Self Isolating, Social Distancing, re named Physical Distancing!

Crazy SUN pics and real MOON pics....MORE TO COME

April 19 2020
Self Isolating, Social Distancing re named Physical Distancing

I've been thinking about how to keep shooting during this COVID-19 pandemic and social/physical distancing situation. I've figured out that depending on the time of day, I can get some pretty good shots of the Sun and the Moon from my front and back porch. I shoot the Sun from front porch, with my solar eclipse filter attached to my 75-300mm lens. The Moon, I shoot from both front and back, using the same lens without the filter. On April 7-8, I was lucky enough to shoot a "supermoon" or "pink moon" which happens when full Moon coincides with the Moon's closest approach to Earth and looks bigger and brighter than usual. It's been a while since I've taken Moon pics, the last time was on slide film!

So, two very different celestial bodies, the Moon 384,400 km from Earth, and the Sun 149,576,870 km from Earth, respectively. It takes about 1.3 seconds for light to travel from the Moon to the Earth, and just over 8 minutes for light from the Sun to reach us.

All from my front and back porch - amazing!

The Sun

The Sun is our closest star and is situated in the centre of the Solar System. It brings life-giving heat and light to Earth, and I'm taking pics of all its glory from my front and back porch.

Shooting the Sun is an interesting process for me. I have a tripod for stability, a piece of black velvet, a remote control, and my Canon EOS 80D camera with a solar filter attached to the 75-300mm lens. I also have a prototype Sun Finder that was made for me and is attached to my camera body hot shoe. The most difficult thing to do when shooting the Sun, even with a 75-300mm lens is to point the camera up and get the Sun positioned correctly in my frame. It's similar to trying to find the Sun with a small telescope – very difficult! Jim Kendrick of Kendrick Astro Instruments, with the help of my astronomer friend Andrew Yee, made me a Sun Finder. The Sun Finder has a small hole that lets sunlight in to indicate that the Sun is positioned within the camera's frame.

Once I have the Sun within the frame, I centre it, and manually focus, until the edge of the Sun is at its sharpest either looking through the viewfinder or on the live view that the camera LCD displays. Once I'm positioned, I shoot and bracket shutter speeds, not stops. I change my ISO. I like to use ISO 400, f-stop somewhere between f8-f11, maybe f-10, and shutter speed 1/1250 second. With these settings, I will bracket 1/1250, 1/1600, 1/2000, 1/2500, then 1/1000, 1/800, 1/640. 1/500. I'm over-bracketing, but it's digital, so it doesn't matter. The excitement has begun. Through my solar filter, everything in the frame is black, except the Sun.

I shoot RAW and large jpeg. I still don't quite understand RAW, I just save it this way. I process the RAW image and then save it in Photoshop, I frenetically click buttons, changing contrast, hue, posterization, shadow highlights, levels, vibrance, gaussian blur, and solarize, and more. I work myself up to a frenzy, I go back and forth, up and down, and this is part of my process. I don't take my eyes off the screen, and don't take any notice of Histogram. When I like what I see, I click on "Save As". If I don't like what I see, I'll click on "Delete" or "Don't Save" and I'll try again another day!

With such excitement, I never have the Sun cropped in exactly the same position for final printing. I do record camera shooting readings, but I don't record Photoshop settings. Each of these solar images is one-of-a-kind and I cannot reproduce exactly if I process the image again. I enjoy working this way, with the most consistent thing about the Sun being that it pops up every morning at sunrise!

The Moon

Shooting the Moon is quite different, because it's quite usually dark when I shoot. To read my camera settings, I wear a miniature miner's lamp on my head. I take a similar approach as I do with the Sun, but obviously without the Sun Finder. I bracket big-time, and find I'm often surprised at the quality and sharpness of the 75-300mm lens. It's interesting how the skies in both the Sun and Moon pics are black, but for different reasons. Auto sometimes does not work. Again this is like focusing on the Sun with the solar filter. Manually focus until the edge of the Moon is sharpest.

Processing Moon pics is quieter and more organized than it is with the Sun pics. I look for sharpness, noticing how craters look quite different during different phases of the Moon. The Moon is one thing in the night sky that you don' t need a tripod for. For stability, I use one, and use my very important and useful remote button. Exposure for a full Moon will be ISO 500, f13, and 1/200th of a second. No slow shutter speeds here. I also keep the same f-stop and bracket through shutter speeds. And like the Sun, the Moon is rarely in exactly the same position for final printing.

I plan to shoot more pics from my front and back porch, add more pics to this link for you to enjoy, and maybe, marvel at? In the meantime, happy social/physical distancing!