours. Give yourself more options to create! It could be wide and telephoto rigs, or short-exposure and long-exposure setups.

4. Be ready for that close-up!

That big ol’ blood moon, 2019.

This is advice for shooting the moon any time of the year: Use a telephoto lens. The more you can fill your frame, the better. Higher-resolution cameras will also allow us to crop into the image more with minimal loss in detail.

This year I used a 100-400mm lens, which when zoomed in all the way was the equivalent of a 600mm with my APS-C sensor. I still cropped into the moon in post and would have preferred an effective focal length of 800mm to 1000mm in the field. While those lenses might seem expensive and out of reach, consider using crop-sensor cameras with 200-500mm or 150-600mm lenses. Also, you could adapt a telescope to fit your camera and can easily get to 1000mm.

When using a super-telephoto lens and aiming it high in the sky, watch out for lens creep, which is when your lens zooms slightly during the exposure. I once found this to be the culprit of a soft image, when my Fujifilm 100-400mm lens wouldn’t lock down at one focal length. Eventually it stayed put, but the problem was a bit frustrating and ruined several of my shots. Always zoom in and review your images.

 5. Don’t forget your wide lens.

Telephoto lenses get most of the love during the eclipses, but wide-angle lenses can offer better storytelling. They can tell something else about where the image was shot—just think about what other elements of the scene you want to combine with the moon. Two rigs gives you that option.

6. Allow plenty of time to play.

We mentioned that the lunar eclipse lasts a while. The totality, or umbra period, can last 1 to 2 hours. That’s a lot of blood moon! While the umbra phase can be the most exciting, start clicking as soon as the penumbra starts, when the moon remains white but starts to show all its phases as Earth casts its shadow.

7. Try a moon trail!

High Roller & Lunar Moon Trail, 2014. 55mm focal length, 15 minutes f/8, ISO 400.

With so much time, why not set up one rig dedicated to shooting the entire eclipse and then stack it together for a very unique moon trail? The beam will be wide and bright during the penumbra period but get skinnier and a little dimmer during the umbra period. I’ve seen only a few images using this technique, and I definitely want to give it a go next time!

Given the length of this long exposure, you’ll definitely want to make sure you have plenty of power in your camera. I’d at least want to add a second battery and attach a power grip—but for even more power and reliability I’d hook up the camera to a Tether Tools Case Relay or ONsite power solution.

8. Do a time lapse or capture some video.

I’m a still photographer, but moving images can help tell a story in more detail. This could be especially helpful if you are battling clouds or weather. Dedicate that second rig to video and keep that powered up with the Tether Tools solutions listed above.

9. Zoom while exposing.

I slapped my hand against my head when I saw these images pop up on social media. I love this technique for neon signs and buildings but it didn’t cross my mind with the moon! Especially during the dimmer umbra phase, you can get exposures of 3 to 8 seconds. Use a telephoto lens zoomed all the way in, then midway into the exposure zoom to the widest end and leave it there. Two moons for the price of one!

10. Include the moon with other night elements.

Match up that moon with car trails or other bright things that move. We often default to the telephoto close-up of the moon, but how else can we tell the night story? Emphasize movement in your image! In my image from Atlanta, I really wanted car trails and the lunar eclipse—I wanted those leading lines taking us to the moon! Perhaps you could shoot the moon next to moving water, or add star trails surrounding the moon.

11. Composite away!

Full moon and eclipse photography are techniques that totally lend themselves to creative and fantastic composites. Show us all the phases of the eclipse in an interesting pattern. Place the moon anywhere in the world! Compositing images—taking elements from multiple shots and combining them—can totally unleash a new fantasy location.

My advice on compositing is to have a clear vision and stay true to it. Larger-than-life moons make a viewer realize the moon “doesn’t belong” in the scene, however if the rest of the image is pure fantasy then it is totally acceptable. In my image from this week, the moon is bigger than it normally would have been but still has a somewhat realistic feel.


Photographer vs. Freezing Temps

by Matt Hill

The night of the lunar eclipse, it was frigid in Catskill, New York. I mean cold. 3 degrees F cold. (Interpret the “F” how you want.)

Also, I was feeling really under the weather. But I really wanted to grab some frames of the eclipse, despite all these roadblocks.

So I popped open PhotoPills and saw that the super blood wolf moon would be arcing right between the houses by my studio. I decided to shoot it from the tiny deck outside the studio door.

The Weather Underground app (left) and PhotoPills’ eclipse and Night AR features provided all the info needed about where and when to shoot the eclipse in Catskill, New York.

For about 2.5 hours, I popped in and out, trying to avoid frostbite, and I worked through an image sequence that got me fully into totality.

And then, for kicks, I ran through optimizing exposure length versus ISO during totality. I mean, it was an hour long, right? The worst thing I could get was frostbite.

I settled on shooting at 1/2 second and ISO 100. I liked it better than any of the images I shot at higher ISOs. I made this sequence of images from the set:

Nikon Z 6, Nikon 300mm f/2.8 lens. 1/125, f/14, ISO 100 (full moon); 1/2 second, f/4.5, ISO 100 (totality).

Then I thought it would be great to run one more experiment to see at what shutter speed a 300mm lens would make the moon too blurry to be seen clearly. It’s easy to do with a full moon—but I wanted to have this to show people what it looks like during an eclipse:

Honestly, I thought the 1/2 second exposure was the sharpest that was acceptable to me. Either way, note that the chart above is for a 300mm lens. Results will be even more restrictive with a longer lens, such as a 600mm. It’s important to bracket and test in the field.

Exhausted and tired, I put my gear inside and rolled into bed around 1 a.m.—after downloading and inspecting my images, naturally. ;-)


Eclipse Stories from NPAN Alums

For several days this week we saw some of our workshop alumni post incredible images on social media. We asked a few if they’d share their stories and lessons learned, and we were thrilled that they are happy to do so.

 

by Gary Domrow

© 2019 Gary Domrow, instagram.com/gsdpic. Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens with teleconverters. 1/2 second, f/8, ISO 1600.

I set up the tripod up in my driveway here in Austin, Texas. I had hoped to do a sequence but the first part of the eclipse was obscured by clouds, so I took pictures for just about 15 minutes on either side of the beginning of totality. I shot them using the Canon 100-400mm, some with the Sigma 2X teleconverter and some with the Canon 1.4X, set up on a Really Right Stuff tripod and ball head. I used the “live view and zoom in” method to focus, and actually remembered to try a few different settings for ISO, shutter speed and aperture.

Despite using that lens and teleconverter combination, I must not have been zoomed in quite all the way because the focal length is 525mm according to the EXIF data. So I cropped the final image. What you see is maybe 30 or 40 percent of the original frame. Finally, I did some minor tweaking in post with Lightroom—Exposure, Contrast, Noise, Clarity.

I guess I can’t say I learned anything new. I just practiced and reinforced the techniques that I have, which is also a good thing.

Well, I did learn later that some people are really lucky—did you see this article about the meteor hitting the moon during the eclipse? I guess as long as you are out shooting the night sky, there’s always a chance you’ll catch something unique or interesting or unexpected.

 

by Heather Cunningham Wendelboe

© 2019 Heather Cunningham Wendelboe, bolo-photo.com. Nikon D750, 20mm f/1.8 lens.

I’ll pretty much always have a story, because every time I go out on one of my “automotive astroscape shoots,” I set myself up for a major mistake—since I always want to try something I don’t know how to do! So here’s the whole story of my disaster.

I had planned for one my usual automotive astroscape shoots. My intention for my final image is always to share a vision as if you had looked out a window and watched the whole experience through the night—to inspire someone to go on a late-night road trip out there in the middle of nowhere. A secondary intention is to showcase my passion for driving these cars the way they were meant to be driven and not just hoarding them in a garage.

This was my first attempt at a lunar eclipse. I wasn’t thinking about what would be different than other night photos I’ve done, so I composed like I normally would. The focus and exposures actually turned out pretty good, considering the haze in the sky and the lens fogging up, not to mention the microscopic size of the moon with a 20mm lens! The main problem was that at the time I started shooting the moon, it was in the middle of my frame, and there was not enough room at the top of the frame to fit the entire sequence of exposures as planned. So, right about the time of maximum totality, the moon just dropped off the edge of the composition!

I wish I had set up the camera to shoot the entire sequence of the eclipse, and then I could have done a second setup for the composition and foreground exposure, since the final image would have to be a composite anyway.

When it came to editing, I cropped out about two-thirds of my frame to make it a vertical, which helped get rid of a lot of the vertical line distortion and placed the moons in a better position from side to side. But with the vertical orientation, looking from top to bottom, I ended up with literally the middle third of my frame being blank sky. I posted that version to the National Parks at Night Alumni Facebook group. After talking with several people in the comments about all our lunar eclipse photos, I decided to try a re-edit: I moved the moon sequence lower to fill the blank sky, then I cropped it back to horizontal.

Moving the moons to an inaccurate position in the sky bothers me, because no one who could have been there watching that scene would have seen it this way. But the resulting composition is acceptable.

Lesson learned: You can’t recover what you didn’t shoot. And if you mess up what you did shoot, you owe it to yourself to salvage it, because your failed attempt required the same effort that a successful one would have. It wasn’t your work, only your decisions, that made the difference.

 

by Randy Christ

© 2019 Randy Christ, MovingImagesPhotography.com. Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 with 1.4X teleconverter, on an iOptron SkyGuider Pro EQ Camera Mount. 20 seconds, f/8, ISO 100.

The photograph is a single image—no HDR, no compositing, no Photoshop. All the editing, cropping, etc. was done with Lightroom.

Image stabilization was turned off, and focus was set to manual. The camera was mounted on an iOptron SkyGuider Pro EQ mount, which was configured to track the moon precisely. The 20-second exposure time was chosen to hold in check the star trails that would occur due to the moon and stars moving at different rates in different directions. Also, this shutter speed allowed for the settings of ISO 100 and f/8, which are the sweet spots of this camera and lens.

This was my first attempt at shooting with an EQ mount, and the comedy of errors I made kept rolling all evening. Talk about lessons learned—as well as just some bad luck. But I also had some good luck, and came away with some shots I am pretty happy with.

I decided to process this particular image in the series because it caught the fleeting moment when the moon was just about to leave the umbra shadow of Earth, ending totality. During totality, the light that reaches the moon travels through the inner layers of Earth’s atmosphere, which passes along the longer-wavelength orange and red light. This is why the moon turns orange during totality. In the moments just prior to reaching the end of totality, some light reaches the moon after having passed through Earth’s ozone layer, which passes along blue, shorter-wavelength light. This results in a small strip of purple trim on the leading edge of the moon. It is a unique and splendid moment that occurs for only a brief moment in time.

Note: If you’d like to read more about how Randy created this image, see his blog post “Total Lunacy—Photographing the Total Lunar Eclipse.”

 

by Martha Hale

© 2019 Martha Hale, instagram.com/marthahale. Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.

I was fortunate enough to shoot the solar eclipse of 2017 with National Parks at Night, so I knew I wanted to give this lunar shot a foreground element. Using PhotoPills, I scouted numerous skyline and landscape possibilities around town, only to realize this event was going to be happening straight up in the sky far away from the horizon. Change of plans. I scouted taller locations such as the statue of Vulcan in Birmingham, but newly installed multicolor LED lighting was going to be a challenge. I pondered Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, but without NPAN, would they let me in that late again and turn off all the lights? Slim chance.

At the entrance to my neighborhood is a rather large replica of the Statue of Liberty. I couldn’t resist. I ended up liking a composition from directly beneath the statue with my lens aimed straight up, shooting with a Canon 5D Mark IV and a 70-200mm lens. I bounced all night between that and a Fuji X-T3 setup with a 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens plus 2X extender. I was struggling with the loss of stops at f/9 with the Fuji, and with chasing the moon to keep it in the frame (should have used my star tracker from the previous eclipse), and with having to bump up the ISO so much once we were in totality.

I was getting frustrated, so when my husband came to check on me, I was ready to pack it up. But first I handed him a flashlight and asked him to point it at the face of the statue. I went back to my Canon and decided to do one final composition with my focal point on the statue, and just to be sure, took the time to do one more shot focusing specifically on the moon. I’m so glad I took that extra step, because when I got back to the full screen of my computer, the moon was slightly out of focus in all the earlier shots! I stacked the two shots in Photoshop for the win!

 

by Susan Wales

© 2019 Susan Wales, susanwales.ca. Nikon D810, Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 lens.

I did not do a time lapse, but rather only took individual frames and put them together in Photoshop later. It would have been hard to do a time lapse because the settings changed a lot from the beginning to the end of the eclipse.

I did not realize that the color of the moon would change so dramatically from white at the start until the blood moon color developed with the full eclipse. That was fascinating to watch.

I pre-focused to infinity, locked my focus down and then shot in manual mode. I started to photograph at 8:50 p.m. (in British Columbia) and finished at 10:09 p.m. when the clouds moved in. I started with an exposure of 1/6 second, f/5.6, ISO 64 and finished at the height of the eclipse at 1.3 seconds, f/5.6, ISO 2000. I adjusted my camera settings manually as the light changed on the moon. 

 

by Steve Winker

© 2019 Steve Winker, whereswinker.com. Canon 6D, Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 lens.

I shot the eclipse from the RV Park I’m staying at in Tucson, Arizona. Unfortunately, my site is right next to a 40-foot wall separating the RV park from Interstate 10. So there wasn’t any decent foreground. Plus, there’s a very tall bank of lights right there.

The main thing I learned was that I shouldn’t have set up so close to a very strong light source high in the air. At totality, it was almost impossible to see the moon thru the haze created by the light. The strong haze also caused my photos of the moon at totality to be a little hazy.

I really didn’t learn too much else this time. But I had shot a lunar eclipse in 2014 and I applied what I had learned from that shoot to this one. Based on that shoot and the fact that I didn’t have a foreground to use, I made the decision to zoom in and make a composite using several stages of the eclipse.

I did no cropping. I just took the five frames into Photoshop as layers, masked out the sky in each layer, and then moved the five layers so that the moons lined up.


Wrapping Up

Thank you to those six fantastic alums for sharing their images and their stories! We’re continually inspired by the photography we see coming from the fine folks we get to work with throughout the year.

So, who’s next? How about you? We’d love to see your photos of this week’s lunar eclipse, and to hear the stories behind them and the lessons you may have learned. Please feel free to share them in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

Gabriel Biderman is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. He is a Brooklyn-based fine art and travel photographer, and author of Night Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots (Peachpit, 2014). During the daytime hours you'll often find Gabe at one of many photo events around the world working for B&H Photo’s road marketing team. See his portfolio and workshop lineup at www.ruinism.com.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT

 

Meteors and Eclipses and Comets, Oh My!—The Celestial Events of 2018

A happy new year to all of our readers! 2017 was pretty amazing for all of us at National Parks at Night. We led workshops at nine different locations in the United States and Iceland. We witnessed auroras, the total solar eclipse, meteor showers, and billions and billions of stars.

2018 is looking just as exciting. We are kicking the new year off with a blue supermoon in Biscayne National Park, celebrating both the Biscayne and Redwood National Park 50th anniversary with a group show that will feature our students’ work at both parks in October, and will be offering 12 workshops including stops in Scotland, South Iceland and all along the Blue Ridge Parkway, to name a few. (Three workshops are sold out, but if you are interested in those, sign up for the wait list, as anything can happen!)

We hope that you join us for an adventure sometime soon. Whether you’re coming with us or heading out on your own, there are as many reasons to photograph at night as there are stars in the sky. Shooting any night can be, and often is, spectacular, but there are also some special dates to get outdoors with your camera, as there are scores of notable celestial events to photograph in 2018.

You already know about many of these if you own a copy of our 2018 calendar, “Shots in the Dark,” where they’re marked conveniently for you! As for any specific times mentioned, we gleaned that information by using our favorite photo-planning app, PhotoPills. The approximate times in the list below are based on the U.S. Eastern time zone—so if you live elsewhere, we recommend double-checking the times in the planner section of PhotoPills.

It also goes without saying that most of these celestial events are best viewed in dark sky locations—of which our National Park system has plenty! If you live in an area with high levels of light pollution and want to find darker skies, we recommend checking out Dark Site Finder.

With no further ado, here’s the list of great night sky happenings to focus your wide apertures on in 2018! (The first two of these have already passed, but we’re including them for the sake of being comprehensive.)

January 2: Full Moon/Supermoon

Supermoon through 3 Bridges. Nikon D750 and Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 lens. 1/2 second, f/11, ISO 400. © Gabriel Biderman.

We immediately led off the year with a full moon—and a supermoon, no less! A supermoon occurs when the full moon coincides with the moon’s closest approach to Earth. The moon is super because it appears closer and brighter than normal. Your best bet for photographing it is during moonrise the day before (in this case, January 1) so that you can have better balanced exposure with the twilight foreground. Find and interesting foreground like I did in capturing the moon rising between the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Willaimsburgh bridges in New York City (above). (Rest assured, these tips will become useful again at the end of the month.)

January 3-4: Quadrantids Meteor Shower

There was no rest for the night photographer, as right after the full blue moon kicked off, the first meteor shower of the year hit! (Stay tuned for an article on how to photograph and process meteor showers, coming later this year.) The peak of the shower has passed, but you may be able to spot some sky streaks this weekend. (It’s good to note throughout this article that, just like with fall foliage, the peak times are the best for shooting meteor showers, but they’re not the only times. You should be able to find streaks in the sky for several nights before and after peak.)

Quadrantids is an above-average meteor shower with up to 40 meteors per hour at its peak, which lasts from the evening of January 3 into the early morning of the 4th. The field of meteoroids was produced by the now-extinct comet 2003 EH1, which was discovered in, you guessed it, 2003. The meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Bootes.

Best Viewed: after midnight

Moon Phase: waning gibbous 95% that will be up all night

Worth Shooting? This is a tough one. The full moon will make all but the brightest meteors invisible. If you are in a warm, dark sky location—why not? But in the north, we might sit this one out.

January 31: Full Moon, Supermoon, Blue Moon and Total Lunar Eclipse

Full Moon over Hudson. Nikon D700 and Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 lens. 2 minutes, f/11, ISO 200. © Gabriel Biderman.

OK, lots going on this night. We will be leading a workshop in Biscayne National Park (still a couple of spots left!), which will be a perfect location to view the supermoon rising over the forever horizon. We may even explore some reflecting moon trails as we explore this water world of a park.

A total lunar eclipse happens when Earth blocks the sun’s light from directly hitting the full moon. During this time, the moon is in Earth’s shadow—no direct sunlight reflects off the lunar surface. However, the 0.12-albedo surface does catch some scattered light, which causes the moon to still be visible with a slight reddish hue. This is sometimes called the “blood moon.”

The total lunar eclipse will not be viewable in Biscayne, but will be in many other national parks and wild spaces in large parts of the world. If you live in western North America, eastern Asia, Russia, Australia or around the Pacific Rim, you’ll be in the path of totality.

February 15: Partial Solar Eclipse

Taking a bite out of the Great American Solar Eclipse. Fujifilm XT-2 and 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens. 1/250, f/8, ISO 800. © Gabriel Biderman.

If you live in Chile, Argentina or are planning a trip to Antarctica, this would be a fun day to be outside with a camera. This will not rival the total eclipse we saw in the U.S. last year; instead it will look like a bite is taken out of the sun when viewed with solar glasses and filters. But it’s absolutely still worth shooting. (For advice about gear, techniques and safety when photographing an eclipse, see our free e-guide, “Here Comes the Sun.”)

March 20: Vernal Equinox (Northern Hemisphere), Autumnal Equinox (Southern Hemisphere)

Winter is over and there will be equal parts of day and night … with the days slowly getting longer, boohoo!

March 31: Full Moon, Blue Moon

Full Moon through the Auroras, Iceland. Sony A7s and Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 lens. 15 seconds, f/8, ISO 25,600. © Gabriel Biderman.

Our second blue moon in the first three months of the year. This is unique, as is the interesting fact that 2018 features no full moon in February.

April 16: First New Moon of the Milky Way season

You’ll need to stay up late. Depending on where you are, the return of the Milky Way’s core to the night sky is reason to celebrate! It should break the horizon around 1:30 a.m. and hang around for three hours before the morning twilight erases the stars.

April 22-23: Lyrids Meteor Shower

Lyrids is an average shower that can have about 20 meteors per hour at its peak on the evening of April 22 and the early morning of the 23rd. The shower is produced by dust particles left behind by comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which was discovered in 1861. The meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Lyra.

Best Viewed: after midnight

Moon Phase: first quarter 50% that will set at 1:46 a.m.

Worth Shooting? Yes! With the half moon setting after midnight, the Lyrids could definitely put on a good show.

May 6-7: Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower

Eta Aquarids is an above-average shower that can have up to 30 meteors per hour in the Northern Hemisphere, and up to 60 per hour in the Southern Hemisphere! Its peak is on the evening of May 6 into the early morning of the 7th. It is produced by the dust particles left behind by the famous Halley’s Comet, which has been recorded since ancient times. The meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Aquarius.

Best Viewed: from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Moon Phase: waning gibbous 59% that will rise at 1:41 a.m.

Worth Shooting? Yes. With no moon to begin the night, you should be able to see the start of the show during clears skies. After 1:30 a.m., only the brightest of the meteors will be visible.

May 15: New Moon

The Ruins of Hovenweep. Hasselblad X1D and 30mm f/3.5 lens. Blend of foreground at 6 minutes, f/4, ISO 800 and sky at 23 seconds, f/4, ISO 6400. © Gabriel Biderman.

Welcome the Milky Way galactic core someplace dark, as it rises around 11 p.m.!

June 13: New Moon

Milky Way Arching over Centennial Valley, Montana. Nikon D750 and 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. Five-image panorama at 30 seconds, f/4, ISO 6400. © Gabriel Biderman.

Even better Milky Way core, as it will be up around 9:15 p.m.—during nautical twilight in most of the U.S. Prime time of the year for the Milky Way arching shots!

June 21: Summer Solstice

Shortest night of the year. Boo!

July 13: New Moon, Partial Solar Eclipse (way south)

Under Sipapu, Natural Bridges National Monument. Nikon D750 and 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. 20 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 6400. © Gabriel Biderman.

The Milky Way will be high in the sky during twilight. Perfect for straight-through-the-sky Milky Way shots. (To learn more about the difference between this type of Milky Way photo and arching panos, see our “Five Questions” blog post from last July.)

Also on this day is a partial solar eclipse for our friends in southern Australia and Antarctica.

July 27: Total Lunar Eclipse

Higher Rolling with the Blood Moon, Vegas 2014. Sony A7r and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. 4 seconds, f/11, ISO 800. © Gabriel Biderman.

Visible throughout most of Europe, Africa, western and central Asia, the Indian Ocean, and Western Australia. (Visit the NASA website for more information.)

July 28-29: Delta Aqaurids Meteor Shower

This is an average shower, with 20 meteors per hour during its peak from the evening of July 28 through the early morning of the 29th. These meteors are produced from the debris left behind by the comets Marsden and Kracht, and they appear to radiate from the constellation Aquarius.

Best Viewed: after midnight

Moon Phase: waning gibbous 99% (essentially, a full moon) and will be up all night

Worth Shooting? Probably not. The full moon will obscure all but the brightest of meteors. (Though you can be sure we’ll be on the lookout during our Blue Ridge Parkway workshop.)

August 11: New Moon, Partial Solar Eclipse

The August Core over Centennial Valley, Montana. Nikon D750 and 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. 20 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 6400. © Gabriel Biderman.

During this new moon, the Milky Way will appear high in the sky immediately as darkness falls.

This partial solar eclipse will be seen in parts of northeast Canada, Greenland, extreme northern Europe, and northern and eastern Asia. Best viewing will be in northern Russia with 68 percent of the sun blocked.

August 12: Perseids Meteor Shower

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado. Nikon D750 and 15mm Zeiss Distagon f/2.8 lens. 234 images at 22 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 6400, plus a single exposure at 382 seconds, ISO 2000 for the landscape after moonrise. © 2017 Matt Hill.

One of the best meteor showers of the year, with 60 per hour during its peak on August 12 into the early morning of the 13th. These meteors are produced from the comet Swift-Tuttle, and they appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus.

Best Viewed: from darkness to morning

Moon Phase: waxing crescent 3%, but will have set by nightfall

Worth Shooting? Yes, yes, yes! This is our personal favorite meteor shower. Lots of meteors, new moon and comfortable temperatures. So fingers crossed for clear skies, and fire away!

September 9: New Moon

The Milky Way core will be visible for only the first three hours of darkness (will set around 11:30 p.m.).

September 23: Autumnal Equinox (Northern Hemisphere), Vernal Equinox (Southern Hemisphere)

Equal parts day and night (the moon and sun will be rising and setting around the same time)which could create some beautiful twilight photos.

Also, in the Northern Hemisphere, the nights start to get longer—woohoo!

October 8: Draconids Meteor Shower

Draconids is a minor meteor shower which averages 10 meteors per hour during the peak of early evening on October 8. The meteors are produced by comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner, which was discovered in 1900. They appear to radiate from the constellation Draco.

Best Viewed: early evening, from 8 p.m. to midnight

Moon Phase: new moon 0.4%, and will not be visible at night

Worth Shooting? Yes. Even though it is a minor meteor show, no moon means that you’ll see even the faintest meteors in a dark sky location.

October 9: New Moon

Milky Way core will be visible for 1 1/2 hours after astronomical twilight.

October 21-22: Orionids Meteor Shower

Orionids is an average shower that has about 20 meteors per hour at its peak from late on October 21 until early morning on the 22nd. The meteors are produced from the dust left behind by the prolific Halley’s Comet. They appear to radiate from the constellation Orion.

Best Viewed: after midnight

Moon Phase: waxing gibbous 91%—essentially full and will be up most of the night

Worth Shooting? Yes. Even though the full moon will block the fainter meteors, the Orionids produce very bright streaks that should be visible throughout the night.

November 5-6: Taurids Meteor Shower

Taurids is a minor meteor shower that averages five to 10 per hour, and peaks on the evening of the November 5 into the morning of the 6th. They are produced by Asteroid TG10 and comet 2P Encke, and appear to radiate from the constellation Taurus.

Best Viewed: after midnight

Moon Phase: no moon—the thin crescent will set about the same time as sunset

Worth Shooting? I wouldn’t make plans around it, but if you happen to be in a dark location with clear skies, be on the lookout.

November 7: New Moon

Milky Way core will be visible for approximately the first hour of darkness.

November 17-18: Leonids Meteor Shower

Average meteor shower—15 per hour during peak from the evening of November 17 until early morning on the 18th. Produced by the comet Temple-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1865. The meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Leo.

Best Viewed: early morning (before twilight) of November 18

Moon Phase: waxing gibbous 72%, setting at 1:36 a.m.

Worth Shooting? Yes, for the night owl. Factor in the bright moon not setting until 1:36 a.m. on the 18th, but you’ll have between then and 5:30 a.m. to shoot the meteors. (These might add an interesting night-sky component during our black-and-white workshop in Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark that week.)

December 7: New Moon

No Core in the Haystack, Oregon 2016. Nikon D750 and 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. 30 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 3200. © Gabriel Biderman.

Milky Way core will not be visible during the night in the Northern Hemisphere.

December 12-16: Comet 46P/Wirtanen

It looks like we will witness the 10th closest comet in modern times! It should be viewable to the naked eye on December 12 as it reaches perihelion—its closest approach to the sun. Look toward the bull constellation, Taurus, that night.

On December 16, the comet will make its closest approach to Earth, soaring by only 7.1 million miles away, and will be visible to the naked eye. Look toward the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters.

For more information, see this breakdown from the University of Maryland.

December 13-14: Geminids Meteor Shower

This is probably the best meteor shower for photography, with an average of 120 multicolored meteors during peak from the evening of December 13 until early morning on the 14th. The roaming meteoroids were produced by Asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which was discovered in 1982, and the meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini.

Best Viewed: after midnight

Moon Phase: waxing crescent 36%, and sets around 10:30 p.m.

Worth Shooting? If you can find someplace not too cold and have clear skies—YES, YES, YES!

December 21: Winter Solstice

Longest night of the year!!!

Warning—Northern Hemisphere nights start to get shorter after this.

December 21-22: Ursids Meteor Shower

Ursids is a minor meteor shower—with an average of five to 10 per hour from the evening of the December 21 until the early morning of the 22nd. Produced by the comet Tuttle (discovered in 1790), the meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Ursa Minor.

Best Viewed: after midnight with your fingers crossed

Moon Phase: waxing gibbous 99%, and sets just before sunrise

Worth Shooting? Probably not—with the full moon up the entire night, likely cold temperatures and not many bright meteors, I’d sit this one out.

Wrapping Up

Phew! That about sums up the top celestial events to photograph in 2018. I hope this inspires you to seize the night in the upcoming year!

As you do, remember that we love to see your night images! Feel free to share them on our Facebook page, or to tag us in Instagram. We always love looking, we will always respond, and we are eager to share in more and more conversations about night photography.

Gabriel Biderman is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. He is a Brooklyn-based fine art and travel photographer, and author of Night Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots (Peachpit, 2014). During the daytime hours you'll often find Gabe at one of many photo events around the world working for B&H Photo’s road marketing team. See his portfolio and workshop lineup at www.ruinism.com.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT