The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

finally shunned

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It’s National Water Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Continuing my week of presenting photos of non horrible subjects, today here’s a few shots of the moon. One will state this unequivocally – getting an ok shot of the moon is hard. The thing is moving across the sky a lot faster than you think it is, and from an exposure triangle point of view – it’s about half as bright as the sun and set against a background that’s darker than Satan’s beard. You need to account for the rotation of the earth, as well as the orbital pathway which the satellite itself is racing through. Then… you’ve also got the issue of trying to fill the frame.

I like a challenge, of course, but lining up all the gear you need to accomplish the shot (tripods, lenses etc.) and doing the exposure math first is a real bugger. It ain’t exactly “click” and then I got it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The moon without environmental context is challenging, and if you’ve got it once you’ve pretty much conquered that mountain. Setting exposure for the moon posed against the landscape is another bannana entirely. The “proper” way to do it, and the manner in which a lot of those shots you see from Jersey City showing the Statue of Liberty and the lower Manhattan skyline with a perfect looking moon and sky behind them is basically “exposure stacking,” meaning you do two or more shots and then combine them in photoshop. It’s a variation of the technique which is used for product and macro shots where you move the point of focus around in the frame across multiple exposures to compensate for depth of field blurriness and then combine them into one super sharp image.

Without exposure stacking, you get something like what you see above, with the moon taking on the appearance of a dim midnight sun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Getting the moon’s aura is one of the hardest things to capture, at least for me. The light frequencies of the aura are operating at the very edge of human visual perception as it is, and you need to catch just the right weather conditions for it to be visible to the camera. Were the moon static… you’d be able to just do a long exposure and institute the exposure stacking technique, but with my equipment catalog there’s just a few seconds available to me before the motion of the planet and the satellite “smears” the shot.

There’s a relationship – mathematically – between focal length, aperture, and sensor size. If you were to google the term “astrophotography” you’d find that it’s quite a speciality and there’s all sorts of techniques and specialized gear involved. Intriguingly, there’s actually mechanical tripod heads which can track the movement of your celestial target and keep the camera aimed at it, but that’s not the sort of thing I can justify investing time and treasure in.

As it turns out, in the midst of writing this post, a nicely written and quite descriptive piece – discussing astrophotography related technical matters, techniques, and device settings – from lonelyspeck.com, appeared in one of my RSS feeds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If anyone reading this is interested in diving into trying to photograph the night sky, and you’re on the eastern coast of North America or in particular New York City, the disadvantages are both anthropogenic and naturally generated environmental in nature. “Dark sky” as it’s known, doesn’t exist here due to light pollution. There’s all sorts of vibration in the ground from traffic and subways, and the oceanic influence on the air means that there’s always a certain amount of humidity creating atmospheric diffusion. The best nights for shooting the moon in NYC are the worst ones to be outside – when it’s wicked cold and utterly clear.

You’ll need a “bright lens” and a sturdy tripod, and I’d recommend a shutter release cable of some kind so you don’t have to touch the camera which causes shake and vibration. Additionally, autofocus should be avoided, do it manually. The moon isn’t terribly contrasted, color wise, and your camera’s autofocus will just hunt back and forth seeking something to lock onto.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 22, 2017 at 1:00 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Mitch: What was the focal length of the lens for the first photo? The big moon shot?

    georgetheatheist . . "how hight the moon"

    March 22, 2017 at 5:15 pm


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