Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shooting the Supermoon

The Super Moon

Supermoon is nothing less than a celebrity...

It reaches the closest to the earth once every couple of years, which made Sunday 23rd June 2013, an auspious occasion...

And we decided to have a photowalk on that day to shoot the moon...

Preparation:

Research 1...

Research told me that the moon is going to rise at 7:09 pm on 23 June 2013 and will rise at 112 deg...
What a minute?... what the hell is 112 deg.

Research 2...

Research told me that 0 deg is north, 90 deg is east and 180 deg is south... so the moon is going to rise somewhere around the SE...

Research 3...

Scanning and panning through google maps, after orienting the map, with SE towards the top of the screen... It was clear that the curve of the palm crescent gave us an opportunity to shoot, to get the moon towards the dubai city line and close to burj al arab...

Sounds good... what do i do next?

Post a photowalk, with a picture resembling the image which will be possible to capture from the palm jumeirah...

(Everyone please note that at this point little did i expect 150 photographers, a newspaper reporter and a newspaper photographer will come to document this event...)

As the word spread, the numbers on our page started increasing adding pressure to get the event perfect for everyone who attended...

Research 4...

How to shoot the moon? Everyone including myself who will attend the event needed to know what is best way to shoot the moon...

Rule 1. Shoot the moon when it is seen the biggest

The moon is seen the biggest when it is rising over the horizon and it will decrease in size as it rises away from the horizon...

Oops!!! now we know we have only time window of 30 odd mins to get our shot right...

Rule 2. Shoot the moon in relation to an object on earth

If we have to get the moon in the frame along with the man made object, the angle of the shoot has to be accurate down to a few kilometers...

Now how do I know exactly where the moon will rise... I know it will rise at 112 deg, but the compass app did not help me... it only pointed in the general direction...

Research 5...

Someone posted on meet-up page a map, showing the path of the moon on a given day...

Immediately I posted a request asking the member about the app... no response.

This app uses extensive data available online and can trace out the actual path of the sunrise till it sets, on a map...

This is what I want, but I need the app to do the same for the moon...
But To get the app to do the same for the moon, it would cost me $6.95...

Swoosh!!!... Credit card swipe... done...

Research 6...

I had to go on location again...

Using the AR camera mode in sun surveyor app, it uses the camera to stimulate the moon exactly where the moon will appear over the horizon... and this is what I get... IMAGE 2.
IMAGE 2

This was a relief... the number of people expecting to attend is getting close to 100... and I got something right... there is a building in the foreground to be in contrast with the moon... Phew!!!...

Rule 3. Moon needs to look really big and the buildings small

This is interesting, because physically the size of the moon and the building is constant... how do these photographers, manage to shoot a huge moon in front of a tiny building...

First reaction... Photoshop!!!...
Second response... There should be a more purist way of doing it...

Research 7...

Here is how it works...
Lets assume you are standing in front of a building... say at 100 meters away...

Step away from the building... the building looks smaller...
There is a direct correlation between the apparent height of the building and the distance between the building and the viewer...

h = a/ d, where 'h' is the apparent height, 'a' is the actual height and 'd' the distance from the object

A building 100 meters tall, when viewed at  a distance of 100 meters, will seem to be 1 meter tall...
The same building, when viewed at a distance of 200 meters, will seem to be 0.5 meters tall...

Conclusion: everytime we double the distance from the object the apparent height of the object is halved...

The buildings over the horizon in Image 2, are somewhere in Teecom... and the shortest linear distance between Teecom and the point from where we will be shooting is 3.5kms...

So if the building over the horizon is 100 meters tall, it will seem to be a few cms tall...

When it comes to the moon, the diameter of the moon is around 3,476 kms and the distance from the moon and the earth (viewer), is around 362,570 kms !!!... !!!, which is why the apparent diameter seems to be only 9 meters.

For the sake of discussion let us say, I want to see the moon, 2 times bigger...

I will have call up Richard Branson, take his permission to hop on his Virgin Galactic spaceship and travel towards the moon, to say around 181,285 kms closer to the moon... and shoot from the space craft through its multi layered radiation shield... and never get a sharp image...

Oh yes, if the spaceship travels at the speed of 1000 kmph, it will take 7 days to reach the location of our photowalk...

Not a good idea...

Conclusion: Shoot from anywhere on the earth, the apparent size of the moon remains the same...

Next best thing to do... increase the distance between you and the building... if the apparent height of the building is 10 meters tall when you are standing 10 meters away from the building... move away to 100 meters to decrease the apparent height of the building to 1 cm...

Double the distance to 200 meters, the apparent height of the building drops down to half cm...

Conclusion: Though I cannot change the apparent size of the moon being on earth, but by moving away from the building I can decrease the apparent height of the building...

Lucky me!!!... Palm crescent is a perfect place to shoot, moon size remains big, the buildings look small... perfect to get a picture of a big moon with a tiny building in front of it...

But, since I am suffering from a non-infectious disease which is called perfectionist... I said let me try to get the Burj Khalifa in the foreground...

I found exactly a place that can get the Burj khalifa in the foreground and the moon in the background... and this place happen to be in the heart of busy jumeirah...

Plus there were construction cranes lining up the sky and small buildings filling up the horizon... which means we will get to see the moon only when it reaches high up in the sky... violating Rule 1.

The plan to change the location of shoot was cancelled... and I had to find out the gear needed to shoot the moon...

Rule 4. The Gear

If I shoot with a wide angle lens, the lens compresses the whole image into the frame, and the skyline and the moon will look small in the image...

Research 8...

After watching a lot of videos on youtube and reading articles on google, a deep wise sound echoed in my head, that with my camera canon 7d, I need to shoot at an effective focal length of more than 1000 mm...

I have a crop factor advantage of 1.6x... which meant I needed a lens with a focal length of 1000/1.6 = ~ 625 mm

Seems possible...

A friend had given me a Sigma 150 - 500 mm lens.
But this was not enough... and I did not want to use it because the lens is not the sharpest at 500 mm

I know I am not rich enough to buy a 600 mm lens for 1 day just to shoot the moon... if I did manage to buy such a lens, I would need to hire a divorce lawyer as well...

so I decided to rent the lens...
And all rental companies in dubai did not have a 600 mm lens... they had only 400 mm lens but they also had a 2x tele converter...

So i decided to take a 400 mm lens with a 2x teleconverter on rent for AED 280 (~ $ 76)...

Now I am all set... I am ready to shoot the moon...

No wait... what are the best settings to shoot the moon... which meant
It is time to get back to more reading...

Research 9...

After reading and researching, it was understood that the exposure required for the moon is similar to shooting on earth on a sunny day...  hence we can shoot following the Sunny 16 rule...

Rule 4. The Method - Camera settings

Sunny 16 rule: it says that using any lens, at F16, ISO 100, the shutter speed at around 1/100 sec will get you the right exposure...

But serious moon photographers out of experience feel that inorder to capture the details of the moon, we need to shoot at a exposure brighter than f16 and  they created the 'Looney 11 rule'...

Looney 11 rule: it says that using any lens, at F11, ISO 100, the shutter speed at around 1/100 sec will get you the right exposure for the moon...

It cannot be so simple... I know from experience, that longer the lens, the more are the chances to capture a motion blur, because a little camera shake will amplify the movement of the object... which meant on the day of the shoot I would need to improvise...

And I need to get a damn good tripod...

Rule 5. The Method - The Tripod

It was time to upgrade my tripod, because for my current gear, Canon 7d and Canon 70 - 200 f2.8 lens the tripod was inadequate...
I had in mind what I wanted... and visited Perfecta and Advance media for Manfrotto Neotech series with a rating of 8kgs payload capacity... and neither of these vendors had this model of tripod...

The next best option, do not extend the tripod legs, stay low, use a shutter release cable, enable mirror lockup and as much as not breathe while clicking an image...

Staying low, makes most tripods very stable...
Shutter release cable, eliminates camera shake, caused by pressing the shutter button on the camera...

Since the camera needs to use two mechanical actions to capture the image.
1. the mirror physically moves away and allows the light from the lens to go directly towards the sensor
2. Shutter opens and closes to expose the sensor...

I cannot eliminate the second motion, but I can eliminate the first motion... the motion caused by the movement of the Mirror...

In Mirror lockup mode, when you press the button on the shutter release cable, the mirrors moves out of the way... and then press the shutter release cable again to expose the sensor.

The Photowalk

By this time the amount of people committed to come, had reached 140 on meetup.com and 70 on facebook... which meant, we had way too many people to manage, help them get on location and address their questions... above all I was informed that a reporter and a photographer from The National newspaper are coming for the event.

Also it was expected to be hot and humid... Incidentally I had a ice box in the car. Filled the box with water and ice and headed out to the crescent... 

The Unexpected 1 - The Tripod

I was hoping to get across the corniche wall, and set my tripod on the rocks. Like I mentioned earlier, my tripod was not fit for this activity, and I had planned to set myself low on the rocks, without extending the tripod...

Hard reality hit me, that if I jumped across the wall, most people would do that, and we would risk offending the law keepers in the area... And I had to extend my tripod to its full length... and it was evident that my camera and lens was moving like a flag on top of a flag pole...

Which basically meant, I have to increase my shutter speed and work with a higher ISO... 

The Unexpected 2 - The Weather

The trick behind shooting an interesting picture of the moon is to capture it just above the horizon...
Weather forecast generally talks about clouds, heat and humidity, but rarely do they predict haze... and we had clear skies, tolerable heat, but there was haze over the horizon...

What can you do about it? Be positive and hope to capture whatever the nature offers to you...

The Unexpected 3 - The Tripod head and Long focal length

When we are shooting with a wide lens, the regular tripod works well, but when you are shooting with a lens with an effective focal length more than 800 mm... it gets very tricky...

Any minute movement, and you could see the moon jump around like a ping pong ball... 

Secondly, since the angle of view in these long lens are so narrow, you are stuck in a tunnel vision. Finding the moon in the view finder got really difficult, also because the moon was not in focus...

Two solutions
1. Manually focus the lens to infinity... by using the focal point indicator on the lens, and moving the ring till the pointer reaches infinity.
2. Search for the moon in your viewfinder, with both your eyes open... this technique helps you see the moon in the sky with one eye, and the other eye seeks the moon in the viewfinder... and naturally you will move the lens in the direction of the moon...

My tripod did not help the cause... every time I found the moon in the view finder, I locked the tripod head in place, but the moment I let the camera go, the little angular movement of the long lens, virtually took the moon out of the frame...

Solution
First anticipate how much the moon moves when you leave the camera and watch if the moon moves out of the top or lower part of the frame...

In my case the lens was moving higher and the body lower, which caused the moon to disappear into the bottom of the frame. 

At first I deliberately moved the view just below the moon and let the camera go, which caused the moon to fall in the frame... but this was not accurate and composition was getting effected...

Alternately, after I let the camera go, I nudged the tripod leg a bit forward and backward, using the play in the tripod legs to get the moon in the frame...

Lastly I switched on the live view... and adjusted the camera and tripod making sure that the moon was somewhere below the frame... and allowed the moon to naturally rise into the frame...

While it was rising into the frame, I gently moved the tripod leg to get the moon to rise close to the intersecting rule of 3rd lines... 

Rule 6. The Method - Focusing & exposure

Looney 11 rule was used  as a starting point...
ISO 100, 1/100 sec, f 11...

1/100 sec was not good enough, because with such long focal lengths, the moon was moving really fast...
ISO 1000, 1/1000 sec, f11, to get it right rather than be sorry...

Click!!! , the image was too dark... 
Lowered the shutter speed, to 1/500 sec, effectively doubling the amount of light reaching my sensor...

Click!!!! , i was getting decent exposure...

To decrease the noise, I dropped my ISO down from ISO 1000 to ISO 400... and to compensate for the loss in exposure, I decreased the shutter speed by the same ratio... and brought the speed down to 1/200 sec...

Shooting at 1/200 sec may cause motion blur, more because of the camera shake, rather than the motion of the moon...

So the first thing, I did was enable the mirror lockup and attached a shutter release cable...

To negate the camera move, 

  1. I pressed the button on shutter release cable, to move the mirror out of the way...
  2. Waited till the movement of the camera stabilized
  3. Pressed the button on the shutter release cable again, to open the shutter for exposure...
  4. Zoom into the image to see if it was sharp, if not, I moved the ISO higher and increased shutter speed equally, hence maintaining the same exposure without manipulating the aperture. Because if I change aperture value, I might need to refocus the lens on the subject.

Once I found the settings that works for me, all I had to do was...
Get the moon in the frame and Click.. Click... Click till the moon went out of the frame...

Now that you know shooting a moon is not so simple using an effective focal length greater than 800 mm...
Give a thought and imagine how bird photographers, use focal lengths greater than 800 mm to capture a bird flying in air...

Conclusion: It was fun, I got to learn and I have to practice... :)

I hope you liked the blog...
Please leave your feedback, advise and comment below...

Thank you for reading... :)

To see my photographs click here... Facebook

10 comments:

  1. Jason..
    I do not know how you can find the time for all this, I really admire you

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Even I dont know how i find the time... i think photography has a way of getting me to do things :)

      Delete
  2. Bravo Jason! Great article ... U've mentioned all the tiny winy detail in your article ... I can visualize the whole thing happening in front of my eyes :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I dont believe I read all this on a sunday morning without even checking my official mails :) Good details mate :)

    Desmond

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Desmond if you have to mention you name at the end of the comment, why are you posting the comment as 'anonymous'...

      Thank you for the compliment :)

      Delete
  4. AMAZING , IT IS WORTH MORE THAN 10 CLASSES

    ASHRAFKA

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Ashrafka... Please share the learning... :)

      Delete

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