Many travel and landscape photographers, including myself, try to avoid shooting scenery with a clear blue sky. As much as we like seeing puffy or stormy clouds to spice up our photographs, we have no control over what the nature provides each day. Sometimes we get lucky and capture beautiful sunrises and sunsets with blood red skies, and other times we are stuck with a clear, boring sky. When I find myself in such a situation and I know that the next morning will be clear, I sometimes explore opportunities to photograph the stars and the Milky Way at night. I am sure you have been in situations where you got out at night in a remote location and saw an incredibly beautiful night sky with millions of stars shining right at you, with patches of stars in a “cloudy” formation that are a part of the Milky Way. If you do not know how to photograph the night sky and the Milky Way, this guide might help you in understanding the basics.
If you love astrophotography, today (06/23/2013) you will witness a unique event called “The Supermoon”, where the moon will not only be full, but will also appear larger than normal. If the skies are clear and you are lucky to see the moon, this will be a great time to get out and try some moon photography. If you have never done it before, you might be wondering what camera gear and settings you should use in order to capture the moon in its full glory. In this short article, I will give advice on how to photograph the Supermoon and explain some of the steps involved in the process.
What is a Supermoon?
A Supermoon is a name given to a somewhat rare event, when the moon is new or “full”, and it is physically at its closest point to our planet. As the moon rotates in its elliptical orbit around the Earth, there are two points that astronomers marked with names: “lunar perigee”, which is the the point of the closest distance of the moon to our planet at 363,104 kilometers, and “lunar apogee”, which is the point of the farthest distance of the moon from our planet at 405,696 kilometers. So when lunar perigee coincides with a new moon, which normally happens several times a year, the “Supermoon” can appear up to 13% larger and 30% brighter compared to a full moon at lunar apogee. Although the Supermoon can be seen several times a year, only one of those is usually the most “super”, meaning it is the fullest and the closest of them all. And that date for 2013 happens to be June 23.
How to capture the Supermoon
Without going into all kinds of unnecessary details, let’s get down to business and talk about how to actually photograph the moon.
With Nikon offering a niche D800E camera (which, against some expectations, will likely prove to be very popular) next to its mainstream model, the D800, Canon has decided, after a 7 year break, to take a similar step with the introduction of a modified Canon 60D model, the 60Da. Seven years ago Canon brought 20Da, a modified version of a popular Canon 20D DSLR. 20Da was, essentially, the same camera with a different IR filter and added live view functionality which, while having severe limitations at that time (inability to function in a bright environment), was very useful when manually focusing on stars at night. Changes to IR filter made the camera about 2.5 times more sensitive to Hydrogen Alpha wavelenght (approx. 656nm), which helped the 20Da capture space nebulae much more easily.
Canon 60Da, as you would expect, has a certain number of improvements over its predecessor thanks to recent technology advances. Canon’s great 18 megapixel sensor will help astrophotographers and astronauts capture much more detailed Space photographs, while a high-resolution vari-angle LCD promises even easier manual focusing and composing at night. As with 20Da, you can expect 60Da to have a slightly better high ISO performance compared to the regular model, and an added benefit of video, which, I’m sure, will be very popular.
Ever since the 20Da was discontinued in 2006, astrophotographers had to modify their cameras on their own and with an added risk of damaging an expensive piece of equipment. Now, however, it’s good to know there is a choice to buy a great camera pre-modified specifically with astrophotography in mind. It is a specialized camera, though, and thus will be available to order from select authorized dealers only at an estimated retail price of 1,499$.
Here is the official press release:
Here is what the blood red Total Lunar Eclipse of 2010 looked like last night:
After taking a long break, I’m now back to posting as usual. Currently finishing up: “indoors flash photography using off-camera flash” and tomorrow will be hopefully posting two new articles – “how to take portraits indoors with a Christmas tree” and “how to photograph a lunar eclipse” (yes, info on how the above image was taken will also be posted in detail). Stay tuned!
By no means I’m anywhere close to being good in astrophotography. In fact, taking good pictures of stars requires expensive telescope equipment with sharp optics mounted on a sturdy tripod, plus an SLR mount to attach a camera. To achieve the best results, modified DSLR cameras with special filters are used by serious astrophotographers.
During our last trip, the night sky was very clear. And since we stayed in a campground, there wasn’t any light pollution, which helped seeing the intricate details of the sky. Since I do not have any of the expensive telescope equipment, I used my DSLR with a 24-70mm lens and shot the sky wide open at f/2.8-f/3.2 between 20 to 30 seconds of exposure at ISO 1600.
I really wanted to capture the beauty of the night sky and set my camera on a tripod and shot the following photo of the Milky Way: