Category Archives: Nature

Articles relating to nature photography

How Large is the Moon in a Photograph?

During the early morning of Saturday, 28 July, 2018, a special celestial event was to occur: a total lunar eclipse, resulting in a red moon — one like this:

Red Moon

Red Moon

I captured this particular red moon on 28 August, 2007.  Incidentally, it was the first and last red moon I captured!

For the most recent total lunar eclipse, I planned to rise early and capture the moon.

Unfortunately, due to cloud, I barely caught a glimpse of it, so no images were forthcoming.

The night before, however, I captured some images of the rising full moon in the early evening.

Now, there are different ways of photographing the moon.

Some people like to place the moon in the context of a broader scene, depicting trees, city architecture, animals or people.

Other people like to capture the moon in and of itself, with a view to depicting as much detail as possible.

I have historically fitted into the latter category, and I have photographed the moon numerous times with it being the only subject.

Naturally, when using only DSLR equipment and no telescopes or other space observation equipment, I like to use the longest focal length possible so that the moon in all its glory is more prominent, and therefore larger in dimension.

The maximum focal length I can achieve is 1,120mm by attaching both a 2x tele-converter and a 1.4x tele-converter to my 400mm lens.

People often wonder which focal lengths to use for capturing the moon.

Which focal length to use depends on the kind of image desired.  In my case, I want as long a focal length as possible.

Once a focal length has been decided, the next question is as follows:

How large will the moon appear in my image?

The answer is that it depends on several factors; namely:

  1. the focal length;
  2. whether the camera is a full-frame, APS-C or APS-H model (the latter two of which crop the view a full-frame lens natively provides on a full-frame camera); and
  3. the distance between the moon and the earth.

The short answer is that the moon is not very large relative to the frame.

If an APS-C camera is used, there is a distinct advantage, as the moon will appear larger relative to the frame than it would when captured with a full-frame camera.

In my case, I have only full-frame DSLR cameras.

Today I decided to explore and compare the size of the moon relative to my camera’s frame size, when shot at different focal lengths.

The night before the total lunar eclipse, I went outside to capture some test images.  I happened to capture images at both 1,120mm and 800mm.

Both focal lengths are considered extreme super-telephoto focal lengths in the DSLR world, but there is a surprising difference between them.

In both cases, the moon is not very large, relative to the frame.

I use a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, which produces a native image size of 6,720 x 4,480px (30,105,600px).

Let us take a look at how many times the moon can fit into that frame size when captured at the two focal lengths I used.

This is an image measuring 6,720 x 4,480px (the exact image dimensions a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV produces), depicting the size of a full moon relative to the size of the frame.

Moon Captured with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV at 1,120mm

Moon Captured with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV at 1,120mm

The full moon was captured in Sydney on 27/07/2018 at 17:50:13, using a focal length of 1,120mm.

The moon, when captured at 1,120mm at this particular time, measures approximately 1,751 x 1,741px (3,048,491px).

With a frame size of 6,720 x 4,480px (30,105,600px), this means that the moon occupies approximately 10.1% of the frame.

Equipment used:

This is an image measuring 6,720 x 4,480px (the exact image dimensions a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV produces), depicting the size of a full moon relative to the size of the frame.

Moon Captured with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV at 800mm

Moon Captured with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV at 800mm

The full moon was captured in Sydney on 27/07/2018 at 17:54:19, using a focal length of 800mm.

The moon, when captured at 800mm at this particular time, measures approximately 1,267 x 1,258px (1,593,886px).

With a frame size of 6,720 x 4,480px (30,105,600px), this means that the moon occupies approximately 5.3% of the frame.

Equipment used:

As can be seen, despite using long focal lengths on a full-frame DSLR, the moon is still relatively small within the frame.

Here are those key figures again:

  • 1,120mm: 10.1% frame coverage
  • 800mm: 5.3% frame coverage

In this case, the size of the moon nearly doubled with the use of a longer focal length, despite that focal length not being twice the size of the shiorter focal length.

It is not quite an exact science, particularly when considering that the image shot with the 800mm focal length was captured just over four minutes later, by which time the moon had risen marginally higher; but it is a substantial difference.

In both cases, while the moon does not dominate the frame, it is certainly large enough to show very pleasing details.

Photographers desiring even more prominence and detail would be likely to attach the camera to a telescope, but if, like myself, a photographer does not have a telescope, but does have long focal lengths, a very pleasing result is certainly possible.

Advertisements

Autumn Adventures in Mount Wilson

Mount Wilson, in the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney, is a wonderful location for landscape photography.  Its specific appeal is the rich colours of the leaves during autumn, and many photographers venture to Mount Wilson to capture these colours.

The quiet little mountain township had been on my never-ending list of photography locations/subjects, and it was a place which required autumn weather for the kind of images I wanted to capture.

I missed the opportunity in 2017, so I was determined not to miss the opportunity in 2018.

I had been following and participating in an online discussion about locations in Sydney at which to photograph the autumn colours, and naturally locations such as Mount Wilson and other parts of the Blue Mountains entered the discussion.

There was a specific image I wanted to create.  A few years ago on Instagram, I had seen a fantastic image of a stone staircase in Breenhold Gardens, captured by landscape photographer Kalan Robb, whom I follow on various sites.  The image was rich with colour and atmosphere, and I wanted to create that kind of image.

Through following the online discussion, in which a few people who lived in the mountains (or had visited) reported on conditions, I had a good idea about when would be a good time to visit.

In the autumn of 2018, the cool change came quite late, as there had been unusually warm temperatures.  Usually mid-to-late April is a good time to capture the autumn colours, but the temperatures did not drop until early-to-mid May, resulting in late development of the colour of the leaves.

We happened to be going away to the Blue Mountains on the weekend of 12-13 May, 2018, and as the time for photographing Mount Wilson‘s autumn colours is very limited, a visit to this location was a must.

We departed early in the morning to get to Mount Wilson for two reasons: to capture the location in good light; and to avoid the crowds of day-trippers who would descend upon the area as the morning wore on.

We entered Breenhold Gardens, and wandered around.  I photographed a few locations, with one of my earlier images capturing Socrates Garden.

Socrates Garden

Socrates Garden

Socrates Garden is a tranquil enclosure within Breenhold Gardens.

High on my agenda was a visit to Laburnum Steps, which was the feature I specifically wanted to photograph.  We procured a map and made our way to the steps.

Armed with my tripod, camera and 14mm lens, I went about my particular routine of setting up my gear and composition.

Here is one of the images I captured:

Laburnum Steps

Laburnum Steps

I was fortunate to see some stunning autumnal colours, but based on other images I have seen, it did not look like it had reached the intensity exhibited during colder years.

The rich red colour of the Japanese maples was present, and there were leaves scattered around on the steps and the dirt path perpendicular to the steps.

In the distance was a mix of greens, oranges and yellows, so it was a smörgåsbord of colour.

I was quite happy with this image, but I felt that I had not captured this location at its best.

In an earlier shot, I moved closer to the steps and shot an image in portrait orientation.  Here is the result:

Mount Wilson in Autumn

Mount Wilson in Autumn

Here, the orange ands red colours of the fallen Japanese maple leaves can be seen more prominently, and the viewer’s eye is led up the winding staircase into the distance.

Incidentally, I have never actually climbed that staircase, or even set foot on it!

From that brief visit, I came away with at least two pleasing images, plus a number of other images I captured at different locations within Breenhold Gardens.  I should re-visit those images and see if there is something worth publishing.

However, my work was not complete.  I did not feel that the autumnal weather conditions had peaked, and with Kalan’s image in my mind, I knew I had to return.

On our way out of Breenhold Gardens, we met one of the managers of the gardens, who lives on site, and often stands at the entrance, meeting and greeting visitors.

I spoke with her for a few minutes, telling her of my interest in the colours, and of being there early in the morning.  She said that she could allow me earlier access.  Normally the opening time is 10am, which is too late for moody photography, and too late if peace and quiet is what one seeks.

She told me that the following weekend would be the best time to visit, as the conditions would very soon deteriorate.  Heeding her advice, I contacted her later that weekend and made arrangements to gain access at dawn.

So, on the following weekend, we headed back to Breenhold Gardens, even earlier, arriving just before dawn.  I wanted to be ready to capture Laburnum Steps in great conditions.

Through the darkness, we took the short walk to the steps, where I again went through my fussy ritual of setting up my composition and waiting for the right light.

This time, I opted to shoot with my 24mm lens.  I felt that 14mm was too wide to feature the steps prominently enough, and I wanted a different image of the same subject.

On this morning, I found that the light was flatter and more subdued.  We were there earlier, and due to the mountainous location, the warm morning light falls upon the scene much later, by which time it is too late for serious photography, as all of the day-trippers have crowded the scene.

We were there for the better part of an hour, waiting for the light to change.  I realised that the sun would not hit the steps and foliage until much later, and continued shooting.

Here is one of the earlier images I captured during that morning:

Laburnum Steps Revisited

Laburnum Steps Revisited

The flatter nature of the light can be seen in this image.  This image was captured at 6:47am, whereas my image from the previous weekend had been captured at 9:37am — nearly three hours later.

What was also noticeable is that the colour had not dramatically intensified, and the number of leaves on the steps and surrounding areas had not really increased.

I was somewhat disappointed that the conditions had not improved much within a week.

As was the case during the previous visit, I also shot a vertical composition.

Enchanting

Enchanting

I shot a few more compositions of Laburnum Steps before I decided to wrap up and head off to find some other locations in Mount Wilson.

Only a few metres away from Laburnum Steps is another set of steps called Acer Steps.  In fact, descending this staircase is one of three ways of accessing Laburnum Steps, and it was the route we took on both visits.

Heading back up Acer Steps, I noticed that the backlighting of the scene worked very well with the Japanese maple whose canopy shelters the steps.  The light and the intense colour instantly attracted me, so I scrambled to set up for another shot.

I struggled to compose (which is not a problem I usually have), and moved the tripod a matter of inches here and there (and sometimes even greater distances) to try and get the best composition from a tricky scene.  I was trying to avoid some distracting elements being positioned too close to the edges, while also prominently featuring the backlit red leaves, and avoiding any direct light from the still-rising sun.

After much fussing around and making of micro-adjustments, here is the image I eventually captured:

Acer Steps

Acer Steps

After this shot, we headed to Church Lane, where I found this charming entrance to a property containing the Koonawarra guest house, located in Dennarque Estate.

Entrance to Dennarque Estate

Entrance to Dennarque Estate

The rich reds and oranges in the distant trees looked radiant in the warmth of the morning light.

Church Lane itself can look fantastic in autumn, but it needs the right conditions, and there is the problem of power poles, power lines and parked cars polluting an otherwise quaint scene.

After shooting this image, we went looking for the chestnut picking farms, for which we had seen signs the week before.  Unfortunately there was no sign of any chestnut picking opportunities in the area, so I found one more spot to photograph before we headed home.

Along Waterfall Road, there are some picnic tables, and I focused my lens on one of them while a group of tourists/photographers engaged in some frivolity and portraiture not far from where I was shooting.

Breakfast Stop

Breakfast Stop

This spot would make a great location for breakfast in the crisp, autumn air.

Having captured what I decided was my final image for this visit and for this year, we headed back home.

It was an interesting couple of visits to Mount Wilson.  There is a lot to photograph, and I came away with some key learnings.

Firstly, it really is a location best photographed in autumn.  The conditions can make or break an image.  While I had some nice conditions, there was still something lacking.

Mount Wilson contains many locations to photograph, but some can be deceptive in photographic appearance.  For example, the quaint Church Lane actually contains ugly power poles along it, which detracts from the look and feel of the street.

Some locations simply look better when viewed with one’s own eyes, and producing a pleasing image which captures the essence of the place is not a simple matter of plonking down a tripod and pointing the camera at what looks good without a camera.

A location such as Mount Wilson really warrants planning, in terms of the specific location, time of day, and weather.  Of course, not everything is necessarily controllable.  Sometimes it is a matter of luck, particularly when coming from a place where the weather can be quite different.

Mount Wilson is a location which needs more than one visit (or even two visits) to do it justice.  I am sure I will head back there again next autumn, but unless the conditions I seek all align serendipitously, I do not think I can achieve a better image of Laburnum Steps.  What I captured  is as good as I can get unless a specific set of conditions exists.

On that note, Kalan Robb happened to be a member of the site on which the online discussion about autumn photography was taking place, and joined in the discussion.  I suspect it came to his attention because I had mentioned him there and provided a link to his excellent article on photography in Mount Wilson.

About his image of Laburnum Steps — the image which was my source of inspiration — he provided some insight into it.

Firstly, he does process his images quite differently to the way I process mine, which I suspected, and which he confirmed.  His processing is more intense, but effective.

What was more important was the conditions, which he said made up for 70% of the result.

He shot his images in 2015, during whose autumn it got colder much faster than what I had experienced.  Crucially, it was wet at the time.  On that morning, he explained, it had been raining steadily, which produced the misty glow.

What my images lacked was wetness and mist.  It simply had not rained and was not cold enough to produce those highly atmospheric conditions I wanted.

Kalan explained that the abundance of leaves on the ground was due to heavy rain and wind the day before.  My deduction is that while many of the leaves had fallen from the trees, they had not been blown away; and that the rain-soaked ground may have played a significant part in keeping them in place.

So, there is some insight into the conditions.  These conditions would have been perfect for my desires, but on both visits, it was not to be.  It could take me years to encounter conditions like that, and it may simply never happen.

What I do have is a chance, so I will return next autumn and see what I encounter.  There is more work to be done at Mount Wilson.

Brisbane and South-East Queensland Visit – 2017

Late in 2017, we headed to Brisbane and south-east Queensland for the first time since 2013.

It was high time to visit Dave and Lea, and engage in some photography, tomfoolery and shiraz consumption.

On our first full day, we decided to head south-west to Queen Mary Falls, as there had been some recent rain in the Gold Coast area, and there was predicted cloud cover, which made waterfall photography ideal.

Our first stop was at Daggs Falls, where an observation platform provided a great view.  Unfortunately, the platform was very prone to vibrations, which made shooting long exposures with a 200mm lens and ten-stop ND filter somewhat impossible.

We drove up the road for a few minutes and got to Queen Mary Falls, which had a much more stable observation platform.  This time, I used my 14mm lens to capture the vast expanse of the scenery and the high view.

Long Way Down

Long Way Down

After we had finished shooting, we decided it was time for a late lunch.  Heading north-east for around five minutes, we happened across the Spring Creek Mountain Café, which offers a very pleasant view of the Scenic Rim.

While waiting for our lunch at an outside table, I took advantage of the light and cloud conditions over the valley, and captured this view.

Spring Creek Mountain

Spring Creek Mountain

The plan for the same day was to visit Brisbane‘s iconic Story Bridge for a twilight shoot.  The last time I photographed the Story Bridge was in 2008, and it was time for a new look at it, applying the experience and gear I have acquired since I last shot it.

The bridge is often photographed from Wilson Outlook Reserve, high up on the cliffs to the east.

This time, we decided to venture down onto the Brisbane River Walk below and try a different vantage point, which gave us a lower angle, allowing the reflections of the lights in the water to appear much more prominently.

During the session, the bridge put on an ever-changing show of multi-coloured lights, which created a nice contrast to the blue and cloudy night sky.

Story of Colour

Story of Colour

On the topic of the sky, the clouds were somewhat annoying and detracted from the image I had pictured, but it was what it was, and I had to make the best of the conditions at the time we were there.

After our shoot concluded, we walked to New Farm and stopped in an Italian restaurant for a late dinner before making the drive north-west to Cedar Creek.

The next day, the plan was to head out for an afternoon landscape shoot during golden hour.  This time, Dave and I headed out on our own.

We decided, given all the driving the day before, to remain in the local vicinity, and we threw around a few ideas.  We figured we would look for a view of the mountains in the area such that the sun would be behind us.

Driving around, we ended up at Mount Pleasant, but the scenes we visited just were not right, so we continued on, and this time headed up Mount Mee.

While driving north along Mount Mee Road, Dave spotted an interesting tree on the right at the junction with Sellin Road.

We stopped and headed over to the eastern side of the road to photograph the tree, which also had some grazing cows lingering nearby.

The light was warm, as it was quite late in the afternoon, but not quite warm enough for what we had in mind.  However, the light was still decent enough, so we snapped away as the cows grazed.

Here is what I captured:

High Steaks

High Steaks

For this image, and the image I was to shoot later in the day, I used my Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM lens.  Now, this lens was not one I bought to shoot landscapes, and I rarely ever use a telephoto lens for landscapes, much preferring the wide vista provided by an ultra-wide lens; however, from where we were standing, the 200mm focal length was just right, and provided a nice amount of compression.

After we had finished shooting at this spot, we headed west along Sellin Road, and spotted a lone tree we had photographed at dawn back in 2010.  To our surprise, there was now a large house now on the property, close to Sellin Road.  We could still see the tree further up the paddock in the distance.

Here are the stand-out images I captured of the ‘ Mount Mee Tree‘ in 2010:

Dawn on Mount Mee

Dawn on Mount Mee

Tree on Mee

Tree on Mee

We continued westward, and found some lovely side-lighting htting the lush green grasses down the ravine, but compositionally, there was not much on offer; so, we turned around and headed east.

I was beginning to think that we may not find much at all, and I pointed out that one really needs to scout and plan a location, which, we clearly had not done.

However, heading further east to where we had photographed the cows, I spotted a lovely, large tree down a valley to our left.  After driving past it, we swung back around and pulled up, with this location to be our final location for the day, in which we would photograph this beautiful tree in the rich and warm golden hour light which would greet us a little later.

I quickly found my composition, again using my Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM lens.  The view I found from the spot where I perched myself also contained some lush, long green grasses in the foreground, which I purposefully kept in the frame.  I liked the extra interest, as well as the framing device, it provided.

From then, it was a waiting game.

Once the light became even warmer, we snapped away.  Dave was capturing all sorts of images of different subjects in the area, from varying positions.  I remain focused on the tree.  That was my image, and I was not interested in anything else.

After waiting for the right light, here is the image I shot:

Glowing Tree

Glowing Tree

After the lovely light had disappeared, we headed back to Samford to collect some cows (of the non-grazing variety) and fermented grape juice for dinner at the house.

Thus, my photography for this trip was completed.

During our stay, Dave and I decided to compare our 200mm lenses.  He owns a Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM (a legendary and relatively rare lens, with only 8,000 having been built), and I own a Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM, which effectively replaced the 200/1.8L some 20 years after it was introduced.

We lined them up for a ‘family portrait’, and Dave captured an image of the two lenses side-by-side.  Later during the visit, we also staged a semi-scientific shoot, with a foam rubber dinosaur as the subject.  We photographed the dinosaur with both lenses, using the widest apertures available on both, as well as the widest aperture common to both.

Upon inspecting the resulting images, there is not a great deal of difference in sharpness between the two lenses.  Both deliver outstanding results.

All in all, it was a fun trip, and while photographically the conditions were not super exciting, I did manage to capture a few pleasing images along the way.

Mount Wilson: Cathedral of Ferns

During an exploratory day-trip to the Blue Mountains west of SydneyDave and I decided to look around Mount Wilson, a place of which I had heard in photography circles, but never visited.

We encountered the Cathedral of Ferns, where we stopped to capture a few images of the beautiful, lush foliage.

Here is one of them:

Cathedral of Ferns

Cathedral of Ferns

The weather was on our side on this day, as it was overcast with some occasional drizzle, which made for excellent shooting conditions.

Naturally a fantastic time to visit Mount Wilson is during autumn when all the rich colours are on display; but in spite of being there at the ‘wrong’ time, the weather certainly was on our side.

The Moon Isn’t Made of Cheese

The night after I photographed the recent September moon during Waxing Gibbous phase, I headed out the following night and shot it again.

Here is a closer view of the moon’s craters during its Waxing Gibbous phase on 7 September, 2014.

Craters

Craters

In this more recent image (24 hours later), more of the moon was visible.

This time I’ve gone for a different composition, and focused more on the craters and shadow-laden edge of the moon.

Again I captured the moon with the longest focal length I have — 1,120mm — by stacking my 1.4x and 2x tele-converters onto my 400mm lens.

Waxing Gibbous

Having recently bought a 400mm f/2.8 lens, I have been somewhat keen to use it.

I bought it to photograph wildlife during our next African safari, but for the lack of any local leopards or lions, I decided to use this lens for the next best subject: the moon.

Here, on 6 September, 2014, the moon is in Waxing Gibbous phase.

I headed outside earlier this evening to photograph the moon, which was a challenge given the heavy cloud cover that was blowing over.

During one of a few short windows of opportunity, I captured this frame.

Waxing Gibbous

Waxing Gibbous

Ignore the focal length of 800mm; I actually shot this at 1,120mm as a result of having stacked both my 1.4x and 2x tele-converters; but when stacking more than one tele-converter, the focal length and aperture are not transmitted to the camera, so it appears that I used only my 2x tele-converter.

 

Partial Lunar Eclipse – 26 June, 2010

As I type this, the moon is undergoing a partial eclipse.

I don’t often shoot the moon (it’s been done to death, and I had great success during the 2007 eclipse), but given the easy opportunity and the lack of effort required, I went outside with 600mm of focal length and captured this image of the partial eclipse:

Lunar Eclipse on 26 June, 2010

Lunar Eclipse on 26 June, 2010

I used my Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM, Canon Extender EF 2x II, a tripod, remote cable release and mirror lockup.

Photographed at 9:16pm on 26/06/2010 with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II at 600mm for 1/160 sec at f/8 and ISO 200.