We’ve all seen the moon images available in astronomy textbooks, on websites, in amateur and professional photos alike. The images are amazing, bringing a new aspect to the moon study. There’s something about looking at a moon image that seems to evoke the feeling of being there. For me, looking at moon images has always been a pleasant surprise – and the images captured by amateur astronomers like myself have been used as teaching aids in classes I teach. But there is another way that moon images can help us understand our universe, and that is by using them for research and education purposes.
When studying heavenly bodies, like comets, ice clouds, or other celestial objects, it’s easy to get swept up in technical details. There are also many other factors that come into play, like foreground scattering and dark regions of the sky. All these things can distort or diminish otherwise beautiful moon images. One way to combat this is to look for images taken with a narrow aperture (i.e., f/stop). A narrower aperture allows the camera to capture more light and hence create a brighter image.
When the moon is very close to the horizon, the quality of the photograph will suffer if the camera used is set to a long lens. That’s because the moon has a very small surface area, and a long lens offers a large bright area in front of the moon which is magnified many times over as seen from the moon. To take a good photograph of the moon, a wide angle lens is best. It will let you take a photograph with a wider angle, meaning less loss of detail in the foreground, and a brighter background.
The color temperature of the moon is very important when selecting images. The moon appears to change color when it is either new or full. The colors appear more reddish when the moon is new and bluish when it is full. There are two reasons for this. One is that light from the sun is reflected onto the moon and its reflection is multiplied many times by the moon’s own brightness. The other reason is that as the moon spins, light from the sun is bent on its axis by the moon’s centrifugal force, and the reflected light is redshifted as it travels around the globe.
You will notice that there are times when the moon appears to be moving away from the star or target. This is because the moon’s orbit takes it around the Earth at a different angle to our perspective. When it is near the sweet spot, or high point, the color temperature of the moon is brightest. In this case, the moon appears to be redder than the rest of the sky. This effect is called the moonshine effect.
Another moon photography cheat sheet tip is to try to catch the moon as it sets. If you have a long lens, this is achievable if your camera has an image stabilization system. The camera will temporarily lock onto the moon, so you can capture the long lens craters, mountains, etc. during this short exposure.
Of course, there are other photographic tricks that you can try to enhance your moon images. If you are using a DSLR, you can use the image-shift calculator to determine the phase of the moon. Enter the moon’s position in either Google Maps or your GPS device, and then multiply the number by 3 to get the moon’s phase. Enter the time (in seconds) that you took the photo and then multiply that by the number of seconds it takes to rotate the moon. This will give you a very nice free cheat sheet for moon photos!
The last but not least important tip for moon photography is to use the right settings for your camera. Looney 11 rule states that the ISO setting must be used as high as possible and the shutter speed as low as possible. This holds true for not only professional cameras, but for every camera on the market, since the majority of consumer cameras fall under the same range. By following this basic moon photography tip, you should be able to take some amazing images without going broke.