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The 99% Full Moon

The moon is notoriously difficult to photograph well when it's full (or nearly so), because the even illumination hides all the details normally revealed by shadows. However, in hopes of catching tomorrow's total eclipse with clear skies, I spent much of the night practising the ways of photographing the full moon. (In vain, it turned out to be cloudy, but at least I'll be ready some years from now when the next one comes... Damn it.)

 

Technical details follow, normal people can stop reading and just admire the moon. =)

  

This is (perhaps) the best of many shots, taken with a Fujigawa 750mm f/4.9 Newtonian reflector, a self-made telescope-to-M42-adapter ring, a Komura Telemore95 2x teleconverter, a DIY camera remote release cord, and a Sony DSLR-A100 digital camera (with M42 adapter). With this equipment, the moon fills the frame vertically (to take the shot I needed to position the moon a bit outside the frame or it would drift over the edge during the 2 second self-timer required for mirror lock-up on this camera).

 

This exposure was 1/160s at ISO 400; after extensive testing of different combinations, I determined that having a fast shutter speed was essential to get the most detailed shots, despite the additional noise at higher sensitivities. A stable tripod and the remote release cord are absolutely essential at these focal lengths, and the mirror lock-up must be used to combat shake (in my camera it is activated by using the 2 second self-timer). With shorter and/or faster lenses you could make do with ISO 200 or ISO 100, but the longer your lens the more important it is to get a fast shutter speed (shake and movement are magnified along with the moon).

 

Also, when shooting with a variable-aperture lens (i.e. almost anything other than a telescope or mirror lens), don't stop down too much. A setting one stop down from tha fastest available is almost certainly enough (or two if your lens isn't sharp by then)... it's not like you need a lot of depth of field, just accurate infinity focus. The accurate focus can either be achieved by lots of shots of the moon (observe crater shadows and try to obtain best sharpness there) or you can focus on stars first if you find that easier.

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Taken on February 20, 2008