Did you take pictures of the recent full moon? The media coverage of the moon at perigee encouraged many to turn their cameras to the sky with varying results. Were you happy with your pictures? Yes? Great. No? Even better. I believe I can always take a better picture, but it involves a bit of work and introspection.
Look closely at your pictures. Working through a list of photographic and artistic ideas after any photo session will help you take even better pictures next time you approach the same subject.
- Exposure - Did your moon picture come out too bright or too dark? Since most moon pictures are taken at night your first impulse might be towards using a long exposure. The full moon is much brighter than you might expect and letting too much light into your camera will wash out the crater details. Think about how to control the light that enters your camera.
- Focus - Auto focus is a wonderful invention, but is limited at night. Knowing where to point your camera and how to lock in the auto focus takes practice. Manually focusing, if your camera is capable might be the best approach for moon photography.
- The moon is moving - Actually the earth is the problem, spinning at over 1,000 miles per hour, a fact made obvious when shooting the moon as it rises above the horizon. A long exposure will elongate the moon. The proper short exposure will keep it round and reveal details.
- Composition - Including other subjects with the moon can add interest and context. Objects on the horizon can tell the story of where you are on the earth. Silhouettes of birds and planes can add that extra wow to your picture. Point of view may be the most important aspect to think about before taking any picture and it has nothing to do with camera settings.
- Camera mode - Did you take the picture in Auto mode letting the camera decide what setting to use? To help your camera know what you are shooting, change to an appropriate mode. I take positive control and shoot my moon pictures using all manual settings.
- Noise - Does your picture show a mottled texture of the sky. Electronics in the camera can induce this grain or noise in your picture especially during low light night photography. Keeping your ISO setting low is one way to minimize noise, again a setting best to choose yourself.
Tools to help improve your photography.
- Vocabulary - Learning and understanding the terms used in the art of photography goes a long way in helping you approach analysis. Knowing exactly how terms like exposure, depth-of-field and noise apply to photography is key.
- Equipment - Did the super moon come out much smaller in your pictures than you thought it would? You iPhone is limited to a short fixed length lens. A telephoto lens will help bring that moon closer. This is a time when a higher megapixel camera will allow you to crop and enlarge your moon picture. And, the longer your telephoto lens, the more important it is to use a tripod.
- EXIF data - A useful tool is embedded in every digital photograph you take. It is a complete list of all the camera settings used when that picture was taken plus the date and time and, for some cameras, the location on the planet you took that picture. In my father's day, he was forced to write down the camera settings for every picture he took to be able to review his work after the film was developed. This valuable information is now easily accessed in both your camera and computer.
- Software - Beyond the obvious photo manipulation applications, there are free programs to help you predict where and when celestial objects, such as the sun and moon will align with landmarks and each other. You can be in the right place at the right time with your camera. It is all about composition.
The moon will be full again next month, only 2% less bright and no less photogenic. Our perceived moon brightness is more dependent on atmospheric conditions than how close it is and the size difference is barely perceptable. Look for it every night. Lit from the side, the quarter and crescent moons have their own appeal and display much more surface texture.
It takes only a little practice to take better pictures of our natural satellite. It is a willing model. Our home town bears its name! The opportunities are endless. Practice shooting the moon and all your photos will improve.
Shameless plug: I teach a digital photography class for the Half Moon Bay Recreation Department. A new Intermediate class begins this Thursday, May 10 at 6:30pm and there is space available. A new Basic Digital Photography class starts June 7.
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