# Catching the Moon Simplified

Freedom – the statue at the summit of the Nation’s Capitol – Gazes at the rising Moon

3 Steps to Moon (or sun) catching. And there is more: you can check the view with Google Street View, and even check the weather with the weather button.

After clicking “Moon” you get the report thanks to Jeff Conrad’s SunMoonCalc tool. Be careful to be sure it selects the time correctly. Below it’s off by an hour due to Daylight savings time.

Moonrise over Lick Observatory from near SJC Airport… all opportunities from this location for the next 4 years!

# What Problems Does the MoonChase Tool Solve?

The tool was designed to do the trigonometry for you. Did you know there is trigonometry involved?  Don’t worry, you don’t have to know trigonometry or math.  Nor do you have to know about spherical coordinates, azimuths, altitudes or the three different kinds of twilight.  All you have to know is where you want to stand, and what you want to be in your picture. Drag the markers around on the map and click one of the Solve buttons. OR use the tool in concert with The Photographer’s Ephemeris.

# What Do I Need to Know to Do?

It’s very helpful to be able to do the following things: grab GPS coordinates from Google Maps and/or Photographers Ephemeris.  We teach how to grab GPS coordinates in the course. You’ll also want to know how to find heights of your favorite landmarks. Google comes in really handy for finding heights of buildings!  One more thing you’ll want to verify is whether you can See the landmark from the place you want to stand. Again, we describe 4 different ways you can do that in the webinar. The rest is dragging and clicking!

# How Long Will it Take?

If you already have the coordinates, it will take perhaps thirty seconds – or not even that long.

# I WANT THAT! How Do I Get It?

Easy: Sign up for the webinar and you’ll get immediate access to the private page plus the videos and notes. If you’ve already taken the webinar, go to the private page and you’ll find the link in the Resources section.  Or as a prior purchaser, just sit tight as we’ll be sending the new materials out to all prior purchasers over the next 3 weeks.

Not Scheduled but usually 7:00 PM PDT (7 MDT / 8 CDT / 9 EDT) for 2 hours
In this 110 minute Webinar, you will be introduced to several free (and almost free) tools that you can use to plan a moon (or sun) shot - including a tool written by Steven and made available only to attendees. Have you wanted to capture the moon "right where you want it" but weren't sure how? If you know you could resort to photo editing and fake it but you'd rather get the real deal then this class is for you. Steven will demonstrate how to determine when and where to go to capture an image like the Moon over Lick Observatory or the moon at the Transamerica Building or the sun shining through a portal in the Pacific Ocean (below). This is a Webinar so you can conveniently attend from your computer at work or home anywhere in the world. This course includes notes, access to a private page with details - including landmark events Steven has already solved for you, an online viewable recorded webinar with unlimited online viewing that you can watch NOW before the webinar is held. One indispensable tool covered in detail is the Photographer's Ephemeris by Stephen Trainor.

## What You'll Learn

Steven will show
1. How to Plan a moon or solar "contact" shot.
2. How smartphone based tools may help - or sabotage - your attempts to get an alignment
3. How to use the moon to illuminate your foreground,
4. How the presence of the moon affects photos of the night sky,
5. How to find information about interesting celestial events,
6. How to find compelling locations for "alignment" images, and
7. What camera settings you need to get it all exposed just right.

Remember that this event INCLUDEs online videos, notes, and access to a special tool that Steven uses to solve lunar and solar contact shots.

The moon rises behind Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton, San Jose, California

# Simple Astro Processing Technique to Conquer Noise

Published: Jun 20, 2012
Last Updated: March 5, 2017

Is one of these your scenario?

• It’s really dark. The ISO is bumped up, the noise is screaming at you, but you REALLY want the shot.
• The Milky Way looks SO gorgeous, you want to take it home with you like a trophy, but when you shoot short enough exposures to prevent smears, mostly what you get is noise.
• You are surprised that you can faintly make out the Milky Way. You know your buddies will be jealous if you can show them a photo of the Milky Way that you took from IN TOWN. They won’t believe you!
• You have a great star trail, but your foreground is not lit. The photo would sing if you could tease out that foreground – minus the noise, of course.

In the Star Circle Academy’s “Astrophotography 101: Getting Started without Getting Soaked” webinar we cover all the theory and equipment you need to take gorgeous photos of deep sky objects (nebula, galaxies):

But absent the fancy equipment, all you need is a wee bit of Photoshop skill to get a pretty compelling image. Less than 10 miles away from Palo Alto, California, with over 8 million households in a 50 mile radius I got the image you see below. I understand why you might not believe me.  Is it the most compelling Milky Way you’ll ever see – definitely not.

Here is the best I could do with a single image from the same location:

After much processing it’s still noisy (grainy) and contrast poor.

We covered the processing technique in our Night Photography 150: Photo Manipulation I Webinar – among many other topics. Below is a 7 minute video describing how to do that simple astro photography processing.

If you think a webinar on photo processing would be of interest, join our Interest List for this or other topics and you’ll be notified when we schedule the next webinar. You can influence the topics we choose to cover by making your comments here.

NOTE: If the above says password required, enter scanp150 In the video, you’ll also learn how to constrain the healing tool, use curves, layers, and the history tool to undo inadvertant changes.

ALSO NOTE: Advanced StackerPLUS has a built in averaging operation. You just feed it the images. It does NOT do auto alignment, however.

In our next installment, we will talk about how to get the Milky Way shots in the first place. Camera considerations, settings, tradeoffs.

By the way, this image consists of a single sky shot and a multi-processed foreground using the technique described above. Click the image for further details.

We have another video tutorial that uses some similar processing techniques:

# Stratospheric Exercise for Moonatics

The moon setting behind the US Capitol Building, Washington, DC

If you’re going to chase the moon (or the sun), there are problems that you need to solve.  Here are some exercises to hone your sun and moon chasing skills so you can turn the chasing into catching.  The questions get progressively harder.  Those who have taken our Catching the Moon Webinar will find the answers and much more detail on the private course materials page.  The tools you will need to solve the problems include

You might also want to read some of our past articles on the topic, especially part 1 and part 2.

## The Stratosphere Tower, Las Vegas, Nevada

I’ve picked a place that I hope few people are intimately familiar with.  Many of use have been to Las Vegas, Nevada and know that there is one of the worlds tallest towers there. I’ve even had the thrill of hopping on the “Big Shot” ride – the tallest ride in the world.  The Stratosphere Tower is second in the Americas in height only to the CN Tower in Toronto.  The Stratophere’s height above relatively flat surroundings makes it an easier target for catching a sun or moon set or rise from a distance far enough to make the tower seem small.  Even though the Stratosphere is tall, there are complications – including surrounding buildings and surrounding mountains. The farther you move away from the tower, the more significant those obstructions and potential obstructions become.

If you have never seen the tower, above is a relatively close up shot captured from Google Street View. Take note of the height of the mast above the “bulge” in the tower – that’s where you find the ride “Big Shot.” To my thinking it would not be terribly interesting to get an alignment with the sun or moon behind the mast of the tower. On the other hand, if the moon/sun diameter is not as large or larger than the bulge, the shot may not be all that interesting either.

On to the questions, starting from the basic data you need to collect, and on through to solving a “real life” alignment problem.

1. What is is the correct GPS location for the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas, Nevada?
2. The base of the Stratosphere Tower is at what elevation?
3. Looking west from the base of the Stratosphere Tower, what is the azimuth and altitude of the tallest natural obstruction in the range of West, south west, to west north west (235 to 295 degrees)?
4. From the tower at ground level: sunset on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 occurs in line with which of these natural features:
2. Griffith Peak
3. Lone Mountain
4. Frenchman Mountain
5. Mt Charleston
5. On what day in August, 2012 will the sun appear to set on (not behind) La Madre Mountain peak?
6. How far is the summit of La Madre Mountain from the base of the Stratosphere Tower?
7. Can the Stratosphere Tower be seen from the intersection of Boulder Hwy (Nevada Route 582,aka Fremont Street) and East Sahara Avenue?
8. If the tower is visible from the above intersection, which part of the intersection provides the least obstructed view?
1. East
2. North
3. South
4. West
9. How tall is the Stratosphere Tower (excluding the antenna/mast on top)?
10. How far is the Stratosphere Tower from the Fremont Street/East Sahara avenue intersection?
11. What is the difference in altitude between ground level at the Stratosphere, and the ground level at the intersection?
1. The intersection is 279 feet lower
2. The Stratosphere is 279 feet lower
3. No change
4. The Stratosphere is 1,402 feet higher
12. What is the altitude (angle above ground) from the intersection to the tip of the mast of the Stratosphere?
13. On Wednesday, December 19, 2012 from the intersection, the moon will pass closest to the Stratosphere tower at what time:
14. From the intersection the apparent moon size is about:
1. Equal to the tower height, excluding the mast
2. Half the height of the tower, excluding the mast
3. 1/6 the height of the tower, excluding the mast
4. Twice the height of the tower, including the mast
15. On Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at the time calculated in question 13 the moon will:
1. Pass just under the bulge in the tower
2. Pass just over the bulge in the tower
3. Pass behind the bulge of the tower
4. Pass through the mast of the tower
16. As seen from the intersection: what is the first day after June 13, 2012 when a nearly full moon (at least 95% illuminated) will appear to set behind the Stratosphere Tower?
17. What is the NEXT day after the date found in the previous calculation that a nearly full moon will appear to set behind the Stratosphere Tower? (Hint: it’s more than a year later than the previous event).
18. You want to catch Venus crossing the face of the sun as the sun sets behind the Stratosphere tower on June 5, 2012. In what publicly accessible location would you stand, and at what time so that:
1. The sun is as large as possible relative to the tower (i.e. you’re standing as far away as practical).
2. You are confident there is a visible line of sight to the tower.
3. There are as few obstructions as possible in your line of sight.
4. There is no mountain, hill or other building behind the tower along the sightline.
5. You have at least a little bit of room to move to correct for misalignments in your calculations (e.g. standing on a manhole cover in the middle of the freeway is not advisable!)

Good luck!

PS If you’re stumped, I recommend our Catching the Moon (and Sun) Webinar.

NOTE: You are free to ask or answer any of the questions in comments, but those comments will remain private so that those who come along later won’t be tempted to cheat!

# Easy (HDR) Blending with Stacking Software

I’ve been teaching a “Catching the Moon” webinar approximately monthly. The focus of that course is to teach how to properly expose for the moon, how to catch the moon aligned with your favorite landmark, and how to determine the optimum light scenarios.  The webinar is based on my Alignment 1 and Alignment 2 articles with a healthy dose of additional material including some private material for students only.

One of the most difficult aspects of getting a moon alignment is that there is a pretty small optimum time window for getting an exposure.  Shooting earlier or later makes the foreground illumination and the moon illumination all but impossible to get both exposed properly in a single shot.

Here is an example of a single shot where the lighting was pretty close to perfect (though you can see the moon is a bit over exposed).

However later that evening the sunset occurred quite a while before moon rise, so the sky and foreground were much darker.  The photographer faces a conundrum. Expose for the foreground or expose to preserve moon features.

On the left is a 30 second exposure prior to moon rise (though a tiny bit of the moon is in fact visible). On the right a 1/25th of a second exposure. Both taken on a tripod at f/9, ISO 250, 444mm effective focal length.  The problem is that a longer exposure renders the moon as a white featureless blob or streak (see below for an example). However exposing for the moon as on the right renders the foreground all but invisible.

## What to Do?

There are a couple of simple alternatives. One is to bring both images into Photoshop. Make both images layers, the moon on top of the background and combine the two images using “Lighten” blending mode.  That will work very well and it’s essentially what happens when using the StarCircleAcademy Stacking Action. But that action, and even Photoshop are overkill for this situation.

### Free Solution!

Fortunately Markus Enzweiler offers a free solution called StarStax that runs on Windows, Linux and Mac that makes it trivially simple to combine these two exposures – assuming they were taken on a tripod and the zoom, focus and direction does not change between shots.  StarStax is tailored to stacking star trails, but it does the same operation that Photoshop (and Image Stacker and StarTrails.de do).

And fortunately you can make it do a little more with almost no extra effort… as in this example. When the first image was taken it was quite dark and required a long exposure to capture foreground details.  Then all the moon images were taken with identical settings using an intervalometer.  It’s interesting to note how the moon darkens and deepens in color as it sinks in the atmosphere.

So how do you create the simple or “stacked” motion images?  Easy.

And here is the result.

Obviously to create a descending or ascending moon sequence you merely need to combine exposures taken at the appropriate interval. What is that interval? The moon travels roughly its diameter in two minutes. About 2 minutes, 14 seconds to be more precise.  I recommend taking exposures twice or four times as often as that, however and just use every-other or every fourth shot.

Since I took a simple approach to blend the images I also elected to go simple in presentation. Rather than fight the many different colors inherent in urban night scenes, I used Picasa3 to convert to monochrome, crop and frame the combined image – here using an earlier shot than the “Golf Ball on a Tee” shot above.

Here is one last example of a descending crescent moon combined using Photoshop. Here I didn’t wait a full moon diameter time between images because it was a crescent moon:

This also illustrates why taking more frequent exposures gives more creative latitude.