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Kaikoura Moon
CREDIT: Alan Hodgson ASIS HonFRPS

Now and then

Seeing stuff in Moon photography

One of my favourite objects for photography is our Moon. It can be used to illuminate a landscape or part of a landscape. Or indeed on its own in the sky.

It is also a fairly easy astronomical object to photograph as it is fairly bright. But that is because we are spoilt by modern day digital technology. I find it interesting to image what it was like before digital and before film, in the era of wet glass plates.

One of my interests with the history of photography is that 150 years ago there just wasn't the amount of equipment available off the shelf. Photographers just got on and made their own. I came across a great example in Washington DC a few months ago at their National Gallery of Art, at an exhibition called By the light of the silvery moon.

Using a combination of stereoscopic glass plate transparencies, albumen, photogravure, gelatin monochrome and colour prints it provided a wonderful illustration of lunar photography from its origins on glass plates to the Apollo programme. Coming as it did directly after I had seen the Space Steps exhibition in The RPS Gallery it provided plenty of food for thought.

I was particularly taken by the story of Warren De la Rue, from the security print family. He built his own moon camera, effectively a 3 meter long telescope with a holder for a wet glass plate. I have in mind replicating his work – watch this space.

I am taken by this concept of old and new and this reflects in my photography. In the present environment I also find moon photographs calming which drew me back to the attached image – a fusion of old and new. It is currently used as a low contrast version on the desktop of my computer.

The new is my Nikon D750. The old is a Tamron 80-210mm manual lens with 2x teleconverter, about 30 years old. Many people will have lenses of this generation lying about and they are fun to play with – give it a try and remember what life was like before autofocus!

Try some moon photography from home. Aim for a focal length around 400mm. The observant will have seen that my moon is on its side. It was taken in better times at dawn in New Zealand.