Staying Up Late for the 2021 Lunar Eclipse

Staying Up Late for the 2021 Lunar Eclipse

November 19th, 2021, 1:59 a.m. – 3:03 a.m. local time

As of this writing, I have now photographed four eclipses.  The first was the 2017 North American Solar Eclipse.  A few months later was the January 2018 Lunar Eclipse, followed a year after that by the January 2019 Lunar Eclipse.  Today, I bring you the fourth chapter in this ongoing epic, the 97% Lunar Eclipse of November 2021.

Each eclipse had its own character.  The ’17 Solar was the Media’s obsession for the time, fanfare which I tried to ignore.  Despite the overcast day, I did get to enjoy it from my backyard.  The ’18 Lunar was the first time I questioned my sanity of trying to take sky photographs at 5:30 a.m. with the temperature way below freezing.  January 2019 was little different twelve months later, though I consider that eclipse my personal favorite due to the Moon’s striking red reflection that evening.

November 2021’s Lunar Eclipse was very similar to January 2019’s, the most notable difference being that the red was nowhere near as vibrant as in ’19.  This eclipse presented the most logistical difficulty, reaching its peak around 3 a.m. local time, on a weekday/work night.  I shifted my sleep schedule just enough to accommodate the early morning spectacle.

I approached the photography setup for this Lunar Eclipse differently than the two prior.  In 2018 and 2019, I simply used my digital camera on tripod with my longest lens.  Here, for the first time I used my big Dobsonian telescope, with my best eyepiece and my iPhone attached via mount to the eyepiece.  This method of photography is called afocal.  I decided on this approach because of my success last week imaging the Crescent Moon.

Regardless of the equipment setup, photographing an eclipse is different from any standard, “normal” phase of the Moon.  Whether Crescent, Gibbous, or Full, assuming a clear sky, those phases provide repeatable exposure and ISO settings month after month.  An early Crescent may need more exposure to harness the weak light, whereas a Full Moon, the brightest, will have you dialing back both your ISO and exposures.  You will be able to leverage those same settings, more or less, about 27 days later.

An eclipse is unique in that the light and dark surface shadings can be highly variable.  It made for challenging exposures, especially as the Eclipse reached its maximum.  A brilliant side shine along with the reflection aura of the remaining surface demands the photographer to decide which of the two brightnesses to adjust for.  Of the subsequent images, over about an hour of imaging, I did my best to provide the best exposure for the stage.

My first set of images started just before 2 a.m., an hour before the Eclipse’s peak.  Here is my best first picture showing the Earth’s arcing shadow.

Moon with Earth’s shadow on November 19th, 2021, 01:59 CT.

This is clearly a non-normal crescent shape for the Moon’s surface.  Key is that you do not see any crater shadows at the light and dark delimiter.  That shadow, remarkably, is from the entire Earth!  Our planet made this huge shadow.  During a normal Crescent Moon, the delimiter is due to the Sun’s light shining from one side to the other of the Moon’s surface, which allows those wonder glimpses of the craters (like Theophilus).  In this case, during the Eclipse, the Sun’s rays were effectively straight on from our vantage, and hence we see no surface shadows at all.

Ten minutes later, the Earth’s shadow encroached upon the light side significantly:

Moon with Earth’s shadow on November 19th, 2021, 02:10 CT.

Did I mention yet that it was cold?  Yes, the temperature was around 25 degrees Fahrenheit.  Thankfully, unlike 12 hours before, there was no wind, and the sky was completely clear, so no snow flurries.  Still, it was really cold for me, and I had to go back inside my house from time to time to warm up by fingers and toes.

I returned to my telescope approximately a half hour later.  Looking up, the Sun’s surface reflection was barely a sliver.  Here is where the exposure challenges really came into play.  You can see, in this next image, how I over-exposed the surface shine to emphasize the emerging reddish glow across the rest of the Moon’s surface.

Moon with Earth’s shadow on November 19th, 2021, 02:36 CT.

If you are an acute observer, you will notice a tiny light dot to the right of the Moon.  Looking up the exact time and position in Stellarium, this speck is a star in the Constellation Taurus known as V1124 Tau.  I will be discussing wider observations of this morning sky in future articles.

The Moon and V1124 Tau as shown in Stellarium.

Around 15 minutes later, the final Eclipse form of the Moon was obvious.  By this time, I knew the Moon’s reddish glow would be nowhere near as vibrant as I observed in January 2019.  It was still, however, a unique site worth the time.

Moon with Earth’s shadow on November 19th, 2021, 02:52 CT.

At 3:03 a.m. the Moon was 97% covered, with only the thinnest yet sharp brightness touching the Moon at the lower left.

Moon with Earth’s shadow on November 19th, 2021, 03:03 CT.

I continued observing and imaging for another 5 minutes, but there was not much change after this.  If this had been the Summer on a weekend morning, I would have happily observed a few more hours and taken more pictures.  But by this time, I knew I had to force myself to sleep.  And so I brought my scope back inside, packed up my equipment, and downloaded all 100+ raw images from my iPhone to my computer.  Before going to sleep, near 4 a.m., I took a final peak at the Moon out my window.  Surface shine was gradually returning but still had a long way to go.

As alluded above, there will be a few follow-up articles on this session’s events.  I wanted to keep the focus here squarely on the Eclipse itself.  More is forthcoming!

Telescope and photography settings:

  • 254mm Dobsonian (homemade)
  • Exposure – variable as needed per eclipse stage
  • ISO – variable as needed per eclipse stage
  • Q70 32mm eyepiece (2.00″)
  • iPhone XS with NightCap app on eyepiece mount
  • Touchups in PaintShop Pro and AfterShot Pro


I write frequently about astrophotography, technology advice, and my other interests like science fiction. I have over 30 years of experience in computer programming, information technology, and project management.

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