How to Photograph the Real Colors of the Moon
- By: Luis Argerich
When we see a photo of the Moon we usually see a monochrome image with tones of gray showing an image very similar to what we see with the naked eye. Surprisingly the surface of the Moon has some colors, they are muted but they exist. The colors represent the different materials present in the lunar surface. In this small article I will describe how to create a photo showing the moon in its real colors.
1. Start with good photos of the Moon.
You need to start with several good photos of the moon, while any moon phase can work it’s usually better to start with a full moon. I wrote about how to take photos of the moon last year, so you can start with that article: http://www.photographyblogger.net/ten-keys-to-photograph-the-moon/
2. Take Many Shots!
I will explain you why in just a few paragraphs but for now when you take your moon photos don’t stop with just a couple of shots. Take 10, 20 or up to 50 shots of the full moon. Try to keep the moon in the same place in the frame, if you are using a long lens you will need to chase the moon around as it will move quite quickly. A micrometric head or a ballhead with good friction control help you adjust the camera position as the moon moves across the sky.
3. The trick for color: Bump Saturation
Is it that simple? Well yes and no. To reveal the colors of the moon you just have to bump the saturation when you process the photos. A massive bump in saturation quickly degrades the image quality so it’s better to do it in steps. Increase saturation 20%, flatten the image, increase another 20%, flatten the image. Etc. With this technique you will slowly reveal the real colors of the moon surface. When to stop is your artistic decision. The only problem you will see is that as saturation increases noise also increases, and that’s why we took many photos.
4. Stacking to the Rescue
This the real trick: in order to increase saturation a lot without increasing noise you need to start with an image that is almost noise-free. This can be achieved stacking several photos of the moon. Noise is random in each photo so when you stack all the photos and average every pixel the noise gets cancelled. To stack the photos in Photoshop do this:
- Load all the photos as different layers
- Select all the layers and do edit->Auto Align Layers
- Convert to a Smart Object
- Choose smart-object>Stack Mode: Mean
This will align and average all your shots. If you don’t use photoshop or if the above method failed you can align the photos with a pano software such as PtGUI or Hugin.
Once you have your stacked moon shot you can do the saturation process with little noise in the final photo.
5. About White Balance
How can you be sure that your colors are right? White balance can create differences but usually the camera auto-WB works fine as the moon is seen in neutral tones (gray). You can check a map taken by NASA’s Galileo probe to see if your colors are similar to what they should be.
So if there’s a full moon and you are around with your camera you can now try to take a color shot of the moon and impress all your friends showing how the different minerals in the moon’s surface reflect different colors. They can’t be seen with the naked eye but they are there!