Look at this great photo (not mine!); it’s hard to get the Moon and faint structure in the Milky Way in one exposure! This photo was taken last week during a lunar eclipse so dark that the moonlight couldn’t wash out the faint details, as would normally happen when the Moon is full. We couldn’t see this eclipse from the US, but one of our soldiers at a base in Afghanistan took this great shot.
MSgt Leon Gray of the US Air Force was able to take a 30 second-long exposure with the Moon (the reddish disk) and the faint stars in the background. The lack of light pollution, due to being under blackout conditions, allowed the camera to pick up the faint stars, without being overwhelmed by local lighting.
MSgt Gray used a Nikon D90. This camera can be set to record very low levels of light, so it was able to capture more faint stars than my camera. MSgt Gray set the camera to high sensitivity to get these faint stars with a 30 second exposure. The camera was on a tripod, but if you look closely, you can see the stars streaked a bit due to the earth’s rotation during the exposure and the vibration from the generator building he was standing on.
What a fantastic photo! Look at the dark streaks, which are dust lanes in our galaxy that block the stars behind them.
MSgt Gray said that because of the vibration of the generation unit, he couldn’t get a steady shot of the just the Moon at high magnification. So he focused on photos of the wide view, including the Milky Way. But I’ve seen very few photos like this one with the detailed bands of faint stars that were near the Moon that night. This shows how you can get great photos when look for what you can get instead of what you want!
MSgt Gray’s story of how he took the photos……
I had a hard time getting these photos because the camera wasn’t mine, was way too complicated, and I’ve never taken an in depth photography class or anything. I just stuck with it and kept playing with the lenses and settings until I got what I was going for. All were from a tripod. The biggest thing about this one was the exposure. The +5step gave me 30 seconds of exposure, and at the height of the eclipse, when the moon was at its darkest, it picked up all the extra light from the Milky Way. They would have turned out even sharper if it weren’t for the vibrations from the huge generator below me. Although I could pick out the MW, I couldn’t see this depth with the naked eye (partly because my night vision was shot from looking at the LCD), but I knew it was there, and we were uniquely positioned on the globe so that the moon was square in the middle of it from our point of view. When the first one of these previewed on the LCD, I couldn’t believe it. I played around with the positioning of the moon vs/ the MW in the frame, and this turned out to be the best one. The only adjustments I made afterward were to bring down the brightness and up the contrast, to get rid of some ambient light dusting. Same goes for all the rest, with a bit of cropping on some just to center or zoom the aspect.
The other camera I used was just a little Kodak EasyShare M1063 set on either night mode or 4 second exposure. The zoom on it wasn’t anywhere close to the other camera, but it gave me the partially eclipsed shots with the reddish coloring I was going for to begin with, and I fixed the zoom problem with cropping.
If you look online, there are a ton of great photos zoomed in so that you can see the cratering of the moon and everything. I kept trying to get that, but the camera wouldn’t cooperate with the big zoom lens I had, and the vibrations from the generator and movement of the deck kept giving me blur on the longer exposures at zoom.
MSgt LEON E. GRAY, USAF
Flight Chief, FOB Shank PMO