Handheld Moon Exercises - Learning to Play by Feel

One of the things that I recommend to folks who ask me for photography advice is to 'know your camera.'  

While I feel that menu navigation and feature control are important, I feel it is much more important to learn a 'natural feel' of how the camera operates.

Think of how a skilled musician is with their instrument.   The guitar player can feel the fret position without looking at the neck, he or she 'feels' how the tone will travel across the pickups based on where the strings are strummed.

When I hear photographers debating shutter speeds and f/strops for a given situation, my eyes roll.

It isn't that these things aren't important - they certainly are but they shouldn't be intimidating obstacles to the new photographer, though they often are.

There is a little exercise I developed for myself a couple years back, meant to improve camera handling and control.   It goes like this:

On a night with an interesting moon (scattered, moving light cloud - cover preferred because it changes the metering situation)- start by propping yourself against something steady.

A tree, a house, whatever -- the goal here is just to limit the natural body swaying position of standing.   By anchoring yourself to something solid, you can turn yourself into a bi-pod of sorts.  Useful when out without a tripod and the need to capture something that would usually call for one. 

Using Manual Focus most modern cameras have a feature for Manual-Focus assist that will show a 1:1 pixel peak of your object while manually focusing on an object.   This is pretty crucial.

Start with highish ISOs, using a long telephoto, start shooting the moon. I started in Aperture Priority but your mileage may vary..  Adjust down your f-stop (the lower number which is larger aperture) and start to walk down your ISO between shots, continuing to manually focus, shoot, adjust..   Listen to the shutter.  Develop a 'feel' for the shutter times the camera metered based on the light situation, your aperture, your ISO.
Sensor size, sensor capability, lens aperture all will vary this feel from camera to camera.

As your ISO drops into the less sensitive ranges, the difficulty of the shot will increase.   Continuing to work on manual focus and keeping your hands steady, you will be forced to work on your breathing.   Just like shooting a rifle, your breathing is essential for steady shutter clicks at these long tele / low ISO shots.    You may want to exhale during the shutter press, you may want to hold your breath during the shutter press - different strokes for different folks..

Once you get a feel for the shutter speeds, jump on over to manual mode and keep going, anchoring to a large aperture and tweaking the shutter speed to the get the right exposure.   Don't settle necessarily for the right exposure according to your camera viewfinder's meter but the right exposure according to your brain and eye.  What 'feels' right?   Shoot that.

..Anyway, this may be 'hoo-doo' but for me I found it to be a useful exercise to acquaint myself with the light collection capability of a new camera, not to mention the natural proficiency of the menus and dials that you will gain along the way..

So, this isn't my best moon shot ever but experimenting with the FE 24-240mm, I propped myself against the house exterior and started shooting the moon hand held, trying to find the right balance of shutter speed, manual focus and ISO for this reasonably slow f6.3 lens at distance.   

The result is 'okay' but I do think the exercise itself is worthwhile and wanted to share it with you!   

Happy shooting..