Over The Moon

Belated Posting! I just discovered this gem of a post sitting in draft form, sadly forgotten so I hope you might find it of interest a year and a bit later.


This week’s blog post has us looking back to the night of September 28th. Week 37 of the Photo Inspiration Challenge was titled “Over The Moon” and as it so happened, there were three lunar events coinciding on this one special night!

First off, a lunar eclipse was expected that night and would last between 72 minutes and 3 hours (depending on when you started your count – pre-eclipse to post-eclipse or the active eclipse itself). Secondly, it was also going to be a Harvest Moon meaning the full moon closest to the Equinox, and finally it was a “Super Moon”. Super moons happen about 4-6 times per year and are called this as they appear 7% larger since their orbit runs a bit closer to earth than usual. How much closer you ask? Well about 221,000 km versus the typical 239,000 km.

This particular combination of lunar events (at least a super moon and lunar eclipse coinciding) isn’t thought to happen again until 2033, and the one that occurred on September 28 2015 was the first since 2008. So not wanting to wait another 18 years for this shot I started doing some research and prep on how to take photos of the moon.

Across the web I found a lot of different suggestions for how to get good moon shots. They were all similar in nature however so I chalked up the discrepancies to different camera makes/models and lenses. The jist of it is, you want a wide angle or telephoto lens if possible (unless of course you’re not looking to just get a straight shot at the moon). Remember it’s really really really far away so you’ll need something with a decent zoom. Or the biggest Super Moon in the history of the world. I’m having flashbacks to Bruce Almighty where Jim Carey plays God and reels the moon in nice and close. But short of having deity-like abilities to play with nature’sΒ  set-up, a good zoom lens should do just fine.

As for your accessories, the essentials (and I mean that quite sincerely) include a tripod and remote control shutter release. Not to beat a dead horse with this or anything but again, the moon is really far away! Any little shimmy or shake of the hand or even finger on the shutter release could impact the crispness of your shot in a major way. At first I had my setup on the front porch since it had a clearer shot of the moon (prior to the eclipse starting) and even just my walking around the tripod gave it a bit of blur. Another accessory that was recommended to me (but I cant justify it at the moment) was something called a “loop”. Its a small handheld magnifying tool so you can check the details of your shot right on the LCD screen without having to zoom in or handle the camera too much. I set up early and took some practice shots which I then brought inside to check, otherwise the zoom option on playback worked just fine for my purposes!

Other items that could fall under the ‘accessories’ title would include a nice warm jacket (because holy Moses it cools down quickly!), thin gloves for touching up settings between shots, and a chair. Luckily since I was able to get these shots from my country home, I pulled a kitchen chair out into the yard with me. Being of bar height it was ideal for what I needed it for. I could see and manage the camera without having to get up too much!

However that being said, the moon does change positions a lot in the course of one evening, and since it was a lunar eclipse, with every new position came a new level of brightness. This meant adjusting my settings on an almost continuous basis. I set myself up with the remote to take a picture every minute or two as the moon moved across the field of view. I would have to readjust here and there to make sure the focus was still properly set and every few pictures I would check the shots and adjust the aperture/ISO as needed.

Most bloggers tended to recommend an exposure less than 40 seconds, the widest aperture your camera can handle, and an ISO of around 400. These were the settings I started with during my set up and quickly realized it wasn’t so simple.

Enter shot #1 :

Settings: F/22, Exposure ~ 30 seconds, ISO ~ 400, Aperture ~ 5, White Balance ~ Auto

Okay so maybe next up on the blog, star trails or light painting? But not our purpose here tonight so back to the settings menu I go for round 2!

Settings: F/8, Exposure ~ 1/60 seconds, ISO ~ 200, Aperture ~ 5, White Balance ~ Auto

Now we’re getting somewhere.

That’s when I thought we’d complicate things a little. Well not really but we added a second camera that created an added challenge of having to readjust settings. Since my zoom lens does not have a strong zoom, I wasn’t sure how well it would handle moon shots. The few off the cuff ones I’ve tried in the past were never very good but at the same time I hadn’t been trying intentionally to get them, nor were they super moons. So just in case I enlisted the help of my sister by borrowing her Canon with zoom lens as a backup. I set up both cameras on tripods next to each other for the same shot, but the Canon’s lens really did have a much stronger zoom than my trusty Nikon. The credit for this of course goes to the lens and not necessarily the make of camera. Just for the record!


The challenge, however, that I was referring to was getting used to the settings and modes of the Canon after almost a year with a Nikon. As similar as they may be in terms of photographic outcomes, the use of them and sensitivity is very different. Part of this is because the Canon is an older model than my Nikon, but also that the Canon is probably a model or two above mine in terms of sensitivity. Also, with my Nikon I have a better feel for it so could better guess which way to adjust the settings with each new shot or perspective, but with the Canon it was more of a true guess in that I had no frickin clue what I was doing. Since the Canon’s zoom lens wasn’t compatible with my Nikon camera body, I had no choice after a while but to abandon my Nikon and focus my attention on the Canon….I went to the dark side. But here I found my groove.

In the end I came away with many MANY moon shots, most of which were deleted as superfluous, but I got what I was going for. Photographs of the eclipse as it happened.

IMG_1231It was just as the sky went black with complete coverage that the clouds rolled in above us and we were deprived the sight of the blood moon and post-eclipse shots. But in all honesty, by this point I had been sitting outside staring at the moon or my camera for almost 4 hours so I wasn’t crying any tears over having to head in to the warmth of my bed!

All in all it was a great experience and certainly an educational one! I hope you managed at least a quick peek yourself, but if not enjoy mine!


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