I was shooting surfers at San Juan, La Union, Philippines, last February 2011 when the sun got so low there wasn’t enough light to freeze the waveriders. Seeing no clouds obstructing my view of the South China Sea, I quickly mounted 2.8x worth of TCs to get a bigger sun.
It would appear as if an H-Bomb had exploded to the west in this shot taken just as the setting sun was about to touch the horizon. The two spots in the center of the sun’s disk were sunspots no. 1161 and 1162.
The International Space Station was scheduled to pass directly over Manila this April 18th, with a magnitude of -3.8 and an altitude of about 348 km.
With the skies over our islands virtually cloudless the last few days and nights, there was a good chance of clear seeing on this pass, especially since the space bird would do its fly-by at dawn when the atmosphere over our urban area is not as turbulent as at other times of the day.
I was encouraged to get out of bed a couple of hours before sunrise to set up my gear in my backyard. In between puffs of smoke from my favorite mentholated lung-buster, I gazed at the stars in the dawn sky and I was happy to note that the seeing conditions were quite decent.
I opted to stack 5.6x worth of teleconverters on my supersharp 400 2.8 IS for a focal length of about 2263 mm. This should make the tiny subject a bit larger in the 7D’s frame. I pre-focused manually on the setting moon minutes before the pass. Acquiring the streaking ISS through such a narrow angle of view was tough, but I eventually caught the subject in the viewfinder a few seconds after it appeared above the NNW skyline.
This frame was the sharpest among 121 shots I took. 🙂
While on a birding trip to the Cordillera mountains of North Luzon in 2008, I got up at dawn and proceeded to my target birding spot half an hour drive away from the place where I spent the night.
The cool mountain air felt refreshingly good on my cheeks as it rushed in through my open car window. As I casually glanced westward, I noticed a developing spectacle in the distance – the setting moon was rushing to meet one mountain top!
I immediately stopped my vehicle and parked by the side of the mountain trail. I didn’t have time to mount a longer teleconverter nor set up my tripod, so I plopped my bean bag on the hood, and proceeded to take some bursts with my ready 700 mm combo. I was just in time to capture the scene a few seconds before the moon kissed the mountain top, till it disappeared below the distant tree line.
The moon appeared very warm to my naked eyes, so I took the liberty to desaturate it in post process to make it appear more neutral.
I was waiting ready with my big birding glass for the supermoon to rise above the urban horizon last March 19th. But the heavens were not cooperating – cloudy skies made it impossible to shoot highly detailed captures of the lunar event.
On the brighter side, such bad seeing also gave the opportunity to get an unusual, perhaps eerie-looking moonshot. 🙂
Birding lenses are by nature very long to allow the photographer to get close to their normally shy feathered subjects. Interestingly, such long focal lengths are also good for other things – larger astro bodies like the moon.
Moonshooting with birding lenses is fun. It likewise enhances the long lens technique of a bird photographer, particularly shake control and manual focus proficiency. I have regulary trained my birding lenses at the moon, mostly shooting from my backyard in urban Metro Manila. When the atmospheric conditions are good, decent lunar detail that approaches the output of small astro scopes can be captured .
Here’s one such moonshot.
And here’s a closer look at the detail captured using the Canon 7D’s tiny pixels + Canon’s sharpest lens the 400 2.8 IS and 4x worth of teleconverters:
I’ve been asked in many photo forums how to capture the moon well using long DSLR lenses, so here’s sharing my shooting workflow.
My Top 10 Tips on Moonshooting with Long DSLR Lenses
1. Use the longest glass you can get your hands on, on a good tripod and head.
2. Use a DSLR with the tiniest pixels available for maximum reach.
3. Teleconverters increase the level of detail captured. Most Canon long L glass improve detail capture with TCs up to a focal length corresponding to an f/11 Av (ex. 400 5.6L + 2x, 500 f4 + 2.8x or 400 2.8 + 4x TC).
4. Shoot at the sweet Av of your glass (could be 1 stop from wide open with TCs).
5. Use ISO 100-200 for least noise and maximum sharpening flexibility.
6. Shoot RAW and expose to the right, till the highlights are almost blown, this will allow you more PP flexibility later.
7. Use Live View contrast detect AF (most newer EOS bodies can AF in this mode till f/11 or even f/16). Trigger the shutter with a remote switch after the moon on the LCD stabilizes. Turn off IS if so equipped. For DSLRs with strong shutter vibrations (ex. 1D MIV), you should still use LV contrast detect AF if the combo is f/11 or darker. However, once focus locks in contrast detect, turn off LV and shoot using MLU and a remote switch.
8. With good long lens technique, a Tv of 1/25 sec is fast enough for a 7D + 1600 mm. You can increase the shutter speed by about a stop for a bigger factor of safety if you wish. Any faster Tv in excess of that is wasteful and should instead be converted to lower ISO to mitigate noise.
9. Do test shots for exposure on the onset, review histogram, then shoot many, many shots using the optimized ISO, TV and Av values. Shooting tons of photos increases the chances of “getting through” when the wave-like atmospheric distortion is least. It’s easy to select the sharpest shots later in your computer. As long as ISO, Tv and Av are constant, the RAW files with the largest sizes are the sharpest.
10. Each frame should be individually focused to minimize focus errors.
My birding gear isn’t good only for feathered creatures in flight under bright light. It can also capture metallic objects streaking in the dark night sky.
I was setting up to get some shots of the supermoon over a week ago, but the clouds wouldn’t allow me good seeing. Rather than pack my rig without firing a shot, I waited for planes taking off a nearby airport to get near the moon. The clouds introduced a large glowing halo around the moon, and that served as “rim lighting” to reinforce the jet’s silhouette.