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  • Simon Pugsley

Astrophotography – The Moon

Astrophotography – an Introduction, provided an overview of the different types of astrophotography, the essentials of planning, equipment, and general tips on technique, so you may also want to check that out.


In this blog I focus on the Moon. You’d think it would be easy, after all it’s a big bright thing in the sky, so why the need for a blog?


Well, you need to consider composition, phases of the moon, its position in the sky, alignment with other planets, times of full moons, and techniques like distance compression (making the moon appear closer than it is). In terms of equipment a longer zoom lens of 200mm or more is beneficial for those closer moon shots.


Full Moons

Each full moon has its own name, with origins from native Americans and medieval Europeans.

  • January - Wolf Moon

  • February - Snow Moon

  • March - Worm Moon

  • April - Pink Moon

  • May - Flower Moon

  • June - Strawberry Moon

  • July - Buck Moon (aka Thunder Moon)

  • August - Sturgeon Moon

  • September - Full Corn Moon

  • October - Harvest Moon (aka Hunter's Moon)

  • November - Beaver Moon

  • December - Cold Moon


The Cold Moon – 230mm (345mm ff) F8 ISO 640 1/80 sec

A Blood Moon occurs when there is a total lunar eclipse, and the moon will appear slightly red in colour as it is in the earth’s shadow. A Super Moon occurs when the moon is closest to earth on its elliptical orbit, and whilst this sounds dramatic, you will hardly notice the difference to a normal full moon. If these occurred in January, it would be called a Super Blood Wolf Moon. A Blue Moon is where there are 2 full moons in the same calendar month. The moon is not blue, although of course you can be creative with your photo processing or choose a cooler white balance when taking the photo. The upshot is that a full moon is pretty much the same each time, the exception being a Blood Moon.


Alignment with Planets

There are lots of opportunities during the year for capturing the moon with other planets, star clusters or constellations, but you need to plan. https://www.youtube.com/@AlynWallace is useful as he releases a video at the start of each month explaining what's in the night sky (WITNS) that month. In November 2023 Jupiter will be passing close to the moon.


The Moon and Jupiter – 500mm (750mm ff) F7.7 ISO 500 1/80 sec

Using https://stellarium-web.org/ you can find what time is best. Toward the East on 25th November at 7pm there is an alignment of the Moon, Jupiter and Pleiades, which can be used for a nice nightscape or a close shot with a long lens.


Screenshot of Stellarium

Moon Times

The Moon’s cycle means that it is often visible in the daytime.


Clent Moonrise - 450mm (675mm ff) f8 ISO 160 1/125 sec

Clent Moonrise was taken in late afternoon and to emphasize the size of the moon I used a long lens and put as much distance between me and the man. It is the distance between me and the man that creates this effect and hence the need for a long lens, making the moon appear larger in the image.


Moon Stones of Clent – 16mm (24mm ff) f5.6 ISO 160 1/320 sec

Moon Stones of Clent was taken 40 minutes after Clent Moonrise and provides a more traditional landscape perspective, with the moon appearing much more distant.


New Moon Sunrise – 105mm (ff) f4 ISO 500 1/160 sec

The moon taken at sunrise or sunset makes for some lovely colours. For New Moon Sunrise I wanted to see a planet alignment with Venus, but the distance between the two was too great, so I settled for this shot.


Venus Rising – 35mm (ff) F4 ISO 800 2.5 sec

There is always another opportunity and this one came along on a cold morning in February, this time over Forge Mill. The streetlight to the bottom right gives the image a better balance as if another star or planet is in alignment.


Distance Compression

This is the technique I used with Clent Moonrise, which was very much an opportunistic shot. To photograph a specific landmark with the appearance of a giant moon takes lots of research and planning.


I’d seen lots of stunning photos of a giant moon rising behind a famous landmark and wanted to try this technique. Of all the astro subjects I’ve taken I’d say from a planning point of view this was the most time-consuming and complex for such a short time window of opportunity.


In fact, it was like a mini project; Identify a local landmark, the full moon dates for the year, times of rise and set, position of rise and set, and a location to take the photo which was far enough away to make the landmark smaller against the moon. Once I’d identified the landmark and the month, I then went to the location I’d chosen and used the Photopills app augmented reality and set the date and time for the moon rise to see if it would indeed appear behind my chosen landmark, and breath...


All my research was done in the Photopills app to plot my location, landmark, dates and times. I believe this could also have been achieved with Google Earth desktop app, which also has a date and time setting.


My chosen subject was St. Stephens church in Redditch town centre. I wasn’t looking for spectacular, just somewhere local I could test this technique.


Screenshot of Photopills planner for St Stephens

In the Photopills screenshot the red pin is St Stephens church, and the black pin is where I was going to take the photo. The distance between the two is 1.1km, which would make the moon look about 10.5 metres in diameter. The further the distance the smaller the subject appears against the moon, and making the moon appear bigger.


It wasn’t an ideal location as I was next to the road, there were telegraph wires in the way, streetlights to combat, and people kept stopping to ask what I was doing and then taking the photo with their phones, thanking me and then driving off 🤷.


In the end I had to take two shots in quick succession, one exposed for the moon (1/25 sec) and the other for the church (1 sec). If I had my time again, I’d have tried this a couple of nights before to experiment and get the right exposures or try with auto bracketing 3 shots with 1 stop between each shot. You simply do not have the time on location when the full moon is happening to experiment.


St. Stephen Moonrise - 335mm (ff) f8 ISO 500 1 sec and 1/25 sec

I blended the two shots in Affinity photo, using the same technique described in the Astrophotography - Nightscapes blog, this time only selecting the moon and then blending it into the exposed church shot. I converted the image to black and white in Nik Collection Silver Efex 2 and created a pinhole effect. It’s not the sharpest of shots but I was pleased with the outcome and what I learned during the process.


As you can see there is a variety of compositions and techniques that can be used when taking shots of the moon. I hope you have found some points of interest and I wish you clear skies!

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