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Photographing the Moon

September¬†27, 2015 had a “blood moon” visible where we are in North America, and by great luck, we had clear skies. I’ve never shot a lunar eclipse before, and I was surprised how challenging it was.

First, here’s a¬†30 megapixel comp of a sequence of stacked exposures. Feel free to download it (by clicking it), and please do share this page with it. Here’s a more square version, for Instagram or a poster or whatever.

Getting the Possible Sharpest Shot of the Moon

Photographing the moon is a bit challenging. Your camera will probably wildly overexpose it, because your camera sees more black sky that bright moon, and it tries to make that black sky grey.

Because of that, you’ll need to use manual mode. There’s no one set of camera settings that will work for every condition. However, I usually start at ISO 100, f/8, and 1/100th of a second.¬†Autofocus should work fine.

I usually¬†handhold moon photos using a lens that has image stabilization. A tripod¬†could help, but usually the moon is clearest when it’s high in the sky. Pointing a¬†telephoto lens straight up at the sky on a tripod is difficult, or even impossible, with most tripods. As a result, it’s often more stable just to hand-hold it.

After you snap your first picture, look at it on your LCD screen. Zoom all the way in, and make sure that no part of the moon is overexposed. If it is, use a faster shutter speed, like 1/200th.¬†The brightest parts of the moon should be almost completely white. If they’re more grey than white, use a slower ¬†shutter speed, such as 1/50th.

For the aperture, f/8 should work fine, but choose¬†your lens’ sweet spot for optimal sharpness. Watch this video for detailed information. If you have a teleconverter, use it,¬†and¬†select your f/stop by multiplying the teleconverter multiplier (such as 1.4X or 2X) by your lens’ sweet spot.

Take lots of pictures–at least a dozen. Later, on your computer, you can look through them and choose the sharpest photo.

Using Stacking to Get Even Sharper

That technique will get you the sharpest single exposure. However, you can get MUCH sharper exposures by stacking multiple exposures.

Stacking-before-and-after

To stack the exposures, follow these steps:

  1. Take as many photos of the moon as you can. I usually take at least 100, but more is better. Here, using a tripod makes life much easier.
  2. Import the pictures into your computer. I use Lightroom. Render 1:1 previews of the photos.
  3. Check each image for sharpness. If any image is slightly less sharp than the others, delete it.
  4. Crop all the images the same to reduce the picture size. The moon will have moved while you were taking the pictures, even if you used a tripod, so leave plenty of room on all sides. I usually give one of the middle pictures a generous crop, and then paste that crop into all other pictures in Lightroom. For more information, check out my Lightroom book.
  5. Now, export those pictures to high quality JPG files.
  6. Install RegiStax.
  7. Run Registax, and click Select. Find the folder you saved your images into, and press Ctrl+A to select them all.
  8. Click Set Alignpoints. This will draw some red dots on your photo.
  9. Click Align, keep your fingers crossed, and be patient because it might take a minute or two. If it stops processing and simply hangs, close Registax and repeat this process up to the previous step. Next time, click Set Alignpoints, adjust the Number Of Alignpoints slider to a lower number, click Set Alignpoints again, and try Align again. If it continues to fail, you might try selecting fewer images.
  10. Click Limit.
  11. Click the Stack button. Again, this requires patience and a bit of luck.
  12. Click Wavelet. The 6 wavelet values can be adjusted deeply by those who wish to study how the software works, or you can try loading my scheme: Right-click the link and click Save As to save it to your computer, then click Load Scheme to open it.
  13. Now, click Do All, and then Save Image. You’re done!

Registax is extremely complex software, and while it often works perfectly the first time,¬†you sometimes need to spend extensive time troubleshooting it… and that might require going through the documentation. Good luck!

How to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse

While photographing a moon under normal conditions is challenging, it because EXTREMELY difficult to photograph during a lunar eclipse, because¬†the moon is in the Earth’s shadow, and might be 5,000 to 100,000 times darker. You simply can’t get your images as sharp or clean, but here are some tips:

  • Use a tripod. A big, heavy, tripod. You need all the stability you can get.
  • Start with an exposure of 1/4 second, ISO 6400, and your lowest f/stop number. If you use a longer shutter speed, you can use a lower ISO. However, the moon is constantly moving. On my particular camera, I calculated that the moon traveled 2.3 pixels during the¬†1/4 second exposure. Therefore, slower shutter speeds will result in even greater motion blur, depending on your focal length and your camera’s pixel density.
  • Take HUNDREDS of photos. Many won’t be sharp, because of the combination of a slower shutter speed and a telephoto lens.¬†Choose your sharpest¬†images. Don’t bother to stack them in Registax. Instead, use image averaging, as I show in this video.

If you can borrow a tracking head from an astronomer, that would allow you to take a clear, long exposure at a low ISO. A tracking head could pan your camera to follow the movement of the moon.

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How to Load Brushes into Photoshop

machu picchu with clouds smaller
I just finished recording a video about how to create clouds, fog, and mist in Photoshop.

As a part of that lesson I gave you kind folks a new brush to help you better create your clouds. If you’ve never loaded new brushes into Photoshop and need some help, follow the simple instructions below:

  1.  Download my brush file and save it in an easy-to-access file.
  2. ¬†In Photoshop, go to your Brush Presets panel by selecting ¬†the “window” menu at the top of your screen and selecting “brush presets.”
  3. ¬†Once you’ve accessed your brush presets menu, click the dropdown menu in upper right hand corner.
  4. ¬†Click “Load Brushes.”
  5.  Find the file where you stored the downloaded brushes and double click on the file.
  6.  Enjoy that sweet sweet cloud brush.
  7.  Share your cloud art in one of our private reader groups!
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Our Favorite Print Making Service (In the USA)


With all of the options available, it can be difficult to choose which service is worthy of printing your photos. Tony and I decided to alleviate your decision fatigue by choosing ten print providers, via your suggestions and some research, and ordering 8×10 prints for an overwhelmingly exciting print showdown. Take a deep breath, this gets intense.

Testing Method

First, we ordered the prints and took notes on the ordering process. Was the website a pain? Did we have to download a photo uploader? We took the entire process into account.

Once we had our prints we assessed how the prints were sent to us. Some were send in cardboard mailers that could easily bend and damage your photo. Others came fastened to cardboard, donning fancy packaging, and full of free print samples. One even came with candy! I tried not to let the candy weigh the score too heavily, but c’mon, free candy!

Next, we wrote the name of the print provider on the back of each print. Once turned over, each photo would be judged without us knowing where the print came from. We didn’t want to be biased.

We judged each print service on a scale from 1-10 (50 points total) using the following judging criteria:

  • Color/Tone/Exposure/clarity
  • Finish/weight
  • Packaging
  • Ordering Ease
  • Price

    maddy for print
    We used a photo with bright highlights and deep shadows to put the printers to the test!

The Winners

Mpix: 49/50

Easy to order, inexpensive, and well-balances, sharp photos. You can’t go wrong with Mpix. The weight of the paper was heavy and finish did not detract from the appearance of the photo.

WHCC: 48/50

WHCC was a very close second. The colors were slightly less rich, but still looked good and was clear and sharp. The ordering was easy, the print was inexpensive, and the print and packaging was very nice. They even included same photos so you can see and feel different photo paper textures and finishes.

Pro DPI: 47.5/50

FREE CANDY! That’s the first thing you think when you open your print from Pro DPI. When ordering from Pro DPI you need to download a photo uploader. Initially the process is annoying, but it’s a one-time annoyance and it’s common. Their prices are reasonable, they ship you your photo with free print samples, and their photos look great, too. They got some points off because the color tones in their print was not as preferable as those in other prints we received and their photo uploader is an initial annoyance.

Bay Photo: 47/50

Bay Photo also provided nice, affordable prints, but was lacking in a few ways. First of all, their website is a bit of a pain. It’s not pretty and requires you to download tools and an uploading tool. They have tutorials if you’re having trouble with their site. Their print was also a bit on the green side, which was especially noticeable with our print since it was a portrait. They do, however, offer some interesting mediums to print on, like bamboo and metal!

H&H Color Lab: 47/50

Overall, H&H offered decent prints. The skin tones were a bit on the pink side and the image seemed a bit less sharp than the others. The website is nice, but you have to log in to their site to order your prints and also requires a photo uploading tool.

Nations Photo Lab: 47/50

Nations offered a decent print, too. The color was fine, but the photo paper didn’t seem as nice as the other prints. Once in a frame, that likely wouldn’t be an issue, or you could order a heavier paper. Another downside to Nations was that the photo, like H&H, seemed to be a bit less sharp than the top 4 print providers. For $1.80, nations is one of the more affordable options!

The Not-so-Greats

CG Pro Prints: 43/50
CG Pro might be a great option for other print mediums, but for a plain 8×10 print they only offered Gicl√©e paper, which reduced the appearance of sharpness for our picture. The special paper made it the most expensive print we ordered, at $8.99.

AdormamaPix: 42/50
AdoramaPix had a website that was quick and easy to use, is affordable, and produced a clean sharp imagine. Their score was severely impacted by the color of the photo, which was very green and unusable.

Walmart: 38/50
Walmart offered one of the more expensive prints, but also managed to be grainy, not sharp, and have terrible color.

Shutterfly: 32/50

Shutterfly had one of the few prints that was so bad it could have been an anomaly. The color was very pink and washed out, highlights were blown out, and shadows were washed out. The print also lacked sharpness.

Conclusion

Based on our testing, the prints were hit or miss. The top six print providers had close enough scores that we think any photographer would have been happy with the prints they made. They all offered good prints at reasonable prices. The prints we had problems with had severe noticeable issues that made them unusable. Could we have gotten a bad print? It is possible, which is why we’d like to hear about your experiences!

You Tell Us

Did you get different results or have other recommendations? Comment below and tell us your favorite print service and why.

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Zhongyi Mitakon 50mm f/0.95 Speedmaster Review

After about 8 months of real-world use, we’re finally publishing a review of¬†our favorite and most hated lens: the Mitakon 50mm f0.95.

It’s a manual focus, full-frame lens that ONLY fits Sony full-frame bodies. You could technically put it on a Sony APS-C body like an a6000, but then it¬†becomes more of a portrait lens (75mm f/1.4 equivalent), and it loses much of its great qualities. Plus, at $900, it costs more than a used Sony a7, so you might as well upgrade the body first.

It can do this:

DSC02228

 

Check out that crazy background blur and vignetting! It looks like someone overdid it with Instagram filters, but it’s real, genuine,¬†and fun.

But first,¬†this lens has a HUGE¬†flaw, and it’s the same flaw that many of the world’s most loved lenses have, including the world’s¬†sharpest lens, the Zeiss Otus 85mm:¬†It’s manual focus with a shallow depth-of-field.

Continue reading Zhongyi Mitakon 50mm f/0.95 Speedmaster Review

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Canon 5DS-R DxOMark Scores: Why you Shouldn’t Care

DxOMark published their objective measurements of our favorite camera in¬†the world, the Canon 5DS-R. As usual, the media has taken the (largely meaningless) “Overall Score” measurement and used that to rank the camera. Here’s a headline from a page I like, SonyAlphaRumors:

Continue reading Canon 5DS-R DxOMark Scores: Why you Shouldn’t Care