I was going to continue on writing about the Paris trip and finish the last part. I guess I will leave it for another day. On the way back from our friend’s house after dinner last night, I saw the moon and thought I should take another shot at it. It’s not even a full moon, but was one day after half-full. The sky was clear.
Previously, I had a post about shooting the moon when I was in Venice but wasn’t well prepared at that time. This time I was at home with everything I needed, including the tripod and remote release to reduce camera shakes. I wanted to give it another shot.
I knew from the experience that Auto/Semi-Auto exposure mode on the camera won’t do any good for this kind of shots. Because the metering system would just fail to guess what you’re shooting for. However, I shot one in semi-auto mode anyway to show you what it thought right but failed. Exposure settings are at f/5.6 @ 1/2.5s @ ISO 200. As you can see, 99% of the moon surface detail are lost.
Then I changed to Manual exposure mode. I knew it needed to be under-exposed a lot so tried 1/80s which was -5 ev as a start. Then tried -5 1/3, -6, -6 2/3, etc. Loaded them up to the computer, picked the best one that’s not too dark but not too bright to lose the detail I wanted, and applied a couple of minor fixes due to my gears’ limitation.
First, I needed to crop it. The lens is 200mm DX which is equivalent to 300mm on a full frame body. But it’s still not long enough to produce enough zoom. The moon looks pretty small in the picture. So I cropped it from 4288×2848 to 1024×683. An 12MP (mega pixel) image became a 7MP one. This is one of the cases that a high mega pixel camera comes in handy. A few years ago, using a 6MP or 8MP camera wasn’t able to do this, unless you could afford a 600mm lens that cost $10,000 (USD). With a 12MP camera (like my Nikon D5000; and of course, the more pixels, the better), you can crop the image really tight on the subject and still can produce good enough quality for web sites. (For prints, it’s a different story.)
Second thing I fixed was the white balance. Because I needed to under-expose and also due to the atmosphere refraction of sunlight, the color of moon tends to be a bit yellowish. So changed the white balance to a bit cooler to your taste. Mine in the final image is 3300K. Now it looks more like a rock, instead of a sponge cake.
Last thing to fix: chromatic aberration. When zooming in to 120%, the chromatic aberration at the edge of the moon was quite obvious. This is due to the quality of the lens. I was using 55-200mm DX VR — not really a superb lens that I can brag about. It does a good job for vacation photos. But in this case, it shows it’s limitation.
The setting on this final image is: f/5.6 @ 1/100 @ ISO 200, which is -5 1/3 ev under-exposed.
There are definitely rooms for improvement: It is still not sharp enough for my taste. It requires better lens and better body (mainly the sensor in the body), and 21MP would be nice. If you have better idea about the techniques, please let me know.
This was also a challenge during the shooting. As I was shooting at late night in my backyard beside the lawn, although being there for only 5 minutes, I became an easy target of mosquitos. I think they were having a party on me. As soon as I got enough shots I wanted, I grabbed all the gears and escaped back into the house.
Update July 15th: Tonight it’s full moon. To make this post complete, I figured I should put in more efforts. And this time I was also more prepared – wearing jeans and long sleeve shirt. But I was still inevitably bombarded and got bit on the forehead. I guess good thing always comes with a price.
This time the settings were quite different: f/6.3 @ 1/250 @ ISO 200, white balance adjusted to 3000K. I reckon it’s because the moon surface is brighter at full moon, hence it needs under-exposed more to compensate. I was also surprised at the “loss” of surface detail comparing to the half moon. Then I realize when the sun, the moon and you are at zero degree, you won’t see the shadow of the craters. Thus the image looks plain. Versus when at half moon, the sun, the moon and you are at 90 degrees. The contrast created by the shadow of the craters makes the image look clearer and sharper. So how do I make full moon image more interesting? The secret is to play with Contrast and Definition in post processing (I’m using Aperture 3). Increase them a little bit to suite your taste. And this is what I get:
Copyright © 2011 Jenson Yu. All rights reserved.