Just a wafer thin one

sunset over sound with cloud layers[We’re back out at the beach again.] After the day of rain, we got a little better weather and a nice sunset, still with some high clouds to catch the colors, which in hindsight explains why I didn’t find something sooner – I’d been chiding myself for not paying attention, because I was aware of the moon phases for the trip and the new (dark) moon had fallen just two days before. So when taking the set of photos like the one here, I never looked around for the crescent moon like I thought I should’ve, but on reviewing the photos by date I realized I never would have seen it anyway, following behind the sun by roughly an hour. On stepping out a bit later as the last of the twilight was fading over the sound, I found the deep orange crescent, colored by the same conditions that made the sunset, riding low on the horizon, less than 15 minutes from disappearing behind the trees. I quickly got the tripod and the long lens and set about capturing the sharpest image that I could.

This was tricky. The crescent was so thin that lunar details could barely be discerned, already dimmed significantly by the humidity and thicker atmospheric angle. Autofocus was out; there was too little light to generate decent contrast. And the exposure time was also tricky, being long enough to suffer from camera shake, even with the tripod and boosting the ISO to 1600 (which definitely increases the schmutz that’s gonna appear.) I had the remote release in hand and had already set the custom functions for a mirror-lock-up, meaning the mirror slapped out of the way with the first press of the shutter release, and a second was necessary to actually open the shutter – after an adequate delay to let the mirror vibrations die down.

two day old orange crescent moon just before setting
That’s… okay; I’ve definitely gotten sharper, but I can’t tell if the softness was from imperfect focus, vibration from the shutter, the distortion of the atmosphere (we’ll see distinct examples of this later on,) or the movement of the moon during the exposure. Yet, some lunar features can still be made out, and you can’t beat the color.

That wasn’t the biggest challenge, though, because with a crescent this thin, the earthshine was visible too, and I wanted that. I needed a lot more light coming in to show the darker portion of the moon, and the ISO was already as high as I dared, so I was courting motion from the moon itself with the slow shutter speed, but so be it. The frame above was 1/8 second; the one below is 3.2 seconds.

crescent moon with earthshine and a trace of motion blur
Had I seen it when it was higher, the light might have been enough to minimize the motion blur, but then we wouldn’t have the orange color. You can definitely see a little smear from the moon’s motion in this one, but lunar mares are faintly discernible, and even evidence of Tycho’s rim and rays. I consider this a keeper.

The next night was clearer, and while the moon was higher, it was easy to see.

twilight over sound with crescent moon
Not much coloration to the moon, besides the normal hues, but I knew I’d get more details this time, and could use a shorter shutter speed. Thus:

slightly larger 3-day-old crescent showing Mare Crisium
That’s Mare Crisium on the right, but I’m most pleased with capturing some south pole mountain over on the left, a little dot peeking in while apparently separated from the crescent itself. And then, of course, we have the earthshine:

3-day-old crescent moon with earthshine and background stars
This exposure was half a second – the blur from the crescent is more overexposure than motion blur – especially since, if you look closely, you can see some of the background stars in the frame. Jpeg compression wasn’t kind; there are actually five or six stars visible in the full-res version (not noise, either – I checked,) but only two came out in the blog-size version, with perhaps two more faintly visible if you’re trying. Look down towards the lower border.

I even did a little video, but it wasn’t terribly interesting and I would have had to cut out the audio anyway, since the neighbors were singing along to Hootie and the Blowfish. This one’s much better (and Duran Duran.) It even shows the earthshine portions from these images illuminated fully, a nice counterpoint. Or at least I think so.

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