Posted by: Kash Farooq | January 14, 2011

Photographing the Moon with a compact camera (and a telescope)

After completing an introductory Open University Astronomy course, I was hooked. I bought some cheap binoculars that were suited to astronomy. I was still hooked, so I went out and bought a telescope.

Later that day, I was pleased to see a clear night and a full Moon. Perfect for a beginner like me. I pointed my telescope at the Moon and was stunned.

I then wondered if I could photograph it. I got my compact point and click camera and literally just held it up to the telescope eyepiece and took a photograph.

This is what I captured:

Full Moon photographed using a 25 mm eyepiece

Full Moon, 31 December 2009 (click to see bigger version)

Very nice. Even if I do say so myself. Click through to see the full sized image.

After reading more about the subject, I discovered that this technique of photography is called afocal photography.

I also discovered that a full Moon is not the best time to take photograph of the Moon. The best time is when you see a crescent or gibbous moon. Let me explain with a diagram:

Diagram of lunar phases, created by Minesweeper and donated to Wikipedia

Lunar phases (Wiki Commons image)

In the diagram, the Sun is shining from the right. We see a full Moon when the Moon is at the opposite side of the Earth in relation to the Sun. Sunlight fully illuminates the Moon from our viewpoint on Earth. If the Moon is on the same side of the Earth as the Sun, we can’t see it. We get a new Moon – i.e. it is dark.

However, if the Moon is somewhere between these two points, something beneficial happens for us observing from Earth. The sunlight hits the Moon at an angle from our point of view. We see a crescent or gibbous moon which allows us to see features such as craters. Basically, shadows are created by crater rims, hills, etc – and we can see these features.

Since I discovered this a couple of years ago I have been advising people when the best time take a photo of the Moon is. However, after such a conversation on Twitter last week, I realised that I had in fact never tried to take a photograph of a non-Full Moon myself! So, tonight I rectified that. Here is a photograph I have just taken (click to enlarge).

Gibbous Moon photographed using a 25 mm eyepiece

Gibbous Moon, 14 January 2011 (click to see bigger version)

You can clearly see craters. Incidentally, you can also work out that Sun is shining from the left of this photograph. The right side of the crater rims are illuminated, the left rims are in shadow.

Compare this image to full Moon shot at the top of this post. The full Moon shot looks flat and featureless. Whereas the gibbous Moon shot has texture.

Finally, here is a photograph of the gibbous Moon using a higher magnification eyepiece.

Gibbous Moon photographed using a 10 mm eyepiece

Close up of gibbous Moon, 14 January 2011 (click to see bigger version)

Not to bad for a cheap compact camera. At least until I have a proper DSLR/Adapter/Telescope set-up.

And if you haven’t got a telescope…

You don’t need a telescope to take a great picture of the Moon. Here is a photograph taken by Della Thomas with a SLR and 300 mm lens:

The Moon (taken by Della Thomas, 18 January 2011)

The Moon (SLR/300 mm lens, by Della Thomas, 18 January 2011)

See has also blogged about it in “Zoom Zoom Moon

Update: a thank you to John Wilson for correcting my gibbous/crescent Moon confusion. Check out the crescent Moon example he sent me. My 14th January 2011 photographs above are of a gibbous Moon.


Responses

  1. Enjoyed your lunar photos. We’ve been doing the same. Recently tried with a webcam, using an old eyetoy we had. Results poor. Not sensitive enough in low light. Might see what else I can find. The philips ones are supposed to be good (use a sony low light sensor). anyway onwards and upwards!

  2. Kash – your pics are fab. Really well done!

    What was the course like – I’m really tempted. I can find Orion, Ursa Major and the Pleiades but am otherwise lost in the night sky, although I find it all fascinating. Would you recommend the OU course you did?

    Cheers,

    James

    • Hi James,

      Thanks!

      I’ve linked to the course right at the start of the post. Yes, I would recommend it. It is what got me interested in Astronomy.

  3. Hi Kash, Great post and examples.
    I’ve been using my DSLR with a 500mm lens and a x2 converter giving some decent shots. However, when mounted on a normal tripod I was getting camera shake due to the wobble induced by the mirror flipping up. locking the mirror up is one solution but then you can’t see what you’re looking at (unless you have a modern camera with live view) My stop gap solution has been a bean bag on top of a wheelie bin!

    Cheers,

    Dave.

  4. […] photos that he has taken using his telescope and compact camera; there all in his blogpost here –  you’ll be blown away (well, I certainly […]

  5. Nice pictures. I have a Lumix bridge camera with a 32x optical magnification which takes really good shots of the moon when tripod mounted but I’ve always fallen for the “full moon” option. Must try some crescent / gibbous shots.


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