Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or on one other than the third from the sun, you’ve probably noticed an influx of night time / astronomy shots on social media this week. This weekend awed night watchers and photographers with a stunning view of a “super moon eclipse”, which only happens about 5 times a century. The Super Moon Eclipse occurs when a full moon is closest to Earth during its rotation, as well as a “blood moon” in which it takes on a rusty red hue, and then is eclipsed by the Earth itself. In short, when the moon decides to be an over-achiever every 20 or so years.
“In short, when the moon decides to be an over-achiever every 20 or so years.”
Although it’s a bit late to capture this event this time around, we can get prepared for the next astronomical festivities with a quick tutorial on how best to adjust your camera for night photography.
For any type of night time photography you will need a digital camera, a stable tripod, a shutter remote or timer settings to reduce camera shake and an imagination. Shoot the images in RAW format so you have the bandwidth to crop and zoom in on the subject during editing. Also the later in the evening the better, as you’ll probably be dealing with some level of light pollution during the earlier hours.
Moon / Stars Photography
When capturing the moon, first research the phase you are at as you will need to adjust your ISO accordingly. If you are going for a full moon, a lower ISO (around 200) is acceptable due to the amount of brightness coming off our favorite satellite.
Since the moon and stars (and earth) are moving, you’ll need a faster shutter speed to keep the shot crisp. Experiment with a few shots to get as clear as possible (start around F10 and shutter speed at 1/200 and play around from there.)
When setting up the shot, switch your camera to Manual, and use the manual focus feature. Use as large a zoom lens as available, and zoom in as far as possible (keep in mind you’ll be able to zoom in further during editing due to the RAW format.)
The image below was taken by Dan Megna, of Danmegna.com using a tripod mounted Nikon D4 w/ a remote shutter release using a 400mm f2.8 lens, shot RAW in manual mode with a 1.4 tele converter, at F5.6 for 1.0 second.
Meteor Shower Photography
Another fun night time photography experiment is during a meteor shower. Contrast to moon photography, meteor showers are typically captured using long exposures, as you can’t reliably estimate when the next one is coming.
Still utilizing the tripod and shutter remote, reset your camera settings to a shutter of 15-20 seconds and F stop under 3.0. For this set up you want to capture as much of the sky as possible, so swap out your zoom lens for a wide angle. You’ll also want to make sure you have a fully charged battery and sufficient size on your SD card to capture the long exposure shots.
Once you’ve tested a few shots and are happy with the result, grab a beer, sit back and wait for the magic to happen.
Light Painting Photography
Slightly less intellectual, but even more entertaining is the art of light painting. Similar settings to meteor shower photography, the goal is to have a very long exposure, and to utilize flash lights (candles, cell phones, or any other illuminating devices,) to (attempt to) draw images around yourself or friends.
Shutter speeds should be a minimum of one second in duration, and again it should be set to manual focus as the camera will continuously try to auto focus during the shoot. The ISO should be as low as possible as to minimize the photo’s noise.
When you are setting up the frame, have a subject stand with a flash light and use auto or manual focus. Once the frame is in focus make sure the subject stands in the same area throughout the shoot and don’t adjust the camera or tripod.
So there you have it, you are now fully prepared to capture the next Super Moon Eclipse in 2033. Or to accomplish shorter term goals; check out the Orionids meteor shower on October 21, 2015, Google upcoming celestial happenings in your area, or just go flail in the yard with a flashlight and your friends.