Coordinated Photographs of the Moon

by Joe Tepera

November 15, 2016

With all the public hype about the November 2016 super moon, I thought it might be interesting (novel) to take simultaneous photos of this particular lunar event with my friend in South Australia. This certainly would not be cutting edge science by any stretch of the imagination but, if successful, the outcome may be of some interest. It would be a learning experience requiring me to venture into new space relative to camera application.

The first step was to determine the window of opportunity for both Briani (the Aussie component) and me. My goal was to open our respective camera lens at the exact same instant in time. To do this I relied upon a USNOii website that provides moon azimuth and elevation for any location worldwide. Knowing Brian’s longitude and latitude I had this website generate the time history, relative to UTC, for the moon. I repeated this exercise for my location. Then comparing the two tables, I was able to establish the time, within +/- a minute of shutter action. In terms of local time, this was 5:15 a.m. Nov. 14th in Amarillo. Brian’s shutter time was 9:45 p.m. Nov 14th. This placed the moon about 22.5 degrees above our respective theoretical horizons; my moon was setting and his moon was rising. (This time was refined from the tabular data by plotting both elevations as a function of UTC. Then by noting the point of intersection of the two lines the critical shuttle release time was established. Conversion to local times for both of us is straight forward. UTC time was 11:15 November 14, 2016.)

Next challenge was to determine suitable camera settings. This was no problem for Brian as he has excellent command of photograph as well as composition. I did several internet searches for suggestions on how to photograph a full moon. The more interesting solution, and the one I relied on, is the “Loony 11” rule. This is a corollary of the “Sunny 16” rule from the days of film camera. The translation of the Loony 11 rule into camera setting is: shutter speed set to 1/100 sec., aperture set to f11 and ISO to 100. Simple enough! During the shoot, I varied these settings to bracket the best photo.

On the nights of Nov 12th and early morning of the 13th I took a multitude of photos in order to confirm camera control settings and where I was going to physically locate the camera being that several neighbors have night lights. By doing the detail work ahead of time I was able to take the stress and uncertainty out of the problem. By the time of the critical shot, I had all of the details firmly resolved with satisfactory solutions.

Brian took his photo using a Nikon D600 set at f11, 1/500 and 300 mm. I used a Canon EOS Rebel T3i with a Tamron 70 – 300 zoom in manual (M) mode set to f14, 1/100, ISO100 and 271mm; autofocus and shake isolation off. Focusing on the moon was accomplished using “live view” magnified to 10x. I set the shuttle release on timer release, using 10 sec. delay.

Brian did the final work of combining both photographs into a comparative presentation. The end result is what one would expect. That makes it somewhat anticlimactic. But the path to the solution was interesting and fun to work out. We thought that weather on his side would not cooperate. But even that challenge faded away at the critical time. The main challenge and one that I could not overcome was the compression of the photo pixel content imposed by Gmail and Yahoo. These e-mail systems strip down the size of photo attachments prior to transmitting the e-mail. This effect reduced the resolution of the photographs.


i Brian Smyth, Murray Bridge, South Australia.


iiU.S. Naval Observatory. “ aa.usno,navy,mil. Sun or Moon Altitude/Azimuth Table”