Friday, November 25, 2016

Bringing Out Detail in Moon Photos with November 2016 Supermoon

I finally got around to stacking and adjusting my November 2016 supermoon photos that I took from my back patio through very thin clouds on November 14, 2016 about 12 hours after the peak. Since this was a "super-duper" moon, I spent a little more time trying to squeeze all the detail out of the 10 frames I took. Here is the final image, and the images I used along the way. So how do you get more detail out of moon photos without buying more expensive gear?

november 2016 supermoon at 300mm
Final image after processing 10 frames taken with Canon T5i each at ISO 100, 300mm, f/7.1, 1/250 sec stacked in Registax, high pass layer and color correction in Photoshop

Okay so that's the final image, taken with my DSLR and a kit lens from a fixed tripod. Not too shabby! I tried to find a nice balance between bringing out the detail while avoiding the blown out HDR super high contrast artificial look that can happen if you're too eager. Nevertheless, I like a nice high pass layer with contrast and trying to bring down the noise as best I can.

Here is a walkthrough of my process with screen shots along the way showing how I take individual frames and capture more of the detail that is hidden in the image (while hopefully staying true to nature).

I remember my first time using the free Registax software to stack my moon images, I was blown away, I couldn't believe how much of a difference it made in the quality of the final image.

more detailed moon photos
Click to enlarge - sequence of images showing incremental improvements in moon photo detail at each stage of post-processing
I love looking at sequences like these. It reminds me that the more I learn the better my images become. I can remember a time when I would have been thrilled just to have the image on the left, a moon photo using a zoom lens at 300mm. Now, as my 'eye' for moon photos is accustomed to the better quality images, the one on the left looks blurry and I would never post a single frame straight from the camera to social media. So as I learn more, each image now takes more time to process, it's not as simple as snap and go.

A little hazy but it still counts - super duper Moon in the bag

A photo posted by Eric Teske (@ericteske) on

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Reader Question About Moon Phase

I'm trying not to let the term 'reader question' inflate my ego, but I did receive a Facebook message from the Philippines from someone who tracked me down from my blog to ask me a very specific question about the moon phase during a certain position. She drew diagrams on a napkin and sent them from the other side of the world, neat!

reader moon question

The question was: "I've been looking at the moon lately and I'm trying to solve something really important. I hope that you can help me... If the moon is waning or waxing [gibbous] in the morning, which phase has the top part left out?"

So which phase has the top part missing in the early morning as shown in her diagram? This question is sort of backwards because it's all about identifying the name (waxing or waning gibbous) rather than the position.

reader moon question

I don't have Stellarim on my computer at work (I decided to answer this on my lunch break) so I looked through my Star Walk app, and she also sent local times for moonrise and moonset. Here is what I came up with at the time, and then I'll expand using Stellarium to show a more accurate scene of what she was looking for...

hand drawn moon phase diagram for gibbous
My quick diagram to work out which moon phase she was referring to, and it's most likely waxing gibbous setting in the west in the early morning. 
In short, a gibbous moon would only look like the drawing the reader provided at 2 times during the month. With the top part in shadow and the light part of the gibbous closer to the ground, it could only happen with the moon either rising or setting. Directly overhead the moon would appear to be facing sideways with the shadow part 'pointing' to the left or the right.

The moon looks exactly like her drawing when a waxing gibbous is setting and when a waning gibbous is rising.

As the moon rises and sets, the side of the moon that is the first to rise is also the first to set - in other words the 'leading edge' of the moon is first above the horizon and first below it, so the moon appears to turn in the sky, but is fixed relative to the arched pathway. If you think of a crescent moon, it will appear as a smiley face and a frowny face over the course of the same night.

Okay, so now all I had to do was figure out if she was looking at the moon rising or setting. Without knowing her cardinal directions, she did refer to 'early morning' and send along some local times. It couldn't be the waning gibbous because it only looks that way as it's rising after 9pm at night, so it must be the waxing gibbous setting in the early morning at 2:30am.

Clear as mud? Let's go to Stellarium to see if there's a simpler way to look this up. I updated my location in Stellarium to the Philippines and sure enough, the moon looks exactly like her drawing in the early morning as the waxing gibbous sets.

moon phase question in stellarium
Waxing gibbous moon setting to the west in Stellarium

Crescent Moon in Fall Scene

No regrets, but I did waste a lot of clear skies in November (busy with work) and now that we had our first snowfall today I'm starting to wish I had gotten out more in the slightly warmer but still very dark November nights. Okay so I guess I do have regrets.

I did manage to get out and snap a few moon photos. Nothing fancy, a few frames here and there trying to work on framing the moon with more interesting foreground objects.

crescent moon November 4, 2016
Single frame from November 4, 2016 at 7:15pm with Canon T5i, ISO 100, 300mm, f/8, 1/50 sec
Sharpened and colored in iPhoto

crescent moon in fall scene
Trying to get some practice adding foreground interest in my photos, but it's hard to find suitable objects in the suburbs other than rooftops and cell towers. Also from November 4, 2016. Single frame with Canon T5i, ISO 1600, 48mm, f/8, 3.2 sec.

The Future Has Arrived! 1991 News Report Mentions 2017 Solar Eclipse

I was working on digitizing and archiving some old home movies from VHS and I came across this news report my dad must have recorded off the TV. It appears to be a Weather Channel report about the July 11, 1991 total solar eclipse that was visible from Mexico. I love how the voice over mentions the upcoming eclipse in 2017 - that means the future has arrived!

This is also an agonizing reminder that the country is preparing for the eclipse and I've barely started planning. I have the date on my work calendar, but I don't have any concrete idea of where I'll be going or where I'll be staying. I'm leaning toward Missouri right now, but I need to do more research. Luckily, I've found plenty of great resources online such as I hear there is a huge gathering at an airport in the western part of the state, that could be a cool experience to see it with a ton of other people at once.

2017 eclipse map of missouri
Image by Michael Zeiler,

I'm excited, and also trying to plan out what I would realistically want to do to document the occasion. I've read over and over again that if it's your first total solar eclipse, you should not try to photograph it or mess with any equipment, just let yourself go and soak up as much of the experience as you can. I've heard about stars coming out in the day time, the appearance of sunset on every horizon at once, and the collective ecstasy of hundreds of people watching at once. So I might set up a camera with a solar filter to shoot it before totality, but I don't think I'm going to mess around during the extremely precious 2 minute experience.

2024 total solar eclipse map illinois indiana
In 2024 I'll have another chance to photograph a total solar eclipse, and this one is coming to my own backyard! Image by Michael Zeiler,

I also noticed that in 2024 another total solar eclipse is going to be coming to me here in Indiana, and I will literally be able to observe it from my backyard. Assuming good weather, that would be my best chance to try to photograph totality.