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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shoot The Moon

When the sun sets and the rest of the photographers pack up for the night, you can get some of the most stunning and unique images

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Rising full moon from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park. Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II set at ISO 100 with a 1/2 sec. exposure at ƒ/14.
Keeping Warm
I never want the temperature to cause me to rush or to drive me for shelter when I’d otherwise be shooting. Since I prefer being far too warm to just a little too cold, I always dress for the projected overnight low for the area I’ll be shooting. This is most important for sunrise shoots, as the lowest temperature is usually right around sunrise.

On particularly cold nights and mornings, I wear a thin pair of wind-resistant gloves under a thick pair of warm, fingerless gloves. This keeps my hands warm while retaining enough feel to manage my camera’s buttons and dials. A wool hat that covers my ears is another important part of my nighttime wardrobe. Hat and gloves all fit nicely in the pocket of my down jacket or vest if I get too warm.

Do Your Homework
There are only a handful of days each month when the moon’s phase and position are ideal for photography. Because the moon’s arrival, departure and location change significantly each night, it’s important to anticipate, not react. If you see the moon on your way home from work and think, wow, I’ll have to get out tomorrow night to shoot that, you’re too late.

Many resources are available to help you determine the moon’s phase and position. Most GPS devices provide this information, as do many websites. One site with all the phase and position info I need is www.usno.navy.mil/USNO/astronomical-applications. Applying this site’s lunar altitude and azimuth information to my National Geographic Topo software (other map applications will do the same thing), I can calculate exactly when and where the moon will rise and set from any location on earth. Don’t forget that moonrise/set and sunrise/set times are based on a flat horizon—you’ll need to account for anything (mountains, trees, buildings) between you and the horizon.

If these kinds of computations sound daunting, don’t despair—simply knowing moonrise and moonset relative to sunrise and sunset, and the general direction (east or west) is enough to get started. And many iPhone apps offer astronomical data.

Focalware gives me all the information I need to instantly (albeit approximately) locate the moon from wherever I am. Regardless of the approach you take, the more you do it, the better you’ll become at finding the moon when and where you want it.

Photographing A Full Moon

A full moon is directly opposite the sun, with the earth in between, rising in the east as the sun sets in the west. But I like to capture detail in both moon and foreground—a sun that sets as the moon rises rarely leaves enough light to capture foreground detail without overexposing the moon. The best time to photograph detail in the lunar disk is when the sun and moon are both low on the horizon and the moon is nearly full—easy if you know how.

As the moon cycles through its phases, it rises and sets roughly one hour later each night. That means the day before a full moon, when the moon is more than 95% full, it rises in the east shortly before sunset. That extra hour or so provides ample time to photograph a nearly full moon suspended in the east above a landscape glowing with warm, late light.

Similar reasoning applies when the scene you want to photograph requires the moon’s disk in the western sky. Since the moon sets an hour (or so) later each day, you can count on a nearly full moon on the western horizon a little after sunrise the day following a full moon.

Exposing to balance detail in the foreground against detail in the full moon’s disk is sometimes difficult. Trial and error will help you find the brightest exposure that doesn’t overexpose the moon. I have blinking highlights turned on in my digital camera, but have to look very close to see them in the moon.

Shooting RAW, I’m comfortable exposing up to a stop beyond the point where the highlights start to blink, then recovering the highlights in postprocessing. Sometimes I process the RAW image twice—once for the foreground and once for the moon—then blend them in Photoshop. Since it’s the same image, I never need to worry about everything lining up.


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