I got a new toy yesterday.
It’s nothing all that fancy, not a new lens or flashgun or tripod (although I am currently considering examples of all three of those), but it’s something I’ve already put to good use – a remote shutter cable. In fact, this remote shutter cable.
I’d had my eyes on one since the so-called Super Moon back in March last year. It was a bit tricky to fire the shutter without causing a little bit of wobble on the camera as it sat on my GorillaPod, which lost a little bit of sharpness. The desire to buy one became far more irresistible last month when I did a quick tour of London at night and found myself using the Bulb mode on my camera to capture the sights of London for long exposures. I had a similar problem – disturbing the camera whilst firing the shutter – but also found it difficult to keep my finger on the shutter for long periods of time without causing some vibration.
So, at the turn of the new year I bought the proverbial bullet and ordered one, and yesterday it arrived.
I’m not in the habit of conducting thorough reviews on this site (although I’m prepared to reconsider this should any readers want me to share thoughts on any of my own equipment), so I will simply summarise it thus: it’s a nifty little piece of kit, and does exactly as it promises.
As the sun set yesterday after there being a clear daylight moon, the clouds stayed away – and the moon shone bright in the sky. The perfect opportunity, then, to have a go with the remote.
I headed out to the postbox near my flat, which I have used in the past when I’ve needed to rest my GorillaPod on something in lieu of having a full tripod (well, any time I need such a thing within a few dozen metres of my house). You can see a quick, poorly-lit snap of the setup at right. As you can see I live in an area with lots of street lighting which rends photographing stars essentially impossible – something I would also like to try at some point, should I ever end up far enough away from civilisation. You might also note that I was using the LCD screen rather than the viewfinder, this is simply because of the angle.
The moon was bright, and in its first quarter.
Close to the moon was a bright planet, which I presumed was Venus but, on looking it up, it turns out it was Jupiter. I may not need a mnemonic to know the order of the planets (although I adore XKCD’s suggestion, ‘Mary’s ‘Virgin’ Explanation Makes Joseph Suspect Upstairs Neighbour‘) but buggered if I know where they are in the sky at any given time (fortunately, there are apps for that).
As bright as Jupiter may have seemed at the time, it simply was never visible in shots that were exposed for the moon. The only way I could make it show up was to overexpose the moon to an undesirable extent.
Now, based on the helpful settings I found on this site to photograph the moon successfully, nothing about that image is right – the exposure is too long, the aperture too big, the ISO too high. Which is why it looks pretty bad as a picture of the moon.
When I last photographed the moon back in March, I had a completely different set of kit – my camera (a Canon EOS 400D) was ‘only’ 10 megapixels, and my zoomiest lens was ‘only’ 250mm. That meant in order to get a frame-filling shot of the moon – specifically this photograph – I had to crop the image down to a single megapixel image. Today however my EOS 60D is an 18MP camera and my telephoto stretches to 300mm, meaning I don’t have to crop as aggressively to get an image that isn’t all black. By comparison, this image was cropped to 4MP at full resolution (although I do reduce the resolution of my images when I upload them here for space-saving purposes):
Soon I figured that since I was out there freezing my arse off, I’d experiment a little with settings. By cranking up the ISO to a slightly extreme 3200 and shooting in Aperture priority mode with a big aperture, I achieved an amazingly sharp image – the sharpest image I’ve ever gotten of the Moon. It was a little overexposed, however by dropping the exposure in post-production I obtained a perfectly serviceable shot.
I still drool at the crispness of the craters where the light side meets the dark side of the moon.
After this, I started mucking about with much longer exposures, just experimenting to see what I would get and if there was any way of exaggerating Jupiter. I bought the remote in the assumption that it would be easier to operate bulb mode by keeping it in my pocket when it’s cold. Turns out, the button actually has a clip on it so you can lock it on and walk away – should you be somewhere you feel safe in leaving your camera unattended, of course.
You can – just about – make out Jupiter behind one of the flares. I know this is a bit of a messy photo but I like it. I also tried a closer angle:
Annoyingly, some lens flare from the streetlight I was hiding under crept into the photo. I was surprised to see the movement of Jupiter across the frame – I’m not sure if that was due to the rotation of the Earth or if the camera slipped a little on the postbox whilst the shutter was open.
Photographing the Moon in a non-full phase certainly looks more interesting; there have been a few occasions over the last few months where there has been a fantastic crescent moon overhead whilst I’ve been on the way home, only for it to disappear behind either clouds or the horizon by the time I’ve gotten home and grabbed my camera (this is one area, of course, where the iPhone camera is no substitute for an SLR with fine-grain control over aperture and exposure and, of course, a decent telephoto).
I also experimented about with some other night photography whilst shooting the moon, but this will form the basis of another post.