Moonshot

by Alan Godfrey March. 11, 2021 110 views

How many people getting into photography haven't, at some point, looked up at the moon on a spectacularly clear evening and thought about getting a shot?

And how many have subsequently realised that it's not that easy...

When I first bought a telephoto lens with decent reach, one of my first thoughts was to see if I could use it to capture a decent photograph of the moon - and one evening soon after the sky was clear and the moon shone brightly. I grabbed my camera and tried to take a shot handheld. It was a complete disaster. Focusing was surprisingly difficult for something so far away, but more than anything camera shake was unworkable.

So after a little bit of research, a few evenings later I was back - this time with a tripod!

Moon, single image, May 2019.

Moon, single image, May 2019.

It's the best image that I've managed to date, and I learned a lot through the process - but of course, I am not fully happy and hope to get a better shot at a later date.

Things that I learned along the way:

  • A tripod was essential, in order to even hope to get a sharp shot, but even then there was more work to do.
  • Keeping the tripod, and lens, as still as possible was a challenge - even with a sturdy tripod. Micro vibrations could clearly be seen as having a noticeable impact on focus, so as much time was spent on making the tripod as secure and steady as possible, using remote shutter release, as fast a shutter speed as possible, and taking multiple shots - than in composing the image itself!
  • Using Live View, and zooming in, was essential to fine tune manual focus. Despite being so far away, you can't just focus at infinity, and autofocus isn't going to be reliable enough in this situation.
  • You want to avoid a full-moon, as it will represent peak "glare". Something slightly off full will give more interesting shadow features on the surface and reduce this impact.
  • Even with everything else perfect, the diffraction effect of the atmosphere will reduce the sharpness of your final image. One way around this is to take multiple shots and focus-stack them in post-processing to get the sharpest final result.

Hindsight

For my own personal image feedback, that last item is one that I became aware of more recently and hadn't known about at the time. I'm not a huge fan of elaborate post-processing; but in this case this is a relatively simple step and would appear to be worth it - so I'll be building that in next time.

The telephoto lens that I used for this shot was a Tamrom 70 - 300mm @ 300mm. As I've mentioned before, this lens is sadly known for not being particularly sharp at the 300mm end anyway - but the biggest take-away for me is that to create the image above I've cropped in essentially by a factor of x5. For my reference then, to create the same image without cropping would have needed about a 1500mm reach! Some level of cropping - particularly with a sharper original image - would be fine; but this at least puts into context the difference between what I thought I needed and what I'd actually need...

Settings above were: 1/160 sec at f/8.0, ISO 400.

If I recall, I was using f/8.0 to try to hit a sweet spot for sharpness for the lens and overcome it's limitations; and retaining a high-ish shutter speed despite using a tripod in order to minimise the residual shake.

Budget-wise, I'm unlikely to ever own a lens that could reach closer to 1500mm even with teleconverters, but get an f-stop lower than f/8.0; so my main development point as a take-away would be to aim for a slower shutter-speed, to get ISO closer to 100, and then using multiple images focus-stacked to offset any remaining softness.

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Rachele Schneekloth 2 weeks, 2 days ago

Beautiful shot!!!

2 weeks, 2 days ago Edited
Alan Godfrey Replied to Rachele Schneekloth 2 weeks, 1 day ago

Thank you :)

2 weeks, 1 day ago Edited
Benny Law 1 month ago

Thanks for sharing the lessons you learned. One hard lesson I have learned with the use of a tripod is to remember to turn off the optical stabilization feature of the lens. It's counter-intuitive, but it does matter. I also find it necessary to use spot metering when shooting the moon. Your advice to not shoot a full moon is a good one.

1 month ago Edited
Alan Godfrey Replied to Benny Law 1 month ago

Ah yes, that's a really good point on the lens optical stabilisation - I had heard that before. I hadn't heard about spot metering - that's really helpful, thank you!

1 month ago Edited
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