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Monday, 27 August 2012


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I quite agree. Armstrongs picture of Aldrin near the lunar module is actually on my top 100 favorite photographs on this planet ... that is on one of mankind's planets ... The picture is easily found in high resolution on the web ... with regards to NASA, Hasselblad and ... Armstrong.

Brings back memories of epic proportions. RIP NA.

We are lucky that NASA has always made photographic documentation an important part of manned and unmanned missions. It must have been very tempting to save the 10-20 pounds of weight on the moonshot!

The Apollo 11 mission archive photos are still jaw-dropping, even 45 years later. I still get shivers looking at them. If that's not the definition of a great photograph, then I don't know what is.

I still find the Duke family portrait on the lunar surface is the most emotional of the lunar surface photos. I first saw it in Michael Light's lunar photobook Full Moon.

Photographed by Charlie Duke on Apollo 16 there is something very "of its time" about this image.

The full-sized (uncropped) original is at


More details: http://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a16/a16.data_trvl.html

LOL, being the first guy on the moon is the ultimate in access! On a more terrestrial level, I highly recommend that readers volunteer their time and photographic skills to local non-profits and/or underdog political campaigns. You'll help them communicate their message while having insider access to interesting photo opportunities.

Election Night, Basking Ridge
Independent candidate for NJ Governor Chris Daggett on Election Night 2011 getting ready for his concession speech.

Mother and Child
Mother bringing her child to meet with the PAGES Medical Mission in the Philippines

The moment was probably the greatest single human achievement in my lifetime, and while I was only 4, my parents tell me that I watched it with them on a small BW TV in our house in Northern Ireland. I don't remember it, but I do remember some of the later Apollo landings, maybe from when I was 5 or 6.

I've read a few articles from people who assert it was all some fake, but to me, I'll always think of the moon landings as being at the pinnacle of human achievement. It is going to take a lot more to beat them.

I don't think of Neil Armstrong as a photographer, merely he had a camera and took some pictures. He should not be claimed by photographers as one of them. He was an astronaut.

All shot with Kodak film, sigh...

Neil's famous shot of Buzz was taken when the camera was obviously tilted to the right somewhat. This makes the moon seem much smaller than it must be. Always loved that photo. Thanks for the post, Mike.

Proof of the old adage: "The best camera is the one mounted on the front of your space suit."

So true! Access to the subject, any subject is the "thing". Getting a reasonably sharp/well exposed picture is the second one. But that is the easy part.


Dear folks,

A couple of interesting photo-geeky about the Apollo photographs.

Although digital technology has improved things, almost everything the public gets to see is nth-generation dupes removed from the originals. The originals are considered an irreplaceable national treasure and scientific resource (duh) and very few people have gotten the privilege of examining them. Almost all research has been done off of first generation dupes, which are remarkably close to the originals. I imagine these days there is a concerted effort in place to produce ultrahigh quality scans of all those originals, but there is a rather large volume of material. I know a scant handful of stuff has been done for a couple of very fine books (Full Moon is not one of them; it was done off of duplicates and not, actually, very good ones). I don't know about the bulk of the photographs.

The import of this is that the photographs we've all seen, including the ones shown here, are much, much contrastier than the originals. The shadows on the moon, for example, aren't inky black; there is a considerable amount of fill light scattered back by the landscape. This is very clear in first generation dupes.

I've had the privilege of looking at some of those. (I believe the set that the Smithsonian has is a first-generation dupe set? If I'm wrong about that, then I'd been looking at mere second-generation dupes.) The differences between those and typical publication materials are impressive; it's like the difference between looking at a crisp print made on grade 2 paper and a sloppy print made on grade 5 paper, and I'm not exaggerating.

As an aside, it can be very amusing to go to the moon landing conspiracy websites and look at their photographic “proof” that the landings were faked. You can consider it a test of your photographic IQ how long it takes you to definitively and conclusively disprove each and every one of their examples.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Yes, Neil Armstrong had access. He was selected for the Apollo 11 flight, the first flight that could have landed on the surface of the moon. Despite audacious odds, all the preceding flights were sufficiently successful to allow Apollo 11 to retain that role.

Also consider that Armstrong had more important things than photography on his mind that day. Flying and landing the lunar module, not the walk on the moon, was, by far, the most complex and hazardous part of the entire flight. Because the lunar module (LM) was incapable of being flown on Earth, the Apollo astronauts were limited to training for the LM on the LLTV, a highly unstable and dangerous contraption. Two of the three LLTVs built were destroyed in crashes, including one while being flown by Neil. So Neil had never actually flown a LM beforehand. And the LM’s limited fuel load demanded a precise flight line down to the surface. Remarkable? I think so.

The lunar surface photos on the Apollo Archive gallery are full-frame scans, as evidenced by the large central cross-hair mark from the camera’s reseau plate grid being centred in each frame. Before one is critical of Neil’s framing, consider that the Hasselblad Data Camera did not have a viewfinder and was mounted on a chest-plate; he had to turn and point his body to his subject and trip the shutter without viewing through or across the camera in any way. He also had to focus the 60mm Biogon lens by estimating the distance to his subject, and vary the exposure according to memorised guidelines based on the estimated angle from the sun. So the photographs are pretty remarkable in their own right.

Lastly, note that most reproductions of that most famous photograph, Neil’s shot of Buzz Aldrin, centralise the figure by cropping the foreground and inserting more black sky above the PLSS backpack. Look closely at those reproductions, and you’ll see the original line of the frame cutting across the top right of the backpack. Somebody cheated!

BTW- The outer skin of the LEM, that is, the very walls of the lunar landing module was the equivalent of three sheets of aluminum foil!

I've always found a special appeal in the shot of Buzz. It is, in a way, a self portrait as Armstrong is clearly visible reflected in Buzz's faceplate.

My big question is why do I always label Buzz with his nickname and use Neil's last name rather than his first.

NASA did save 10-20 pounds, Keith. At least on the first landings, the camera and lens stayed on the moon, they only returned with the film backs.

I think you can still download the astronauts' photo guide from the Hasselblad site, if you dig around a bit. Access is important, but it wasn't a snap shooting Ektachrome in a completely different environment and getting it right.

My dad was a guest of NASA for the launch of Apollo 11 and it's always been "our" moonshot. So, maybe I'm biased but...

I can't help but think that Neil and Buzz's photos may be the only ones that folks are still looking at a thousand years from now.

That very well known UK photo review site refers to Neil's photos as "unique" and "iconic". Well, duh, of course they are unique. A tautology if ever there was one.

Iconic has become the world's most over-used, most pervasive, pernicious cliche.

I do not denigrate the photos or Neil Armstrong. They are fabulous. But he had something of an advantage! Good on him for making the most of it and leaving us this legacy. I saw him in the parade when he came to Perth.

Btw, the conspiracy troglodytes are active on that site. Hard to credit.

I was 22 on that great day and I was a young technician at a TV station. It was about 11am when it happened here and I saw it come in live from Canberra. It was real, alright. I have lived through some fabulous times. "The 60s - the only decade last century worth a damn." I was there! Loved it.

RIP Neil Armstrong.

It seems my life is now extending back into 'history'. I vividly recall sitting with all the other pupils and staff, in the school foyer, with my attention riveted to the single school B&W telly. And we _saw_ Neil step onto the Moon. And then Buzz. What a moment. The moment. For all of the planet's people.

On an ever so slightly different tack, there is a wonderful film set at the time of the Apollo 11 mission: "The Dish".
If you have the opportunity, it's a pretty accurate view of the times -- with just a bit of artistic license.

Ctien, I knew one of the Kodak crew who processed the prints and I saw a set of "reject" prints, about 24" sq if I remember correctly, which included these two taken outside LEM. I have seen reproductions since then and I can assure you the originals were vastly superior. We took a magnifying glass to look at the reflection in Aldrin's visor and the detail was amazing! Thr reproduction of the gold foil insulation was cool too.

Of course it has to be "one small step for a man.." etc - the wording that we often see quoted, without the "a", might sound grandly mysterious - but clearly makes no sense.

This success was a triumph of clear thinking; not of awe-struck mysticism. That is, partly, what is so resonant and wonderful about it.

Ctein, the Mythbusters had an episode where they reproduced the photographs to prove that the lunar landing actually took place :-)

At least one thing we can be sure of....no one ever will step in Neils footprints...lunar quakes aside...they will remain on the moon forever as a tribute to a time when men were more then the sum of their stuf.

Greets, Ed.

Lunar photography... the ultimate example of "f/8 and be there."


I was looking at this post this morning, and my 4 year old wandered up, and wanted to know who the nice man in the first photo was. I explained that he was an astronaut, pointed out the locking collar for the helmet, and scrolled down to show her the picture of Buzz, so she could see what the suit looked like with a helmet on.
Her: "Is he on the moon?"
Me:"Yes, and..."
Her: "I want to go to the moon! I want to learn how to fly into space! And [long, detailed, impractical imaginative narration on exactly how she was going to build a space ship]
Me: "...someday, when you are a grown-up, you might be able to"
And I said a little prayer of thanks that little girls aren't told not to try these days, and a little prayer of hope that the very small chance she would have to do this would be at least even ever so slightly greater when she's grown up.

It is good to see young people dream. It is good to see these photographs still have that quality that moves people.


When my son was 4, he wanted to be a bird. He was greatly put out when I explained to him that he had to be a human for his whole life. He considered that to be very unfair.


I think Aldrin's portrit of Armstrong is just wonderful. I love everything about it. You may not have to be a rocket scientist to get a good shot with a Hassy but apparently it doesn't hurt either.

I got the link to the manual from Ken Rockwell's site:

As far as the landing goes, the bug/procedure error that caused multiple computer alarms and resets did not help much either. CF "Digital Apollo."

It is interesting that even though the computer could land the LM by itself, the astronauts took control for every landing and landed it themselves.

I am always struck by how well exposed the chromes are in a variety of very challenging conditions (full lunar sun, inside capsule, and so on). I'd have been hard pressed to do as well with a spot meter.

My access was on the living-room floor of my parents home, taking photos of our TV screen as feed came back from that lousy quality video camera they had on the LEM. Still have those prints, in the drugstore folder they came back in, stored away somewhere. What an amazing thrill to be that close, at least in time.

It's actually quite hard to get one's head around the sheer physical bravery and psychological resilience of these guys who were not only top test pilots but very competent engineers as well. Moreover they never boasted or sought the limelight about their achievements.

Heroes in the old fashioned sense, not self-promoting, tweeting celebrities that pass for role models these days.

The value of extreme exploration is not profit, or science, but inspiration. I wonder if anything can galvanize a nation and produce role models even half as effectively as manned space exploration?

Kids these days need something to dream about other than a new iPad.

"It's actually quite hard to get one's head around the sheer physical bravery and psychological resilience of these guys who were not only top test pilots but very competent engineers as well. Moreover they never boasted or sought the limelight about their achievements."

Right, and I understand Aldrin has been harassed in recent years by nutcase conspiracy theorists who think the whole thing was a fraud, to the point that he punched one of them? I don't know the facts. A sad commentary on our unglued country, if it's true.


this was the U.S.A.
at it's best.

Would the sunny 16 rule work on the moon?

Regarding protecting Neil's footprints I was happy to see this:


Perhaps surreal but forward thinking which is admirable. Makes a person think about the first footprints of Columbus in the new world. It almost seems absurd to have such large dreams as Apollo but everything is still possible.

There is an online video interview with Neil Armstrong on CPA Australia (Australian TV). Also, interesting, he landed a 4 engine B29 with only 1 engine working. Included is a reenactment of the lunar landing.

I always looked up their accomplishment. Back on the 40th anniversary in 2009 it popped on KR's blog and I ended up following all (he posted things about the mission on chronological fashion) and doing deeper research.
Took IT subject on my last year of junior high school and did a video of the space race, dedicating half of it to Apollo 11.

The photography is great. I didn't think about the Gen. loss that the online pics suffer (thought they weren't that sharp for a 'blad).
I like a lot of their photography. It's interesting to see how spot-on most of them are (IIRC they used an ASA 64 Ektachrome incarnation).
About Neil's portrait, it's quite a candid, showing his enormous joy. Technically, ASA64, with a f3.5 lens on interiors is quite demanding for handholding (or chestholding) capabilities!

Later missions don't seem to have the same attention, though.

Being Spanish I'm quite far of US patriotism et al. but it's quite an accomplishment for humanity.

Mike — you can see Buzz Aldrin punch a really annoying fellow at about 4:30 in this video:


Dear Soeren,

But, but, but...

If you reproduce the photos here on Earth, doesn't that prove that the moon landing DIDN'T take place!? **


Dear Wolfgang,

Basically, yes. Lighting's a bit contrastier there (though not as much as earthlings imagine), but the highlight illuminance is pretty much the same as on Earth.

pax / Ctein


(** Just in case there's a drive-by reader, I'M JOKING!!!!)

Images show the flags planted on the,Moon by US astronauts are still flying:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19050795
That shoule be sufficient proof.

"It's actually quite hard to get one's head around the sheer physical bravery and psychological resilience of these guys who were not only top test pilots but very competent engineers as well. Moreover they never boasted or sought the limelight about their achievements."

Steve, you've expressed my thoughts too.

@Wolfgang: See the first photo on this page of my 2003 US Road Trip blog:
It shows the camera checklist for Armstrong and Aldrin, and it clearly shows the sunny 16 rule setting at the top of the list.

You can read Neil and Buzz's own detailed description of the descent to the lunar surface in the post-flight technical debriefing document. Neil describes the difficulty with the computer program alarms and, later, the layer of moving dust from the engine exhaust that obscured the surface.


Start with the "Preparation for DOI" on p 9-5, or, at least, with "Final approach and landing" on p.9-18.

Dear J,

Why would you imagine that pixelated fuzzy pictures from orbit, that I could fake up in Photoshop in an afternoon, released by NASA, would constitute proof to the loonies (I used the term advisedly) when they've chosen to reject a zillion immensely more detailed and definitive photos?

You can never dissuade genuine nutters with evidence-- either it's faked by someone else or you're just part of the conspiracy.

pax / Ctein

The lunar surface exposure and focusing guidelines were simple and familiar to any vacationer in the 1960s. It's a nicely thought through process to get good images and reducing the load on the astronauts as they worked though the EVA.

Use a fixed (1/250th) shutter speed and choose aperture f/5.6 in shadow and f/11 in sun.

The film was Kodak Ektachrome EF ASA 160.

The exposure (1/250 f/11 == 1/125 f/16 at ISO 160) is a 1/3rd stop more exposure than "sunny 16".

They only used three (focus) distances. The focus was set by roughly estimating distance and setting "near", "medium" or "far" on the camera.

The surface cameras used a 60mm wider than normal lens (about 36mm 135 equivalent).


Nor, I suppose would the fact that you can still use the retroreflectors left on the moon for laser ranging experiments?

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