How did astronauts take photos on the Moon?
Taking photos on the Moon's surface is not an easy thing. In fact it's so difficult that some people believe it couldn't have been done at all on the Apollo missions. Questions about photographs taken by Apollo astronauts include:
- How did they manage to get such good quality photos?
- How could they operate the cameras while wearing bulky gloves?
- How could they see what they were photographing?
- How could they get the correct focus and exposure?
Here's how it worked:
Firstly, astronauts used modified cameras that could work on the Moon and be operated while wearing a spacesuit. The cameras were attached to the front of the spacesuit at around chest height. Astronauts would not be able to see what they were photographing through a traditional viewfinder, nor would they be able to aim the camera in the traditional way. Therefore, they would need to aim the camera by positioning their whole body in a way to get roughly the framing they needed, then shoot and hope for the best.
Focus and exposure were done manually. This was difficult but not impossible without a viewfinder. Focus can be set by knowing the approximate distance to the subject, while exposure can be set by knowing the approximate light levels. Later missions did add narrower lenses with an additional sighting system, and they could be help up to eye level for targeting, but this wasn't necessary for the wider field shots.
All of this would require a lot of practice—you wouldn't want to wait until you're on the Moon to try these techniques. That's why astronauts spent a lot of time before each mission practicing on Earth. They were given cameras to take home and on trips, including training missions to geological sites. They constantly refined their techniques until they were ready for the real thing.
Even then, the results were clearly not perfect. When you see well-framed photos from the surface of the Moon, remember that you're seeing the best shots from the hundreds that were taken. Below are some examples of Moon photos you won't see in magazines or videos, because the astronaut didn't manage to frame them well enough.
Summary: Astronauts were able to get good-quality photos through a combination of hardware modifications to the camera, practice, and by taking enough photos to be able to select the best ones for wide distribution.
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