Jay Sousa: Full moon a great photo op

06/30/2012 12:41 AM

06/30/2012 1:15 AM

In honor of the full moon that will be upon us next Tuesday night, I thought that I would write this week's column about photographing it.

The full moon has fascinated mankind since the beginning of time, and in more modern times, it's fascinated photographers, too. This phase of the moon is associated with madness -- the word "lunacy" is taken from "lunar," meaning moon.

Now I am no lunatic, but I have been known to do strange things during the full moon to make images of the event.

There are three basic ways that you can photograph the moon:

First, if you have a long telephoto lens, 300mm to 400mm, you can shoot close-ups of the moon, getting the details of the craters and other surface details of the moon.

Second, you can photograph a scene using the light of the full moon.

Third, you can incorporate the full moon into an overall image.

When photographing the moon itself, keep in mind that it is so bright because the sun is lighting it. In most cases, if you base your exposure on what your camera's light meter is telling you, you will have lost all of the great detail in the moon. The reason for this is that your meter is reading not only the moon, but also the dark night sky. This will cause it to think that it needs to open up the exposure because of all of the darkness.

The problem is that the moon is now overexposed and loses all of the details that you are striving to capture.

Instead, try using the sunny 16 rule: In bright sunlight, which is what the moon is creating, your exposure would be f/16 at the shutter speed that is closest to your ISO. So if you had an ISO of 400 your exposure would be 1/500 second at f/16.

There are some factors that could throw this off, such as pollution, but it is a good place to start.

If you are going to be photographing a scene lit by the full moonlight, here are some basic exposures to try: ISO 100: six minutes at f/4. ISO 200: three minutes at f/4; six minutes at f/5.6.ISO 400; 90 seconds at f/4; three minutes at f/5.6; six minutes at f/8.

Remember: For exposures longer that 30 seconds, you will have to put your camera on B for bulb; for any long exposure, a cable release or remote is essential for making images that are sharp.

One of my favorite images to make is the moon as it is rising over a landmark in the east and the sun is setting in the west. Let's use the High Sierra from the top of Glacier Point in Yosemite as an example.

It is a breathtaking site as the moon rises over the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada. The main thing to remember is that you can make a much better image the day before the full moon. On the day of the actual full moon, the moonrise and sunset are at almost the same time, but on the day before, the almost full moon (which looks full even if it is only 95 percent) will rise about 50 minutes before the sunset.

What this means for photography is that there will be some great ambient light illuminating the foreground -- in this case, the mountains. If you take the same photo the next evening, the sun will be off of the mountains by the time the moon gets above the horizon, making the foreground featureless and uninteresting looking.

If you want to learn more about nighttime photography, I will be teaching a night photography workshop in Yosemite on July 7. Email me at jay.sousa@sbcglobal.net for more information.

On Monday, the second moonrise (95 percent full) is at 7:39 p.m. and the sun sets at 8:26 p.m. On Tuesday, the third moonrise is at 8:26 p.m. (full moon) and sunset is at 8:25 p.m.

I hope that you can get out and make some pictures. As for me, I will be heading over to the east side of the Sierras to shoot the moon, so to speak.

Contact Jay Sousa at jay.sousa@sbcglobal.net.

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