How to take a stunning snapshot of the moon

  • By Mike Lynch
  • Friday, February 19, 2016 1:09pm
  • Life

The February full moon is upon us. It’s officially full on Monday night, but for all practical purposes it’s full this weekend.

The trouble is that the moon’s light photo-bombs the night sky. All but the brightest celestial goodies are washed out by the lunar light. Even the very bright planet Jupiter, the brightest star-like object in the evening sky right now, suffers at least a little bit by the intense lunar light as it slowly rises in the low eastern sky after nightfall. Despite all the lunar light, the full moon and Jupiter will put on quite a show Tuesday night. The moon will only be 2 degrees to the lower right of Jupiter, and that’s really close. Don’t miss it — but pray for clear skies.

Besides just gazing at the light of the full moon this week, how about trying to photograph it? A lunar selfie with your cell phone may not work all that well but you can take just about any camera and point it at the moon and take some pretty good pictures, especially when you can zoom in on it. Of course some cameras are better at this than others. You can also take some amazing pictures of the moon though through even a small-to-moderate telescope and get some amazing shots using even just a small digital camera in automatic mode.

All you have to do is position the lens of your camera right up against the eyepiece of the telescope and press the shutter button. If you have video preview that’s best but it can also be done just by looking through viewfinder. Before you put the camera up to the eyepiece, make sure moon is focused as sharply as possible. Also keep in mind that you only have a few minutes at the most to take your picture before the moon moves out of the field of view in your scope. Earth’s rotation can rush you a bit.

Holding your camera up the lens just with your hands is very tricky but it can be done. It’s so much better, though, to somehow mount your camera up against the telescope edge. One of the best ways is to mount your camera on a tripod and adjust it so the lens is right up against the eyepiece as you can see in the photo. Try to not to shake the camera when you press the shutter button. That’s easier said than done, though. The best way to avoid that is to use the delay option on the shutter if you have one.

Along with keeping the telescope steady, also make sure to use an eyepiece with your telescope that has a fairly wide lens. That makes it much easier for your camera to capture the light. The trade-off is that the wider the lens on the eyepiece the lower the magnification. My advice is to start with your lowest magnification eyepiece and work your way up and see how you do.

Once you get the photos you can work with them a little in picture-editing software to make them look even brighter and sharper although you shouldn’t have do too much. The clarity can be amazing as you can really see detail in the dark maria or plains on the moon as well as the mountains and craters. You don’t need a super-fancy camera or telescope to get some amazing lunar photos to hang on your wall.

There is a product I highly recommend if you’re really serious about taking celestial pictures: the Orion SteadyPix Pro Universal Camera/Smartphone Mount from Orion Telescopes. You can order it online at telescope.com. It’ll cost you about $60 but it really works well. You can attach your cell phone or even a small conventional camera to it and it latches on to the eyepiece of your telescope. It holds your phone or camera steady up to the eyepiece. Just about any small camera or cell phone will fit on it as you can easily make fine-tune adjustments to the mount.

Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis.

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