Category Archives: Aperature

Professional Photography Rants

Maintaining Composure

So we buried my grandfather in law Miguel Solis today. It was a beautiful ceremony, and I was a pal bearer for one section, and was also the photographer.  It is definitely not the first funeral I’ve photographed.  Sadly it is one of a few, but this one I think because in some respects, I emphasized  greatly with losing a father.   And during the course of the day, watching people break down in tears almost had breaking down as well.

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During the course of this shoot, I’ve wondered how photographers during war can distance themselves from the events they see before them.  Sometimes, I think having a camera in front of me at all times helps shield and distances me from what is going on, but clearly that is just a false sense of security.   The most touching thing I saw was one of Miguel’s best bud.  He is an older gentleman, and can barely stand up straight.  I know today, I’m sure he struggled to put on his best clothes, and went to say good by to his good friend.   I’ve captured his friend below, pushing the casket out of the church.

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It made me so happy and sad, as I hope my friends would do the same for me one day.  And how lucky they were to be best buds.  It’ s not often you find them, and at their ages, I’m sure they lose a lot of friends and it just gets harder, and more lonesome as the years go on.  That was the first moment I nearly lost my composure.

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Another instance was when one of the members of the band held on the the casket. I did not know that they knew each other, but the loving expression on his face told me otherwise. My photographer’s instinct kicked in, and I knew there was a moment that needed to be captured. Another random thought crept in my head. I’m actually actively scanning and seeking powerful, emotional, or poignant moments to capture. And I felt a little exploitive.

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Again, my thoughts went back to what it must be like to be a journalist or a photographer in third world countries or extreme places. You just can’t help but be attached somehow emotionally, and the moment you stop. What then? What would it mean? Just another job? Carry on?

Another moment I thought was touching were these two brothers. I know I have my disagreements with my own brother and no family is perfect. So when I see two brothers hanging out or doing things together, I would be remiss if I didn’t think of my own brother, and how cool it would be to have such a relationship.

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I’ve spoken and hung out with Grandpa Miguel every Christmas Eve for the past 5 years now, and I think it is a tradition that I will be sad to see go. Rest in peace Miguel. Until we meet again.

Shooting Adults again! yaay

Been awhile since I got out and did a photoshoot with adults. Figured I’d get back into the game, and make sure I still can pull it off. It’s a slightly different ballgame, and I think I need to work on working in groups of 2 and three people. They’re still a bit difficult coming up with poses, etc. I still am not a big fan of strobe lighting, so all these were done with natural light. I brought a flash to mitigate shadows, but ended up getting flustered and it hindered me more than it helped, so I ditched it pretty quickly.

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New Found appreciation for Videographers

It’s been a long while since I posted here. Figured I now have something worthy to post.

Behind the scene footage of a photoshoot I did today. warning slightly NSFW.

This took an obscene amount of time to post process. I’ve decided the two most overlooked, complicated, and under-appreciated tasks when making any short movie (or real film for that matter) are: color grading, and text/credits. They took a long while to do and to sync up. Don’t even get me started on syncing up the music! All in all, it was a great learning experience. Next time, I will try to avoid hand held if at all possible. It just ruins a lot of shots for me being so shaky. As for color grading, depending on the lighting and scene, it was hard to get everything uniform. Which makes it difficult so I had to adjust exposure during post process. Now I know why there are giant budgets to shield against light during shoots. As far as the camera is concerned, I’m allowed to only shoot at 1/30 of a second for a 30fps video. At 60FPS, I can go 1/60. If anyone one is familiar with photography, you’ll know during the daylight, that’s pretty much instant overexposure, so I shoot with a lot of ND filters (sunglasses for my lenses) to make things darker.

That limits my post processing options. I don’t have the skills to do all that movie magic and edit/composite things, so all I have during post are color grading and cropping. Which makes it essentially to nail real exposure and focus during the shoot. Since everything is so compressed, you don’t have much latitude in terms of exposure. Don’t even get me started on focusing. I still have a hard time determining which direction to move the focus when the subject is near or far. Though I’d reckon over time it will become second nature. But that’s why I like it. It’s new, and I find it a bit more challenging than photography.

Another thing I need to improve is during sliding sequences, I need to go much slower if possible. And this is the easy stuff! There was no actual speaking/audio parts in this behind the scenes short! i can only imagine how painful that is to sync up. But I’m glad I went out and did it. Got to meet talented local people around my area who love what they do, and do it for the joy of it.

I have a few future video projects I have in mind. But all in all, I’m still a complete beginner at this. Making things up as I go along basically. There was no planning to any of these shots. It was all rather spontaneous, and I just looked through all the footage to see what was usable, and slowly chiseled it down to it’s current form. Even that took a ridiculous amount of time, and after the first cut I made one more edit to tighten it up and clean it some. I think it was a good attempt, since it’s been so long since I’ve done any video work.

So far, I think I should stick to what I do best, which is photography! But I shall not be deterred, video is merely an extension of photography.

Day at the Beach!

I had the honer this weekend of photographing a family portrait session at the beach. With the hustle and bustle of work, it’s been a long while since I just sat down and smelled the ocean breeze. It’s a shame really, because the Ocean is really so close by from all of us in socal, yet we’re too busy to just sometimes marvel at it’s simplistic beauty.

I really enjoyed jumping in the ocean and rolling around in the sand, taking pics while the kids were playing. There were some sad moments for me though. During the session, I thought about my brother and I, and how their Dad reminded me a lot of my own dad in his youth. The jeans and the dress shirt, was just exactly what my dad would of worn. As cliche as it sounds, it really felt like I was in a flashback reel, where I’m essentially on automatic pilot taking photos, while simultaneously reliving my youth, thinking of my dad, and my own family.

I wish I had pics like this when I was growing up. Funny, people don’t appreciate things until they’re gone. Now any picture I have of my dad, however out of focus or blurry is like finding gold. But when he was alive, those photos were were just sitting there, piled or stuffed in the corners like faded memories amassing dust. Ahh, life is just a matter of perspective I guess.

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My brother and I used to be close. We rode bikes together and hung out a lot as children. I don’t quite know what happened that caused a deep schism between us. It’s not that we’re estranged, we’re pretty convivial towards each other, but there’s not much of a connection, other than the fact that he’s my brother.

Often times, I’ll document relationships with family and see how other brothers treat one another, and I must admit I do get somewhat jealous. I think I feel deeply rewarded doing these brief stints and moments with families because I’m thinking 10 to 20 years from now, regardless of all the hardships these two will endure growing up, they’ll be able to look back on these photos, and relive their “day at the beach”. Where life was simple, and dad was holding them in his arms.

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But here’s to you dad. I love you, and miss you a lot. Thanks to the Sosa family for allowing me to share few moments of their lives.

carry speed dual camera strap review

Well, I bit the bullet and purchased a carry speed dual camera strap system from Amazon.com, and it finally arrived! I was looking forward to using it for my shoot tomorrow, but after playing with it for about 40 minutes at home, adjusting and putting my cameras and lenses on it, I decided it doesn’t fit the shooting style that I’m accustomed to, and it would most likely hinder me rather than help me.

Before I being the review, I’d like to preface it with the fact that I’ve been shooting with dual bodies for a number of years now. Ever since going to prime lenses, I’ve gone with a 1DsMarkII and 1DMarkIII combo, typically with an 35mm and an 85mm lens, with a 70-200 for longer shots in the bag. This coupled with my favorite straps made from a company called Optech. I’ve been using them because they absorb weight pretty well. I usually couple that with a vest, that I strap my straps into so in the event of slippage, they don’t entirely fall to the floor.

Enter the carry speed dual straps that I decided to try. When it arrived, it reminded me of giant rock climbing harnesses or parachute harnesses. It’s well made in terms of construction and materials. The only down side to them is the way they attach to the camera, which is using the 1/4th inch tripod mounting screws. Which means the cameras are generally upside down when they are to the side. This is a bit disorienting as I’d have to reach over and flip them up before shooting. That and when I’m done, I feel like if I just drop them, they’ll fall. The camera on the left hand side is a bit worse, since the orientation is reverse and they are essentially screw mounts, I feel that sometimes as the cameras go up and down, the torque from this motion loosens the connections.

In addition, I typically have a backpack on me, and with a strap that goes around your neck to some extend and some of it is on your back, it feels a bit more cumbersome. For me, the thing that made it unacceptable for my shooting styles, is there isn’t a rapid release system. If I need to put one camera down, or hand it to my assistant or second shooter, it would be impossible. I’d have to flip it right side up, unscrew it, then hand it over. Also for some reason, I’ve tried a few lens changes, and it just doesn’t feel natural to me when doing so.

I think this system may work for some people, but it definitely didn’t fit my shooting style, so I’m going to return this and stick to my old system. I guess the old adage applies, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Though it was definitely worth a try!

Bringing a gun to a knife fight. My Video Rig

I finally have some free time to post pics of the DSLR rig I’ve been building for the past month. Parts come from various manufacturers, as it wasn’t an out of the box solution. I did plenty of research before choosing the pieces. I must admit I felt like a kid again, playing with my legos (albeit these are somewhat more expensive lego blocks) I built the rig based off the canon’s L lenses’s iconic red strip so Essentially mostly every piece is black with red –yes, us boys do like to accessorize as well–.

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At the core, is the Canon T2i. I could of gone with a 5DII, but quite frankly, with 3 1D series cameras, I couldn’t justify another SLR just for the sole purpose of doing videos. Videos will be a side hobby after all, so I couldn’t justify the costs. A full frame sensor would be nice, but there have been many reviews and tests. Essentially the 5D does better in low light, but for 80% of the types of shots, they are identical.

I think the only drawback of this rig, is A) it looks like a spaceship. And the problem with spaceships, is people love to steal them! So It’s not like I can walk around with this and shoot for fun. It does attract a bit of attention.

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Since all DSLRS (Or real professional film cameras for that matter) are manual focus, the three items I’ve acquired to help achieve focus are:

The only issue I have with the 7inch lilliput monitor is it is a bit on the heavy side. The 5inch is a bit more expensive, so I usually don’t bring it along with me unless I know I’ll be stationary or will require some oddly angled shots. Though there are many viewfinders in the market, some are inexpensive, but Zacuto is essentially the top brand, so I went with that one =) It is very versatile, and can be used outdoors in the bright sun. It essentially magnifies the back of the LCD by 3X, and lets you view the LCD in daylight without glare. Be careful though, if you leave it on the back of your rig for too long, it may take out the LCD due to the weight. So use the Z-Bands which help attach to the camera body to give it support. Or you could use their gorilla mounts, but I wasn’t about to spend 100 dollars on a small mounting plate. I’m somewhat on a budget! =)

The other drawback is the fact that I can’t use the z-finder and the external HDMI output at the same time. It is either one or the other, so you have to switch back and forth depending on the application. It would be convenient if this were the case, but it is just not possible. The moment the camera detects an HDMI cable present with a signal, it will disable the back LCD.

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Follow focus gears, though not crucial, do help during focusing applications. They are standard .8 pitch gears, mounted on the industry standard 15mm rails. They make focusing a bit easier by allowing a 90 degree knob that you can turn to focus, vs putting your whole hand around the focus ring, introducing camera shake, and it’s just more ergonomic to focus with a follow focus. These babies range from 150 dollars, to a few thousand dollars. The difference is in accuracy. The lower end models have a bit more “play” as they call it. Or wobble. What that means is since the gears aren’t accurate, if you spin the knob, it may spin for a good few millimeters before the gears kick in and then move the lens.

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That’s fine for the average Joe, but it may not be fine for a high budget movie production. Since I’m the average Joe, a 150 dollar follow focus works fine with me. You have to buy gears to put on each of your lenses. Those aren’t that cheap if you think about it $30.00 per gear. I opted to buy three of them, to put on my 24-70L, 85L, and a 24mm Yashica Prime. Those are usually the lenses I normally shoot video with.

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For lighting, I use one of these LED banks from Amazon. If I could do it over again, I would of picked up one of these: LEDs but it’s 4x the price so I’m going to use what I have for now. What’s good about the later one is it has dual batter packs, and you can switch to Tungsten via the knobs on the back. Very cool stuff.

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The other doo hickies I have are a friction arm to hold the LCD monitor. I have been very pleased, this thing is very very strong. I may pick up another one of these for good measure. It does have a red accent, so it matches my rig perfectly!

Other items in my bag of tricks is a Manfrotto 701 Fluid head Which allows for panning and tilting smoothly during filming. The bummer though, was when I bought this, I had no idea I was going to build a rig around my camera. This is rated for 8.82lbs, while it’s larger brother (the 501) is rated for 13.23lbs. So I’ll have to be more cognizant of the weight I put on the rig.

But essentially it allows me to be planted on the ground, and if I need to go mobile to run and gun things, I can detach the base from the tripod, and mount it on my shoulder on the go. So far I’m loving my new toy, I just need more opportunities to shoot and learn the craft. I still feel like I don’t have a clue as to what I’m doing yet. And I think that’s part of the fun.

I’m still working on getting the flow for tear up and set down, tweak the weight ratios and really I need more practice on focusing. But It’s a good start. My recommendation to people who want to build their own rig, is plan out your budget. But get ready to plunk down some cash. I find that these parts aren’t cheap, even the ebay ones, most of them ship from China, so even though they are 10 to 15 dollars for a clamp. The 20 dollars in shipping will add up quickly.

Also, the home depot or Lowes really won’t help you. Tried getting some DIY parts to mount to the rod support, and I ended up having to buy rail clamps online simply because I can’t find the parts locally. And expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. You could spend thousands on a follow focus and Zacutto/ redrock gear, but your vids will still suck! Yup, I said it. Doing videos is no joke. It literally takes multi-media literally. You have to deal with shots, focusing, sound, and handle the technical aspects like you normally would with film, depth of field, lighting etc.

But my advice is to gear up. Pick the lenses you plan to shoot videos with, buy a good set of ND filters. Since videos require on avg 1/30 to 1/60 secs of exposure, that’s letting a lot of light in. And if you want you depth of field shallow, you’ll need to kill a lot of light coming in, so a good set of ND filters is key. But to get them to fit all your lenses, you have to get setup rings to mount on them all so they are all standardized. It helps when switching lenses and using the parts interchangeably. Since I didn’t have it in my budget to get a matte box with 4×4 filters, I opted for this route. It is way cheaper, and I think the matte boxes, though they do give a professional feel to your camera, do add some level of intimidation. If anything I learned from my years of experience in shooting stills, it’s ‘get the client comfortable’. Giant camera rig, plus uber scary matte box doesn’t help! But here’s a link to a matte box for reference.

Gini Rig First Field Test

Had an opportunity to do a small mini documentary for a family today. The original intent was to document their 2 year old, and a newborn. I had some ‘brothers’ theme in my minds eye before the shoot began, but things took a different turn. Basically, most shots for videos are planned, rehearsed, and executed. When shooting children, planning, rehearsing goes out the window, and all you have left is the execution. And if you blink, you’ll miss everything. It was much harder than I thought it would be. But I think in time, I’ll be quicker and have a better idea of what I’m doing. Basically, during post process, you’re at the whim of the footage you took to piece together some semblance of a theme.

I opted to not to bring along my lilliput field monitor. My clamps did not arrive yet, and it would be too bulky to attempt to mount it to my tripod or slider. The equipment I did bring was:

Body:
-Canon T2i
-1Ds MK II (for stills)

Lenses:
-24-70Lmm 2.8
-14mm 2.8
-24mm yashica
-35L 1.4
-85L 1.2

Misc:
-.6 ND filter
-rhode shotgun mike
-zacuto viewfinder
-Konova 1meter slider
-1 tripod, 1 lightstand (to support the slider)
-extra batteries

The 24mm prime was brought along just in case the 24-70 ended up being too heavy to get certain shots. I had time to setup, and plan for the establishing shots. Setting up the slider wasn’t too bad. The problem with using a fluid head with the slider though meant that I was limited to horizontal or Z-axis shots. The other caveat is, since the slider is 1 meter long, I essentially need two tripods to support the slider’s weight.

The shoulder rig worked flawlessly. It added some stability to the shots, and I think what really saved me was the Zacuto viewfinder. All the ambient light outside rendered the 3inch built in LCD useless. I’m curious how the Lilliput would fair under such conditions, and I’ll bring it along during my next shoot to see how it fairs outdoors. I learned a lot during this first gig. But most importantly, I’ve figured out two basic principals.

#1. you MUST nail the exposure on all the video shots. I don’t have the hardware to run fancy post processing on the videos, so the exposure has to be close to right the first time around. It’s not like I can shoot RAW and edit post process if I miss by a few stops.

#2 you MUST nail (or come close to hitting focus). I’m still awaiting my gears from d|focus. So I left my follow focus at home. Pulling focus is crucial, and it’s hard to try to keep do that, plus try to get the proper exposure during changing lighting conditions, all while trying to maintain as close to 1/30 or 1/60 shutterspeed, and composing the frame on the fly.

#3 Shooting good video is very hard. Things that I’ve brought to the table from my film shooting has helped to some extent, but to do video, you need to always be on your toes and think on your feet. It’s not as forgiving as shooting stills.

Here’s the final output. Used AVS video editor. It’s the easiest software that I have to edit quickly. It doesn’t have the strong features of Premiere, but I’ve tried that and it’s a best of an program. Maybe one day when I upgrade my computer.

The shooting time took roughly 2hrs, and editing was about 3-4hrs to complete.

lilliput 7inch field monitor has arrived

My Lilliput 7inch field monitor arrived today. That was some blazing fast shipping, since I ordered it from Amazon and they ship from California.

My first impression when I opened the box, was wow, this is a pretty impressive unit. Then I picked it up, and my second impression was, wow, this thing with the battery is a tad heavy. Mounting this sucker will require something sturdy. The main reason I wanted to get a field monitor in addition to my Zacuto viewfinder, is I want to be able to pull focus. The viewfinder is great, but if I’m at a strange angle, then it does me absolutely no good. Plus lately, I like to slid my shots, and keeping yourself at eye level to the viewfinder isn’t very practical. The T2i does not output HDMI in full HD while recording, so some of the resolution is lost in the monitor, but I think for pulling focus and framing shots, it will be perfect.

Ordering from Amazon, the VIVITEQ 3rd party seller there ships the unit with a menacing looking mini HDMI to HDMI cable. The thing looks like it could withstand a nuclear blast. So that was pretty cool, plus it comes with all the mounting brackets to mount to a stand or to your camera. Though the mount it comes with is designed to fit above in a flash slot. It looks like this. you’ll require a friction arm to mount. This guy at cheesy cam reviewed the friction arms which I have on order.

I think in the added weight to the shoulder mount is actually a plus, since it will allow for some more stability. The main problem I have with the entire rig, is the fact that I want it to do output both from the back of the camera and from the HDMI output. Which is impossible on the T2i (At least as far as I can tell). The problem is people either use these exclusively through a field monitor, or a view finder, but never both. would love the flexibility to handle both, or at the very least the capability of switching back and forth in a quick fashion. However, the moment the HDMI cable is plugged into the Canon T2i, the back screen goes blank, and the 350 dollar Zacuto viewinder I purchased has effectively become a paper weight.

One annoying thing about the monitor is there is a 4 sec lag time between hitting the record button, and actually displaying on the screen. I’ve read about this, but experiencing it first hand, I’m hoping it will be just a minor annoyance vs a showstopper in the field. Though the really off putting thing about the monitor is you can’t adjust any settings unless it receives a signal. If there are no inputs, you can’t even access the menus, which I find a bit irksome.

So far I’m happy with the monitor. The Ypbpr inputs are really quite useless to me, and the weight of the unit will require a more heavy duty mount.

UPDATE:
I picked up a 11 inch Friction arm from amazon.com to mount the lilliput monitor to my rig. Unfortunately, it only comes with 1/4inch screws, or a flash mount. The diameter of the base doesn’t fit within the 15mm specifications of the rig. So I made a trip to Home Depot, and to my dismay, there’s pretty much nothing that will adapt. So I had to suck it up and order some mini clamps and a 15mm rails to 1/4 screw adapter. Something similar to this. After shipping and all that jazz, my 23 dollar friction arm ended up costing an additional 50 dollars to mount the sucker.

Frakenstein

I’ve started my rig setup, and it’s nearly complete. I ordered a Lilliput 7 inch LCD monitor to pull focus, to use in conjunction with my Zacuto viewfinder. And I’ve also picked up one of these bad boys from Korea. The Gini Rig I did a lot of research before headed out to fleabay. Basically, from all the reviews, this is one solid piece of equipment for the price. Something comparable from Red Rock Micro, or Zacuto would run me triple, even quadruple the price. A 15mm rod based plate alone runs about $150 or more, and since I’m just starting out, I think this will hold me over fine. It also comes with a nice follow focus.

For some history, all movies are done with manual focus lenses. Typically it is the job of the 1AC, of the first assistant cameraman to pull focus. That is, his job is to maintain focus on the subject, and really good ones, do action scenes while the subject is moving. It’s an art, and I consider it a very skilled profession. Trust me, I can barely get a single stationary object to remain in focus while the camera is moving, let alone doing it with live action people.

Most movie sets use markers, for instance, an actor would step to a certain area of the scene, and the floor would be marked with color coded tape. The focus puller would have already pre-measured the distance and the lens used and mark on a disc so they know when the actor is there, this is where they would need to focus. It’s fascinating stuff. So the 7inch lilliput screen is designed to help me see and frame my shots, and try to pull focus when I can’t position myself using the Zacuto viewfinder.

Anyways, can’t wait for the items to arrive so I can test out the ‘rig’.
Until then here’s an awesome 3 part series on being a 1st AC”
1st AC job description
Pretty much for n00bs like me, I’ll be basically doing the role of director, the DP, 1stAC, and every other role, lol. I don’t have a crew! =)

pedigree moon

Was really bummed we weren’t going to get to see the super full moon here in souther California. I was working during the most important part, which is when the moon is just barely rising over the horizon and gives us the optical illusion that it’s larger than life. I’ll just have to wait another 13 or so years to give it another shot! Well, that’s actually not true, during full moons, you can see this phenomenon every time, so I’ll have plenty of chances to try to capture it.

For about an hour or so the moon crept above the clouds so then I scrambled to get my equipment together. I was cursing myself as I couldn’t find the AAA batteries for my intervalmeter, which allowed for time lapse shots. After a pathetic 7 minutes of scrambling and searching, I finally got my act together. (Note to self, get better organized). I decided to go with two cameras, and a bevy of lenses. I knew that if I went straight for the moon with no context, it would make for a boring shot. Don’t get me wrong, the moon is fantastic, but the moon in itself, with no context or frame of reference isn’t quite dramatic or visually interesting enough to hold anyone’s attention for very long.

I went with a 1dsII, set at small jpg, and set my exposure and shots for 1 every 5 seconds. I noticed the clouds were moving fast, so I adjusted it down to 1 every 2 seconds. With the other camera, the T2i, I went for video. I’m still new to the whole video scene, and I realized why am I doing a time lapse for something moving relatively fast, when video would better capture it. The things I learned are, equipment is key. And so far mine is somewhat inadequate to shoot a slider reel at such long distances. The slider, and the mounting has to be stable and secure. Since I went with a budget slider, it was somewhat wobbly. So there was a lot of camera shake during movement, which is evident in the video.

Secondly, for the first time, I’ve realized an actual use for the mirror lockup feature in the cameras. Mounted on a tripod, as the shutter was sounding off at 1 frame every 2 seconds, each time the mirror slapped against the body and it shook. Oh yeah it shook pretty good. By locking up the mirror, it will prevent this shake as the camera willl continue to take shots with the mirror in the up position, mitigating movement. (I didn’t set this, as I was too lazy).

And the last thing I learned was to appreciate the human eye more. Generally to capture the moon, you’ll notice a lot of photos look like it’s a giant star, or the sun. It is very bright. But when you do this, you can expose the surrounding clouds. So to get the moon, you have to stop it down a lot, but in doing so, the exposure omits the clouds and the context. Typically people composite the shots and shoot 2 frames. In video, I don’t have such luxuries (at least not the cheapo post processing video software I use). So it’s one or the other. I realized the eye gets all this data, exposes correctly for the moon, and the surrounding areas perfectly.
Plus to see the moon closer, you go with a longer lens. 200, 300mm. But you don’t see anything else. So if you want the scene, you go with 24, 50mm, but then the moon looks super tiny. I still haven’t figured out the perfect lens to use on the moon to capture both size and context. I’m not sure if it’s even possible without compositing shots.

So yeah, usually doing photography allows you to appreciate many things in life.