Lunar photography: Shooting for the moon
One of the most common, and also most imaged target in the night sky is our own moon. : is relatively inexpensive and easy way to start your astrophotography.
Moonrise (or set) on the horizon is the most interesting time to photograph it. Often this requires planning, but you can get the moon behind almost anything if you’re in the right spot. I use The Photographer’s Ephemeris or TPE for short to plan my shoots. But there is a lot more software out there.
When the moon is hing in the sky its worth taking a look in the moon itself. With hing magnification new problem arises, seeing. Seeing is in a nutshell, atmosphere that blurs your image. That’s why it’s recommended to avoid cities because heat rising from them will affect seeing in a negative way.
You can also take few hundred still frames and stack the best of them. I often evaluate my seeing straight in camera and use the “protect” –function to tag the best images for stacking. Rest I will delete and I end up with 20-50 shots that are reasonably sharp. More the better!
Aligning your images
Our moon moves, and Earth rotates at the same time. So you’re going to end up with 20+ moons in frame if you’re not aligning images first. I use free software called Hugin for alignment. Here is how I do it step-by-step.
When you launch Hugin for the first time, it looks like this. This is simplified version of it and what we want is to enable them all. On the top left select Interface and change that to Expert mode.
Now go to folder you have your images, convert them to 16bit tiff at original size and resolution and do not make any adjustments (except white balance sync) in any software before! Stack first, edit later is the general rule. This is to avoid local adjustments that will mess up your image.
Drag and drop the images in Hugin, after they have loaded in the Photos tab click Create control points, left corner underneath the file list. Hugin starts calculating the control points automatically, 99% of the photos I’ve processed this is enough so you don’t have to set control points manually. However if you don’t get the alignment right you can do this in the control points tab simply by adding control points in the image pairs. Make sure they are a match. Press Ctrl + T and after the optimizer has finished and click ok.
Now lets see what your stack looks like: Press Control + P for preview. There is a lot of empty space around the actual images? Don’t worry, to fix this press Centre in the upper left corner and then update the preview with update button. Now just close the preview window and go to Stitcher tab.
Click on the Calculate Field-of-view, after that has finished click on Calculate optimal size and after that Fit crop to images. By doing this Hugin calculates original size, field of view and crops out empty areas to speed out stitching.
In the Stitcher tab (panorama outputs) deselect Exposure correction, low dynamic range. Move down to Remapped images and select No Exposure correction, low dynamic range. After that move down to Processing. Select Nona Options. A small window pops up, deselect Save cropped images so Hugin doesn’t do unnecessary images which you don’t need.
Then press stich and let Hugin do its magic, make sure you save the images in different folder so you don’t mix up the tiffs you just put in. You end up with bunch of files, these are your aligned images. Now you can just stack them in any software. You don’t need any calibration frames, vignette removal in Hugin is very good and stacking should reduce noise.
For final stacking I use EnfuseGUI, its easy and fast software for stacking and also free.
On the right side there is Fusion options, there is many ways to do this but I prefer these settings.
Then just press Enfuse it! on the right side of the file list. EnfuseGUI creates new folder called Enfused in the same folder where your images are.
Open folder and you will find a tiff file on the root. Import this to Lightroom, Photoshop or any other program for further processing. If you don’t find image in there you’re probably out of memory, stack less images using same method in the EnfuseGUI and after you’ve stacked them all as separate files add stacked images for final stacking.
Wrapping it up
So here we are, now if everything worked correctly you should end up with a nice and sharp image. The moon is interesting subject and only limiting factor is your creativity.
Also DSLR’s these days have great video recording capabilities, you can easily do mosaic image from stacked video frames to improve your image sharpness even further. But that’s another story, have fun!
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