A Midnight Eclipse

On the night of Tuesday 8 November, we will see a total lunar eclipse in the skies above New Zealand. The full moon will drift deep into the path of Earth’s shadow causing the bright lunar surface to progressively darken and change to a dark red-orange colour.  The eclipse ends in the early hours of 9 November.  Casual observers, with clear skies, should step outside around midnight to observe the Moon during the total eclipse phase which lasts from 11:16pm until 00:41pm (times in NZDT for Christchurch, NZ).

This will be the last opportunity to observe all phases of a total lunar eclipse from NZ until March 2026.

The longest partial eclipse for centuries resulted in just a narrow sliver of the Moon’s surface remaining bright while the rest of the surface is coloured red by the Earth’s umbral shadow. (19 November 2021)

What causes a Total Lunar Eclipse?

The alignment of the Sun, Earth, Moon system is such that the Moon is fully covered by the Earth’s shadow.  Any direct sunlight is blocked by the

Earth.  Refracted sunlight, passing through the Earth’s atmosphere, is bent towards the surface of the Moon.  This indirect light is what allows us to see the Moon during the totality phase.

Why don't we get an eclipse every month?

An eclipse doesn’t happen during every full moon phase as the orbital plane of the Moon is tilted compared to the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun.  However, we can predict when these alignments will take place allowing those on the night side of Earth to view a lunar eclipse.

What causes the red colour?

The partial eclipse phases are seen as a dark shadow falling across part of the lunar surface, while the rest of the surface maintains its typically bright appearance.  As the eclipse reaches totality, the shadow covers the entire visible surface of the Moon and we see a beautiful, eerie red colour (often referred to by the media as a blood moon.)  This is due to the scattering effect of sunlight passing through the Earth’s atmosphere – blue wavelengths of that light are scattered (that’s how we get a blue sky during daytime) while red wavelengths are “bent” (refracted) by the atmosphere and turn the Earth’s shadow a dark red colour which then falls across the lunar surface during the phases of the eclipse.  Total lunar eclipses can be seen in a range of colours from quite bright, orange-red colours through to dark brown and grey hues.  How deep the moon drifts into the shadow of the Earth is just one factor affecting the colour and brightness of the eclipse.  Atmospheric conditions play a part too.  Aerosols launched high into the atmosphere during the January 2022 eruption of the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcano in Tonga has resulted in months of particularly colourful sunrise and sunset skies above New Zealand.  These effects may well result in a darker eclipse during this November.

Phases of a Total Lunar Eclipse

  • Penumbral eclipse begins.  The Moon enters the outer regions of Earth’s shadow known as the penumbra.  Although technically Moon is a little dimmer during this phase, the casual observer will see little change in the visible appearance of the Moon.
  • Partial eclipse begins.  The Moon is entering the central, darker part of Earth’s shadow known as the Umbra.  To the observer, the Earth’s shadow appears to be “taking a bite” out of the Moon.
  • Total lunar eclipse begins.  The Moon is completely covered by the Earth’s umbral shadow.  The length of totality will vary depending on how deep the Moon travels through the Earth’s shadow.  The Moon will have a red-orange appearance.
  • Greatest eclipse.  This is the middle of the eclipse and occurs when the Moon is deepest into the Earth’s umbral shadow.
  • Total lunar eclipse ends: The Moon starts to exit the umbral shadow.
  • Partial eclipse ends.  The Moon is clear of the Earth’s umbral shadow.  To the naked eye observer, there is little distinction between the end of this phase and the full moon.
  • Penumbral eclipse ends.  The Moon is completely clear of the Earth’s shadow and is once again fully illuminated by direct sunlight.

‘In the Shadow of the Earth’ – 26 May 2021
A composite image showing both Partial and Total phases of a lunar eclipse.
Partial phases: single exposure, 550mm, f/5.5, 1/80s, ISO 100
Nearing totality: single expo
sure, 550mm, f/5.5, 1/6s, ISO 400
Greatest Eclipse: 7-bracket manual exposure blend, 550mm, f/5.5, 1/6 – 10s , ISO 400

Eclipse Timings

The following timings are for Christchurch, New Zealand for the Total Lunar Eclipse starting on Tuesday 8 November 2022 and continuing through midnight to Wednesday 9 November 2022.  Timings for your own specific location can be easily referenced at timeanddate.com

Phase NZDT Direction Altitude
Moonrise 8:09 pm 067°
Penumbral eclipse begins 9:02 pm 058° ENE
Partial eclipse begins 10:09 pm 045° NE 15°
Total eclipse begins 11:16 pm 030° NNE 24°
Greatest eclipse 11:59 pm 019° NNE 27°
Total eclipse ends 00:41 am 008° N 28°
Partial eclipse ends 1:49 am 351° N 28°
Penumbral eclipse ends 2:56 am 334° N 24°

Viewing the Eclipse

For New Zealand observers, the eclipse will get underway not long after the Moon rises above the eastern horizon.  Altitude is measured in degrees with the horizon being 0° and directly overhead (ie the zenith) at 90°.  Anyone with clear skies to the North/Northeast should be able to view the eclipse through its various phases.  For the best views during greatest eclipse, it is recommended to seek out darker skies so that you have a better view of the stars which will also be visible during totality.  Astronomical twilight ends at 10:20pm just after the partial eclipse phase begins so the skies will be dark and unaffected by twilight.

‘Rising Eclipse’ – 19 November 2021
Single exposure:
550mm, f/5.5, 1/30s, ISO 100

Danjon Scale

The Danjon Scale is a simple five-point scale to help describe the appearance, and estimate the visual brightness, of the Moon during a total lunar eclipse.  The difference between each value on the Danjon Scale is equivalent to approximately two stops of light.  The scale is outlined in the following table:

Danjon Value Appearance and Brightness
L=4 Very bright, copper-red or orange eclipse. Umbral shadow has a bluish, very bright rim.
L=3 Brick-red eclipse. Umbral shadow usually has a bright or yellow rim.
L=2 Deep red or rust-colored eclipse. Very dark central shadow, while outer edge of umbra is relatively bright.
L=1 Dark eclipse, grey or brownish in coloration. Details distinguishable only with difficulty.
L=0 Very dark eclipse. Moon almost invisible, especially at greatest eclipse.

Photographic Equipment

The equipment required will vary depending on the type of image you wish to shoot.  As the Moon will be relatively low in the sky, incorporating landscape elements in the foreground may be possible though challenging due to the dynamic range being photographed.

The following guidance assumes the photographer would like to make close-up images of the Moon, capturing the progress of the eclipse including the “blood moon” during totality.

Minimum equipment:
  • DSLR or MILC (or bridge camera with long telephoto capability)
  • Telephoto lens (the diagram below compares images of the full moon at various focal lengths for both full frame and crop sensors)
  • Sturdy tripod
  • Intervalometer (or built-in timer and/or interval function)
  • Headlamp
Recommended equipment:
  • DSLR or MILC
  • Telephoto lens (min. 300mm for a full-frame camera or 200mm on a crop sensor)
  • Tracking mount
  • Intervalometer (or built-in timer and/or interval function)
  • Headlamp

Photography Considerations

  • Exposure values will change significantly throughout each of the phases. Short, fast exposures are required to correctly expose for the Full Moon.  Increasingly longer exposures are required as the Earth’s shadow darkens the Moon’s surface.  As an example, the Full Moon will typically require a shutter speed of 1/500th second.  During the total eclipse phase, expect the required shutter speed to be a lot slower – anywhere from a second or two at a minimum to perhaps even a minute or two.
  • When shooting from a fixed tripod with a telephoto lens (without the aid of a tracking mount) you really need to keep your shutter speed no slower than one second. This should help to avoid blurring of the Moon during the exposure due to the Moon’s own motion.  If your exposures are too dark, widen the aperture and/or increase ISO to compensate.
  • As noted above, the Moon will move through your frame if your camera is mounted to a fixed tripod. The longer the focal length, the faster the apparent motion. Periodically re-centre your composition as the sharpest results will be achieved using the centre of your lens.  (Be careful not to bump your focus when doing so!)
  • If you are using a wide-angle or standard lens, then longer exposure times will be less of an issue. This guide is based on use of something like a 200-300mm focal length – a range many photographers will have in their kit with something like a 70-300mm telephoto lens.  If you have longer focal length available, e.g. a 150-600mm telephoto lens, this will allow you to get better close-ups with the trade-off being your shutter speeds will need to be even faster to avoid motion blur.
  • Bracket exposures to capture the full dynamic range available. For example, the colour of the Earth’s shadow can be revealed in longer exposures during the partial phases of the eclipse (though highlight details will be overexposed).  Taking bracketed exposures will give you full flexibility when processing your images.  Use Spot metering on the sunlit surface during the partial phases then switch to spot metering of the shadowed area as the Moon approaches the total eclipse phase to help in determining the correct exposure.  Alternatively, check your histogram throughout the shoot.
  • Take exposures at regular intervals to record the progress of the eclipse. If you’re looking to blend images later as a multiple exposure, remember the Moon moves its own diameter across the sky every two minutes.  This could be a great way to image the eclipse if you don’t have access to a telephoto lens.  A 24mm lens would be ideal for this sort of project.  Frame your view so that you can photograph the rising Moon in the east (in the lower right corner of the frame) and watch as it rises higher into the sky, moving left through your frame as it does.  A 24mm focal length (or wider) should enable you to photograph most of the complete eclipse sequence (including all partial phases and the total phase.)
  • Use live view at maximum magnification to watch the eclipse in progress. Take your exposures when the Moon is still on the screen – it’s amazing how much even a gentle breeze can cause your lens to move!

Total Lunar Eclipse – 26 May 2021
A manual exposure blend captured during the moments of Greatest Eclipse.

7-bracket manual exposure blend, 550mm, f/5.5, 1/6 – 10s , ISO 400

Camera Settings

Like any other astrophotography, best results will likely be obtained by using the MANUAL modes on your camera.

  • Manual exposure mode
  • Manual focus
  • Lens and in-camera image stabilisation OFF (assuming your camera is on a tripod or tracking mount).
  • Image format: RAW
  • White balance: Daylight (5500K)
  • Metering mode: Spot metering (or refer to histogram)
  • Bracketed exposures (to increase dynamic range).
  • Cable release or intervalometer to operate shutter. Alternatively use the built-in time delay.  You want to minimise any camera movement to ensure sharp results.

Exposure Settings

If you’re a first-time eclipse photographer, I’ve outlined a set of base exposure settings that should give you a good place to start and help you to achieve reasonable exposures.  I’ve suggested using a fixed aperture (f/8 for sharpness) and ISO (800 for a good balance between available shutter speeds and image noise) making shutter speed the only variable to manage during the shoot.  Treat these values as a guideline and vary them as necessary particularly nearing greatest eclipse where you may wish to open your aperture, and increase your ISO, to allow you to increase shutter speed to prevent motion blur caused by trailing of the moon in your image.  Bracketing exposures by up to 3 stops is also recommended.   These figures are referenced from data provided by Fred Espenak at https://www.mreclipse.com/LEphoto/LEphoto.html and match pretty well to my own experiences in photographing lunar eclipses.

Please note that the table is based on adjustments of 1 stop and that the interval between changes reduces approaching totality.  You might wish to make incremental adjustments of 1/2 to 2/3 stop at more frequent intervals.  Once the total eclipse begins though, you’ll have almost 90 minutes to experiment with different settings to get the best shot that you can.

Don’t forget to check your histogram periodically to ensure you are preserving highlight detail where necessary.

Phase Time (NZDT) Aperture Shutter Speed ISO
Full Moon 20:09-21:02 f/8 1/2000 400
Penumbral (Mag 1.0) f/8 1/1000 400
Partial Eclipse 22:09 f/8 1/1000 400
Partial (Mag 0.3) 22:29 f/8 1/500 400
Partial (Mag 0.6) 22:48 f/8 1/250 400
Partial (Mag 0.8) 23:02 f/8 1/125 400
Partial (Mag 0.9) 23:09 f/8 1/60 400
Partial (Mag 0.95) 23:13 f/8 1/30 400
Total Eclipse 23:16 f/8 400
Danjon value L=4 f/8 1 s 400
Danjon value L=3 f/8 4 s 400
Danjon value L=2 f/8 15 s 400
Danjon value L=1 f/8 1 m 400
Danjon value L=0 f/8 4 m 400

Predictions from apps such as Stellarium suggest a Danjon Value of at least 2 for this eclipse.

Tip: referencing the above table, you can see that anything other than bright eclipses require much longer shutter speeds than can be supported shooting using a fixed tripod.  However, opening the aperture 1 stop to f/5.6 and increasing the ISO by 3 stops to ISO 3200 gives you an extra 4 stops of light and allows a corresponding increase in shutter speed to help avoid motion blur.  Knowing the exposure triangle isn’t rocket science (sorry… geeky space pun!) but it will definitely help you getting the best from your gear! 

Partial Lunar Eclipse through clouds. 
An HDR blend of two frames at 300mm, f/5.6, 1/60-0.4s, ISO 400. 
Note the red tones visible in the earth’s shadow. (28 July 2018)


The timing of November’s eclipse (from a New Zealand perspective) means you’ll need to have your gear set-up in the early evening.  Take some test shots of the rising Full Moon to ensure your focus is pin sharp and that your other camera settings are ready to go.  Even better, practice your set-up and techniques during the week before the eclipse so that you can relax a little on the night.

Enjoy the photographic challenges of recording the eclipse but don’t forget to look up and check it out with the naked eye too – it should be a spectacular sight.

Clear skies!

4 thoughts on “A Midnight Eclipse”

  1. Wow Mike, this is so comprehensive – thank you very much for taking the time and effort to give us extra insight and understanding in one place! Shared it with Dan – he’ll love this too 🙂 Heather

  2. Impressive detail and help in this document Mike. Absolutely helpful to everyone.
    Wishing you clear skies and the best of luck.

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