by the light of the silvery moon

21st Century Wet Collodion Moon
Image Credit & Copyright: Mike Smolinsky

Toronto. From the very beginning of photography, the moon and photography have worked closely together. John William Draper made his daguerreotype of the moon in 1840. It is the earliest existing photographic image of the moon. A cleaned up version is shown here by the Met Museum in NYC. The modern day shot by the old wet plate process at left is thanks to Mike Smolinsky in the States via NASA. We were unable to link to mr Smolinsky as many people on the internet are so named.

I have photographed the moon many times myself over the years. I can still remember my first photograph in a central Ontario field on ASA 400 film using a 135mm lens. To be sure of the image, I bracketed the exposure and even threw in a relatively fast exposure. To my amazement, the fastest exposure showed the moon’s detail  while the slowest shot captured the sky detail  leaving the tiny moon image burnt out and transparent with no details at all.

In the spirit of moon photography, NASA recorded this image as the Astronomy Picture of the Day on January 2, 2021. The accompanying text notes, “ In the mid 19th century, one of the first photographic technologies used to record the lunar surface was the wet-plate collodion process, notably employed by British astronomer Warren De la Rue.

“To capture an image, a thick, transparent mixture was used to coat a glass plate, sensitized with silver nitrate, exposed at the telescope, and then developed to create a negative image on the plate. To maintain photographic sensitivity, the entire process, from coating to exposure to developing, had to be completed before the plate dried, in a span of about 10 to 15 minutes.

“This modern version of a wet-plate collodion image celebrates lunar photography’s early days, reproducing the process using modern chemicals to coat a glass plate from a 21st century hardware store. Captured last November 28 [20201128] with an 8×10 view camera and backyard telescope, it faithfully records large craters, bright rays, and dark, smooth mare of the waxing gibbous Moon. Subsequently digitized, the image on the plate was 8.5 centimeters in diameter and exposed while tracking for 2 minutes. The wet plate’s effective photographic sensitivity was about ISO 1. In your smart phone, the camera sensor probably has a photographic sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 6400 (and needs to be kept dry …).”

A big thank is due to my friend Russ Forfar up  along Georgian Bay on Lake Huron for suggesting this idea and sending me the NASA link.

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