Shoot the Moon


As hobbies go, astrophotography has murderously high barriers to entry in terms of equipment costs and skill, and the money and time required to acquire each. Fortunately there’s an exception. Taking pictures of the Moon requires neither specialized equipment or skill: my first photo of the Moon was taken with an entry-level digital SLR and a telephoto zoom lens, and people have used smartphones to take decent photos of the Moon through the eyepiece of a telescope.

From that first shot I graduated to prime focus lunar photography, using adapters to connect my SLR to a telescope, making that telescope essentially a gigantic telephoto lens. Here’s an album of those prime focus photos.

But those aren’t the only ways to shoot the Moon, as Nicolas Dupont-Bloch demonstrates in his magisterial new book out this week from Cambridge University Press, which is coincidentally called Shoot the Moon: A Complete Guide to Lunar Imaging.

Let me say at the outset that beginners should stay as far away from this book as possible (they should start with the advice in The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide). This is a comprehensive reference that covers every available way for amateurs to capture lunar imagery with their own equipment, and it does so in a systematic fashion. In method it’s not at all dissimilar from Michael Covington’s Digital SLR Astrophotography (from the same publisher), but for some reason I found the Covington easier to follow than the Dupont-Bloch.

That reason, I suspect, is Dupont-Bloch’s insistence on being thorough. You can shoot the Moon with a lot of different cameras besides digital SLRs, for one thing, and Dupont-Bloch covers not only every piece of astronomical equipment that might be used in lunar photography, from telescopes to tripods to cameras, but also the arcana of getting all that equipment working together and optimized for lunar work. Only by the halfway point does he start discuss taking those lunar images, with chapters on wide-field and high-resolution lunar imaging. Then it’s on to image processing, which if you want to advance beyond, say, the level I’m at, is quite important: getting high-resolution lunar images requires stacking multiple images to compensate for atmospheric turbulence, and assembling mosaics of multiple images. A single shot of the Moon is fairly straightforward; levelling up is something else.

But Shoot the Moon’s mania for thoroughness is as much weakness as strength. In attempting to cover everything, it does not always cover everything well. Many things are covered briefly rather than explained. I could follow the text, but that’s largely because much of it was a refresher for me. And its thoroughness can get it lost in the weeds. Emblematic of Shoot the Moon’s approach are subsections on flocking or baffling the tube of a reflector telescope: useful for advanced telescope use (it’s to prevent internal light reflections), but not strictly a lunar photography issue. And Dupont-Bloch’s chapter on image management, replete with discussions of file naming protocols and storage options, is both idiosyncratic and unnecessary. In the end, Shoot the Moon, while full of useful and informative technical content, could have used some curation of that material: some of it cut, some of it more fulsomely explained.

I received an electronic review copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

Shoot the Moon: A Complete Guide to Lunar Imaging
by Nicolas Dupont-Bloch
Cambridge University Press, 26 Sep 2016
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