Loony About Luna

First off, like I said before, I’ve never been able to take a good picture of the moon with my camera (film-based or Point-and-Shoot digital camera). All I get is a white featureless blob:


Moon at 1st Quarter (Auto mode 55mm - ISO6400 F5.6 1/10s)

This one (at left) was shot hand-held through a gap in the leaves of a neighbor’s tree. The moon was at 10 o’clock position in the sky. The camera was set to Auto shooting mode. This is normally what you’ll get.

I’m guessing that the camera’s software averages the available light from the moon against the dark sky (background) and overcompensates. Our eyes are more adaptive, that’s why we can see surface features.

Moon at 1st Quarter (200mm Auto - ISO6400 F3.5 1/15 sec.)

Since the image I got from that shot was small, I replaced the 18-55mm lens with my old Tokina 28-200mm lens (the one I used on my film-based Pentax K-1000) to get a telephoto shot (like a low-powered telescope). I braced the camera on a clothes line for a steady shot (I hoped, the lens is heavy).

I still got the white featureless blob, albeit a more defined shape. At the Auto setting, the camera opted for ISO 6400 with an aperture of 3.5 and using a shutter speed of 1/15 of a second (see image at right). As you can see, the image was still so bright that it casts a “glow”, and washed out surface features. To approximate what our eyes see, I tried decreasing the aperture, or decreasing the ISO, or increase shutter speed (in various combinations).

Shutter Priority (Tv) Mode set at 1/125 sec. (ISO6400 F3.5)

Using the same 200mm lens, I switched to Shutter Priority (Tv) mode and set the shutter speed to 1/125 sec. The glare was reduced and a “hint” of a lunar “sea” can be seen (left photo).

A bit of astronomy lesson here…the moon doesn’t have surface water, but ancient Astronomers mistook the dark areas for bodies of water or seas. Hence, they were given names (in Latin) like Mares Tranquillitatis (Sea of Tranquility – where Apollo 11 landed), Mares Imbrium (Sea of Rains), etc. These dark areas are actually basaltic plains left over from lunar volcanic eruptions back when the moon was still geologically active.

Using built-in Flash (200mm ISO6400 F8 1/125 sec.)

Two nights after, using the same shutter speed and ISO, I adjusted the aperture setting to F8 and tried using the built-in flash. When using the flash, I think the camera gets the exposure more accurately (see image at right). I got more detail but since I didn’t use a tripod, the image was a little blurred. You’ll also notice that the background isn’t black but very dark blue. Pretty close to the real color of the night sky when the moon is out.

I mounted the camera on a tripod (no flash this time) and started experimenting again. I tried several combinations of aperture, shutter speeds, and ISO ratings, but didn’t get a decent shot worth mentioning. The best I was able to come up with was when I tried using the autobracketing feature. This feature lets you make a base setting (ISO, shutter speed and aperture), define the bracket value. This tells the camera to take one shot “over exposed” by a specified value, say, 1 step (from the base setting), and another one “under exposed” by same value.

1st Quarter Moon (200mm ISO6400 F16 1/40 sec. +1.7 step)

As you can see, the image (left) isn’t as sharp as I had hoped for. I guessed that the high ISO setting (ISO6400) gave the image a “grainy” look. That’s the down side of using very high ISO, the sensitivity subjects itself to more “noise”.

Although, compared to the images so far, this one really showed more details. The dark splotches are the lunar “seas”. You could also see faint craters. And a particularly large crater near the left side of the image, just below the terminus. (The terminus divides the night or unlit side, with the day or the side facing the sun.)

I got really excited with this one. And, given that I was only using a 200mm lens, not a telescope, the resulting image really made me anticipate the next shots I would be taking.

Needless to say, I had to take several shots of the moon over the next several days trying out different ISO values, F-stops, shutter speeds, and other features of the camera (e.g. White Balance, Bracketing, etc.)

The following day, January 25th, was a cloudy night. The moon just “peeked” through small gaps in the cloud cover. So, I opted to wait another night hoping that the sky would be clearer by then.

ISO400 F13 1/8 sec.

As luck would have it, it was a clearer sky on the 26th of January. So, half h after arriving home, I set up the tripod and the camera, and fitted the 200mm lens once more. I set the ISO setting to 6400, the aperture to F3.5, and starting with 1/20 sec. exposure. I got the white featureless blob again, so I decided to go to the other side of the sensitivity scale and set the ISO to 200, the aperture to 22, and the shutter speed to 1/30. Well, I got the exact opposite–the image was so dark it might as well have been a moonless night–all black. At 1/20 of a second, there was a faint image. At 1/13, the image was more visible but still dark. I tried decreasing the shutter speed until I got the image on the left at 1/8 of a second.

After that “round”, I increased the ISO rating to 400 and started with F3.5 and a shutter speed of 1/4 of a second. The image looked a little blurred, so I opted for a shutter speed of 1/5 of sec. and got a better image (not shown here).

ISO400 F10 1/13 sec., Bright Image tone, High Shadow Correction

My usual shooting sequence was: after setting the ISO, I start with either the lowest aperture (3.5, the widest lens opening), and try the slowest (either 0.3 seconds or 1/4 second). If the image is too bright at that setting, I increase the shutter speed 2 or 3 notches faster until I get a visible image. Then I increase the shutter speed successively, taking a shot at every setting, until the image goes a two (2) settings darker than the best combination thus far. If at that aperture setting, all the image are no good, I adjust the aperture, 2 stops higher (i.e. smaller opening), and start at the last shutter speed I used, and gradually decreasing the shutter speed until the image is a featureless, defined, white blob again. For example, at ISO200, F8, I start with a shutter speed of 1/4, and I get a bright whhite blob, I try faster shutter speeds until I get an image once removed from a white blob.

Daylight White Balance (1/80 sec.)

Shade White Balance (1/80 sec.)

Cloudy White Balance

Warm White Flourescent Light White Balance

Daylight White Flourescent White Balance

Cool White Flourescent White Balance

Tungsten White Balance

Flash White Balance

CTE White Balance

Manual White Balance

The Next Lunar Cycles

I’ll update this page in the future. Thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoyed reading this.

1 thought on “Loony About Luna”

  1. Nice work

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