What is so Super about a Super Moon?

August 10, 2014 just passed. It was the most recent Super moon. The term “Super moon” was coined by astrologers not astronomers and refers to a moon which is both full and also within 4 hours of its closest approach to earth.

The media gleefully report the super moon and show pictures of huge moons (many of which have been photo manipulated).  Here is the straight scoop on the subject. If you’re wondering whether that photo you’ve seen of the “too big to be true moon” has been doctored, we have an article on that.

Extreme SuperMoon [5_059193]

The most “Extreme” Supermoon of the Century occurred in 2012.  Here it was photographed in Yosemite approximately 15 minutes after it reached perigee.

What Makes the Moon Larger or Smaller When Seen from Earth?

Because the orbit of the moon around the earth is not circular, the distance from earth to the moon varies and thus the apparent (angular size) of the moon changes. Every lunar cycle the earth-lunar distance varies between its closest approach called perigee and its farthest distance, called apogee.  How big is the difference? The closest approach is 363,104 km (225,622 miles) and the farthest, 406,696 km (252,088 miles). 

What is the difference in apparent size?  At apogee, the moon is 22,293 km farther away or -5.8% smaller than an average moon.  At perigee the moon is 5.54% larger than the average moon. Comparing apogee and perigee moons, the difference is a maximum angular size difference of about 12%  The average angular size of the moon, by the way, is half of a degree or 30 minutes of arc. That angle is slightly smaller than the size of the nail on your little finger when held at arm’s length. Those of you with significantly mis-sized pinky nails or unusual arm length might want to find another object to measure with at arm’s length.

In short: You’d have to be a very keen observer to notice a 12% difference in size between a super moon and a “wimpy” (apogee) moon.

Because the moon is slowly spiraling away from earth eventually the perigee moon will grow smaller and smaller in apparent size until one day, we will no longer experience total solar eclipses. The perigee moon will be too small to cover the angular disk of the sun which also happens to be almost exactly one half of a degree. From that point on, all solar eclipses will be “annular” like this one in May, 2012. Had the moon been closer to the earth, this may have been a total solar eclipse.

Annular Eclipse Sequence [C_040079+5s]

 

 

How is a Full Moon Determined?

A full moon is defined as the moment in time when the sun, earth and moon are in syzygy. Syzygy is not only an interesting Scrabble(tm) word, but it defines when three bodies are in alignment. When the sun and moon are 180 degrees opposite one another relative to the Earth, we have syzygy which is the instance in which the moon is Full Moon. Many of us think of a “full moon” as that period during the month when the moon appears to be fully lit. That period lasts almost 70 hours, so we understand how reckoning a full moon as a moment in time is a bit confusing.

If you didn’t observe the August moon within 4 hours either side of when it was full, you did not see the super moon.  On the United States West Coast the super moon was not visible. Why? The moon set at 6:10 AM almost 5 hours before the moon was full. Those in Hawaii could just catch the super moon setting.  Those on the East Coast of the US had no chance at all. The whole super moon window occurred during the time the moon was not visible on the East Coast.

The Last (and Next) Visible Super Moons

If you missed the May, 2012 Extreme Super Moon (my term, photo above), you’ve missed the largest possible full moon for more than a century into the future. On May 5, 2012 fullness and perigee occurred within less than two minutes of one another.  But don’t fret.  The difference in size between the extreme super moon an the average super moon is too small to notice unless you measure carefully.  If you paid close attention you probably also noticed that the May 20, 2012 annular solar eclipse followed nearly half a lunar cycle after the May 5, 2012 super moon. That is not a coincidence! The moon was closest to us on May 5th so half of a lunar cycle away it must be farthest from us!

On August 10, 2014, full moon and perigee occurred within about 1 hour of each other. The next super moon is in September 8, 2014. The moon will not be as close to perigee at the moment when it becomes full, but the moment of full moon occurs at 9:38 PM PDT, just as the moon rises. It will be a true super moon!

Catch One Yourself

We plan to schedule a “Catching the Moon” Webinar well in advance. Stay tuned.  One complication is that the wonderful Photographer’s Ephemeris Tool will cease to work in desktop mode soon. It is being replaced with a browser version. While the tools is excellent, and we highly recommend it (and that you donate if you use it!) TPE still leaves some important bits of the puzzle unresolved – we will fill those in for you and give you a crack at our tool(s).

The moon caught between El Capitan and Half Dome - Actual size, no manipulation

The moon caught between El Capitan and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park – Actual size, no manipulation

Look What You Did!

First we really appreciate the mastery of Matt Molloy who has been using the Advanced Stacker PLUS to reach creative new heights in “TimeStacks”.  This is one of his images below in which he stacks part of the image with Comet mode, and the rest with lighten mode. Click the image to read more.

Reach for the Clouds by Matt Molloy

Reach for the Clouds by Matt Molloy

We invited users of the Advanced Stacker PLUS to give us feedback on their experiences with our Photoshop Add-in. We asked folks is if they had an image that they made with the software that they’d like us to see. Wow. We are impressed! Take a look for yourself. We used the links provided so none of the images shown are on our server. In other words, if an image does not load properly, there is nothing we at StarCircleAcademy can do to fix the issue.  Where possible, clicking the image will take you to the photographer’s site.

Version 14E is available now, by the way.

If your image appears here and you’d rather it did not, let us know and we’ll remove it.

Exit Criteria

Exit Criteria by Steven Christenson (channeling Matt Molloy)

'Aurora Star Trails' - Trwyn Du, Anglesey

Aurora Star Trails by Adrian Kingsley Hughes

Rocky Mtns

Rocky Mountains by Bob Gibbon

The Chalice by John Mu

The Chalice by John Mumaw

Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico by John C. Struck

Church by Bob Edwards

Church by Bob Edwards

OG PIER 1 by Daniel P Studios

OG PIER 1 by Daniel P Studios

Lassen Campfire Pano 1

Lassen Campfire Pano 1

Red River Camping Spot Star Trails by Jeff Stephens

Red River Camping Spot Star Trails by Jeff Stephens

Milky Way Star Trails

Milky Way Star Trails by Beau Liddell

Stow Time Stall by Brian Drourr

Stow Time Stall by Brian Drourr

Starflight over Pointy Land

Starflight over Pointy Land by Steven Christenson

Chapel in Starlight by Keith Doucet

Chapel in Starlight by Keith Doucet

The 5 Most Used Photo Enhancement Techniques – Part 3

Out Darn Spots – Cropping

Beware cropping too soon. It is an easy way to get rid of problematic areas of the frame, but might bite back!

One obvious way to remove encumbrances is to crop them out. As tempting as it seems to crop the photo first, we generally leave cropping to the end of the effort for several reasons which we enumerate here:

  1. Sometimes clients (i.e. you) want an image in a different format. Instead of 14×11 you may want it in 20×16. If we crop it first, we are deciding the display format without thinking it through. Sometimes the ratio will be obvious due to the subject, but usually there is some room to play. We prefer to keep our options open until the end.
  2. By cropping out edges, we may be throwing away good sources for cloning out defects, or making cloning and healing harder because operations at the edge of the frame are not as neat.
  3. Care should be taken to not have details at the edge of the frame. What happens, for example, if you are asked to make a canvas wrap of your image (in our Half Dome example, the hiker would be perilously wrapped at the edge).
  4. More than once we have discovered that a portrait mode image worked better in landscape and vice-versa.

It IS true that if we do not crop early we may end up wasting effort on portions of the image we ultimately will discard. Sometimes it is obvious that a portion of the image is unusable and will be cropped. Once we cropped out two figures at the summit of Half Dome to focus attention on the landscape. We later discovered that a tiny figure at the edge of the scene provided both scale and human interest. The California Wine Institute probably would not have been interested in the person-less scene.

Dawn sky atop Half Dome [9753]

Closely related to the cropping problem, is the compositional decision when the photo is taken. We have learned the hard way that its good to leave room around the edges of the frame – one never knows how much space will be needed after cropping to a specific size.

We will not spend much time on cropping, except to restate our premise that cropping is something you should NOT do until you are ready to print or display your image. Secondly, you will find it advantageous to crop in a STANDARD ratio if you expect to frame or mount your images.

In Lightroom, the crop tool is found just to the left of the Spot Healing tool (see below). In both Lightroom and Photoshop the crop tool is overloaded. It can crop, rotate and straighten (and in Photoshop the crop tool also resizes!). Perhaps the best advice we have is to use a pre-set Aspect ratio. You can also add your own ratio(s).

LR_Croptool

Our next bit of advice with respect to cropping: in Photoshop we do not recommend cropping and resizing as one operation. Crop using a “ratio” and only later should you resize, that is, keep as much of the image intact as possible for as long as possible.

Our last bit of advice on cropping: if you DO crop an image in Photoshop, when you save it, include the image pixel dimensions.  Nothing is quite as frustrating as saving a cropped image and destroying the original! Our practice is to always save cropped images in a subfolder named “Exported”.

We could conduct a diatribe about “DPI” and “PPI” and explain why those are pretty useless things in most contexts, but we will not!

Healing Out Dust Spots, Hot Spots and Unwanted Things

Perhaps one of the easiest tools to use in Lightroom (and Photoshop) is the Clone/Healing tool. Unfortunately, you need Lightroom 5 to get the features shown here.

LR_CloneHealTool

The “Spot Removal Tool” in Lightroom can Clone or Heal

Most of the time you will want to HEAL rather than clone.  Clone, as it sounds makes a copy of the source over the destination.  To heal or clone you click the spot healing tool, adjust the size and then click the area of the image with the problem. Lightroom will select what it thinks is a similar area from somewhere else in the photo. You can drag the “similar area” selection somewhere else if the selected area does not make sense (such as picking a fence to replace a grassy spot).  Generally it is best to make the brush only as large as needed. If a line is to be healed out clicking and dragging often works.

Heal out A Satellite Streak in Lightroom

Heal out A Satellite Streak in Lightroom

After dragging along the unwanted satellite trail in the photo above, Lightroom finds a matching area of the sky. In this case the area Lightroom chose will duplicate stars, so we drag the handle of the chosen area to a blank sky.  Note that the blob at the upper left indicates the area used to heal the area at the end of the white arrow.

Heal a segment, Lightroom

Heal a segment, Lightroom

Done Healing

After dragging the source area click Done to complete the healing

And when done, click “Done”. If the healing looks bad, you can delete and try again. Healing out spots in Lightroom is a little more tedious than doing so in Photoshop in part because having overlapping healing areas is difficult in Lightroom. (The only way to overlap healing/spot correct areas in Lightroom is to create a new spot and drag the source and destinations so they overlap a previous heal.  In Photoshop, we strongly recommend creating a separate layer to do healing on – but wait until near the end of your processing to do so!  The easiest way to create the layer to heal on is with the magic key sequence Control-Alt-Shift-E  (Command-Option-Shift-E on the Mac). That key sequence effectively does a “merge visible layers” but creates a new layer as a result.  If there is only one layer use Control-J (Command-J) instead.

Healing In Photoshop

Photoshop Spot Healing Tool

Photoshop Spot Healing Tool

There are MANY tools for “healing” in Photoshop.  There are also two flavors of the “Clone” stamp tool found under a separate palette. To choose the spot healing tool, click J (Shift-j) until it looks like a bandage with a dotted selection behind it.  You can also right-click the tool and select as shown above.  If you use the OTHER version of the bandage (healing tool) you must first select the area to use as the source using alt-click (Option-click on a Mac). In our experience it is seldom necessary to select the source so that extra step is wasted effort.  To heal in a straight line in Photoshop, click the first location then hold down the shift key and click the second region.  The shift-key trick works for most Photoshop operations like brush strokes, too. The shift trick does not work in Lightroom 5.2

There are some settings for the healing tool so if things get weird, double-check the tool bar at the top – make sure it is Normal mode.

Photoshop (CC) Healing Tool Settings

Photoshop (CC) Spot Healing Tool Settings

As a final step we regularly “heal” out hot pixels from our final night image. The Photoshop spot healing tool is very easy to use even if there are a hundred spots to fix. While it might be tempting to rely on noise reduction to solve the hot pixel problem, significant blurring occurs.

If you have a particularly difficult healing problem there are yet more advanced techniques, for example you can use the Clone or the Patch tool. Generally you will use the healing tool when you want to make the area being fixed look like the rest of the image and you will use the clone tool when you need to duplicate a texture or remove a larger hindrance.  For example I found it was easier to clone out the glowing orange highway safety cone that someone (or something) had cast into the brush just above where my name is in the image below.

Dream Highway [C_071601]

 

If there is interest we can cover how we handled a severely over exposed area in this image by using the patch healing tool.

The area at the left was over exposed so I used the "bump" rock in the right hand third to fix it. This is "rough"

The area at the left was over exposed so I used the boulder in the right hand third to fix it. This is “rough”

Looking for the prior two articles? Check Part 1 and Part 2.

Philosophy of Advanced Stacker PLUS

ASP14e-500

Coming soon…

Our 14e release is imminent. But after looking at our survey results and the most recently reported issues, we thought it wise to provide some hints to help you use the current software and to help you understand tradeoffs we made.

Our most commonly reported issue is something we struggled with. In an attempt to help users understand features we caused confusion. What are we talking about?  There are pop up windows: some of which should be Continued some of which should be Stopped. The only notification tool that works across all versions of Photoshop reliably doesn’t allow much customization, so when confronted with each of these dialogs, its understandable why some people click Stop when they should Continue and click Continue when they should Stop. The pop-up window below was the worst. We added highlighting to make it easy to see the difference, but we can’t use color or graphics on the actual pop-up without creating compatibility problems.  Do you notice the difference?

ASP14d_NotStop

This dialog indicates that the Watermark Alignment is not set… click CONTINUE

ASP14d_DoStop

If you stop on the first dialog, the layers needed to do stacking are not created and you will get errors the first of which is usually “Move is not currently available”

Move Not Available

Move Not Available

Once there is any kind of error it’s time to Stop and restart because manipulating layers in Photoshop is a little fragile.  The good news is the first pop-up can be turned off. The better news is that in 14e we have already turned it off for you. In fact in 14e we’ve trimmed down interaction as much as possible but still kept the awesome extra features.  Here is how to turn off the first pop-up (the one regarding Watermark Alignment) in version 14d and earlier.

Stop the Pop

Stop the Pop – disable the “Stop” step in Align My Watermark

Power of the Batch

The Advanced Stacker PLUS derives much of it’s power from two key things: Photoshop’s ability to batch process images AND Photoshop’s ability to open just about any image format on the planet.  Batch processing works because it is possible to use File -> Automate -> Batch to hurl a handful or a folder full of images at customized scripts and actions.  While Adobe Photoshop Elements has a “batch processor” there is no way to do operations other than those that are built-in to the software and that’s why ASP doesn’t support Elements.

One of the weaknesses of using Photoshop’s captive power is that it requires exploiting the tool in ways that are “allowed”.  While we like Adobe Photoshop CC, there are still many people who are very happy with older, non-cloud versions of Photoshop like CS3 or CS4.  We chose to not abandon that 35% of our customers so we support ALL CS versions of Photoshop on both Mac and PC. and that means we limit our actions and scripts to features that are common across all those versions and platforms. Readers may not be aware, for example, that while Adobe has published tools for customizing the interface, those tools have generally only supported the “latest” version of software. Indeed one of the most used tools (Configurator) has been abandoned and is no longer supported.

Another tradeoff has been in how we document our features. For example the File -> Automate -> Batch method of stacking a folder full of files is workable, if inelegant. But we use the Photoshop Bridge method of feeding the stacker and like it much more for several significant reasons.  One huge advantage of using Bridge is that you can actually see the content of the files. Another obvious advantage is that you are not constrained by what’s in your folder. If you have 29 shots from one sequence and 120 of another sequence you don’t have to split those shots between folders. And, in fact, with Bridge to select files you don’t have to use the same stacking method for all the files of one set, or have files from only one folder!

A word about 14E

As noted above, version 14E is imminent. Surprisingly the biggest obstacle has not been the additional features, the primary obstacle has been packaging and delivering the content. Windows 8.1 and Mac OSX 10.9 have gotten very protective of their machines and throw up many roadblocks to try to keep your machine safe from viruses and trojans. This means we had to invest $1500 dollars to become an LLC, get signed up for the Mac developer plan, get a Mac code signing certificate and get a code signing certificate for Windows, too! That doesn’t include acquiring a Mac or polishing the scripts and installers on each machine. Here is what the problem looks like on a Windows PC using Internet Explorer without signed code (it’s just as bad with Safari on Mac).

ASP_IE_RunAnyway

In fact, on both machines even though the code is signed (proving its provenance), you are still likely to get a warning like “This is not a commonly downloaded file”. It might be easier if we could email it to you, right? Except that Google, Yahoo and many others will not deliver an email that includes any executable content.

Both PCs and Macs have reached this point described in a Mac advertisement from 2009 that pokes fun at Vista’s intrusive safety system. Guess what… both machines are becoming like this because there are so many, uh, jerks out there eager to harm you electronically.

Our holy grail has been to create a single deliverable package that works both on a PC and on your Mac that we can document clearly, simply and as completely as possible.  That was probably too high a goal.

What’s coming in 14e?

  • Installation now is as simple as clicking.
  • EXIF data for the first image is preserved
  • New stacking mode of Ultra Streaks
  • Streamlined pop-ups to the minimum
  • Fully supports paths on both PC and Mac
  • Installation works for ALL versions of Photoshop CS you have installed on your machine
  • A price increase. But current owners will get the upgrade for free.
  • Some features we’re keeping under wraps for now.