Wagging the Moondoggie, Part IV
October 1, 2009
by David McGowan
"Once on the Moon, on the lunar surface in the dress, in the life support system, you couldn't see the camera. They couldn't bend their head that far down to see the scale ... They had no viewfinder - they had to aim by moving their body."
Jan Lundberg, chief designer of the Hasselblad cameras allegedly used by the Apollo astronauts
"They had to effectively guess where they were pointing the camera."
HJP Arnold, the Kodak executive who supplied the Ektachrome film for the missions
The issue that most of the Moon hoax and ‘debunking’ sites spend the most time on, by far, is the photographic anomalies. And that, I suppose, is to be expected, since with the original videotapes, telemetry tapes and blueprints all having conveniently disappeared, and with most of the Moon rocks missing and their legitimacy being unverifiable, there isn’t much else in the way of physical evidence to examine.
Skeptics have identified a number of problems with NASA’s official photographs of the alleged Moon landings, including; flags appearing to wave despite the lack of atmosphere; non-parallel shadows, suggesting multiple light sources; objects in the shadows that are clearly visible when they shouldn’t be, again indicating multiple light sources; the complete lack of stars in the lunar sky; identical backgrounds in photos that NASA has claimed were shot at different locations; and inconsistencies with the crosshair reference marks.
We will look at each of these in some detail – well, actually we will look at most of them in some detail. Because as it turns out – and I know that this will come as a huge disappointment to all the ‘debunkers’ – I don’t really give a shit whether the flag is waving or not. Many of the ‘debunking’ websites devote an inordinate amount of time to the issue, as though it were the primary plank on which the ‘conspiracy theories’ rested. They do this because the videos and photos are ambiguous and open to interpretation, and the ‘debunkers’ realize that people are going to see in them what they want to see.
The truth though is that it does not matter in the least whether the flag is waving. That is just one tiny drop of potential evidence in an overflowing bucket.
Some of the other problems with the images are considerably less ambiguous. But before we even get to those, we must first discuss the fact that the very existence of the photographs is a technical impossibility. Simply stated, it would not have been possible to capture any of the images allegedly shot on the Moon in the manner that NASA says they were captured.
Back in the day, you see (and younger readers may again want to cover their eyes), cameras weren’t all that smart, so everything had to be done manually. The photographer had to manually focus each shot by peering through the viewfinder and rotating the lens until the scene came into focus. The proper aperture and shutter speeds had to be manually selected for each shot as well, to insure a proper exposure. That required peering through the viewfinder as well, to meter the shot. Finally, each shot had to be properly composed and framed, which obviously also required looking through the viewfinder.
The problem for the astronauts is that the cameras were mounted to their chests, which made it impossible to see through the viewfinder to meter, frame and focus the shots. Everything, therefore, was pretty much of a guess. Focusing would have been entirely guesswork, as would the framing of each shot. An experienced photographer can accurately estimate the exposure settings, but the astronauts lacked such experience and they were also handicapped by the fact that they were viewing the scenes through heavily tinted visors, which meant that what they were seeing was not what the camera was seeing.
To add to their troubles, they were wearing space helmets that seriously restricted their field of vision, along with enormously bulky, pressurized gloves that severely limited their manual dexterity. The odds then of getting even one of the three elements (exposure, focus and framing) correct under those conditions on any given shot would have been exceedingly low. And yet, amazingly enough, on the overwhelming majority of the photos, they got all three right!
A rather self-important gent by the name of Jay Windley, one of the most prominent of the NASA-approved ‘debunkers,’ attempts to spin all this away on his website, www.clavius.org. According to Windley, “The exposures were worked out ahead of time based on experimentation. The ASA/ISO rating of the film was known, and NASA photographers precomputed the necessary exposures … In many cases the camera settings for planned photos were given in the astronauts’ cuff checklists.”
No shit, Jay? Did they send an advance team to the Moon to do that “experimentation”? Because the lighting conditions on the Moon are pretty unique, as you well know, and nobody had ever been there before, so I’m not really seeing how NASA’s photographers were able to work the exposures out “ahead of time.” And what “planned photos” are you referring to? How did they know what they were going to photograph before they even knew what was there? They knew they were going to take photos of each other, I suppose, and of the flag and lander, but they would have had no clue how those things were going to be lit, and it’s the lighting, not the subject, that primarily determines the exposure settings.
Windley of course knows that, since he claims on his site that he is “an experienced photographer [who] has worked professionally in that area from time to time.” He must also know then that his comments about the unimportance of properly focusing a shot are intentionally misleading. He starts off on the right track, more or less, advising readers that an increased depth of field “means that when the lens is set to focus at a certain distance, objects somewhat nearer and farther from this ideal distance are also sharply focused. The narrower the aperture, the greater the depth of field.”
It is certainly true that the smaller the aperture, the greater the depth of field will be. And the greater the depth of field, the more of the background and foreground will be in focus, assuming that the subject is in proper focus. Windley, like the rest of the ‘debunkers,’ would like us to believe that all of the photos shot on the lunar surface were shot with a very small aperture setting (which supposedly explains the lack of stars in the lunar sky, but we’ll get to that soon enough), which would maximize the depth of field. And the greater the depth of field, according to Windley, “the sloppier the photographer can be about his focus settings.”
That last statement, for those who may have missed it, is the part that isn’t actually true. An increased depth of field most certainly does not mean that you can use the ‘close enough’ technique to focus your camera. Depth of field has nothing to do with whether your subject is sharply focused or not. If your subject is sharply focused, then depth of field determines how many of the other objects in the background and foreground of your photo will be in focus as well. If your subject is not sharply focused, however, then your photo is going to suck regardless of the amount of depth of field.
As for framing the shots, Windley claims that mostly wide-angle lenses were used, which meant that, “It was sufficient to point the camera in the general direction of the subject and you would be likely to frame it well enough.” So apparently all the fuss about framing, exposure and focus is much ado about nothing. All you need do is write the exposure settings down on your sleeve, ballpark the focus, and point your camera in “the general direction of the subject” and you’ll get great shots nearly every time!
Windley then adds (and this is my favorite part of his photography tutorial) that on the later missions, “a 500mm telephoto lens was also taken, and the cameras were modified with sighting rings to help aim them. Normally the camera would be mounted on the space suit chest bracket, but for telephoto use the astronaut would have to remove it and hold it at eye level in order to sight down the rings.”
As any photographer knows, getting a decent shot with a 500mm lens without the use of a tripod is a pretty tall order, even for a seasoned professional. Getting a decent hand-held shot with a 500mm lens while wearing bulky, pressurized gloves would be just about impossible. And the notion that you could come anywhere close to properly framing or focusing an image captured with a 500mm lens without looking through the viewfinder is laughably absurd.
The ‘debunkers’ will also tell you that it is not true that all the Moon landing images were keepers, and that NASA only released the best of the photos. The ‘debunkers,’ however, don’t know what they are talking about. The reality is that NASA has released all of the alleged photos taken during the Apollo missions, including indecipherable ones that are labeled “inadvertent shutter release” (which, I have to admit, is a nice touch). With the exception of what are most likely deliberate mistakes, the clear majority of the shots are pretty well composed, exposed and focused.
For those who don’t find that at all unusual, here is an experiment that you can try at home: grab the nearest 35MM SLR camera and strap it around your neck. It is probably an automatic camera so you will have to set it for manual focus and manual exposure. Now you will need to put on the thickest pair of winter gloves that you can find, as well as a motorcycle helmet with a visor. Once you have done all that, here is your assignment: walk around your neighborhood with the camera pressed firmly to your chest and snap a bunch of photos. You will need to fiddle with the focus and exposure settings, of course, which is going to be a real bitch since you won’t be able to see or feel what you are doing. Also, needless to say, you’ll just have to guess on the framing of all the shots.
You should probably use a digital camera, by the way, so that you don’t waste a lot of film, because you’re not going to have a lot of keepers. Of course, part of the fun of this challenge is changing the film with the gloves and helmet on, and you’ll miss out on that by going digital. Anyway, after you fill up your memory card, head back home and download all your newly captured images. While looking through your collection of unimpressive photos, marvel at the incredible awesomeness of our Apollo astronauts, who not only risked life and limb to expand man’s frontiers, but who were also amazingly talented photographers. I’m more than a little surprised that none of them went on to lucrative careers as professional shutterbugs.
Even if our fine astronauts could have captured all of those images, the film would have never survived the journey in such pristine condition. Even very brief exposure to the relatively low levels of radiation used in airport security terminals can damage photographic film, so how would the film have fared after prolonged, continuous exposure to far higher levels of radiation? And what of the 540° F temperature fluctuations? That must have been some amazingly resilient film stock – and yet another example of the lost technology of the 1960s.
Even though the images are clearly not what NASA claims they are, we are going to play along and pretend as though Neil and Buzz and all of the rest of the guys could have actually taken them. The question then is: where did they take them?
Hoax theorists, ‘debunkers’ and NASA are all in agreement on at least one thing: conditions on the surface of the Moon are decidedly different than conditions here on the surface of planet Earth. For one thing, the Moon has no atmosphere. Also, there is only one source of light, which is, of course, the sun (NASA has verified that no other light source was available to the astronauts).
Due to the lack of atmosphere on the Moon, light is not scattered and travels only in a straight line from the sun and is reflected back in the same direction. What that means is that anything that falls in the shadows will be in virtually complete darkness. It also means that all shadows will be cast in the same direction. And it means that the sky is always black, and, with no atmosphere filtering the view, that sky will be filled at all times with a dazzling display of stars unlike anything ever before seen by man.
As other skeptics have noted, none of the photos supposedly brought home from the Moon show a single star in the sky. ‘Debunkers’ have claimed that this is because the exposure settings on the cameras didn’t allow for the stars to be captured on film. In order to properly expose for the objects being photographed, ‘debunkers’ claim, shutter speeds had to be too fast and apertures too small to capture the stars. And that applies, according to the ‘debunkers,’ to every single photo taken on the Moon. Even all the ones that, according to those same ‘debunkers,’ were improperly exposed!
NASA’s own website has boldly stated that, “Astronauts striding across the bright lunar soil in their sunlit spacesuits were literally dazzling. Setting a camera with the proper exposure for a glaring spacesuit would naturally render background stars too faint to see.”
The problem with this claim, which should be obvious to any photographer, is that a variety of different exposure settings would have been required to shoot all the photos allegedly taken on the Moon (Windley acknowledged as much when he claimed that NASA “precomputed the necessary exposures”). All of the scenes below, for example, which are obviously not very well lit, would have required long exposures – exposures that would have definitely captured the brilliantly shining stars, since they would have been the brightest objects in the camera’s field of view.
One thing that I love about the ‘debunking’ websites, by the way, is how frequently they contradict themselves while working their way through their ‘debunking’ checklists. The ever-pompous Phil Plait, proprietor of the appropriately named BadAstronomy.com website, is a prime example. Fairly early on in his ‘debunking’ rant, he writes as follows: “I’ll say this here now, and return to it many times: the Moon is not the Earth. Conditions there are weird, and our common sense is likely to fail us.”
Plait does indeed return to it often, whenever it advances his argument to do so, but he just as frequently tosses his own cardinal rule aside when that is what serves his purposes – like, for example, just four paragraphs later, when he advises readers to “go outside here on Earth on the darkest night imaginable and take a picture with the exact same camera settings the astronauts used, you won’t see any stars! It’s that simple.”
Ever the coy one, Phil doesn’t tell us what those “camera settings” are, but he clearly implies that the same settings were used in every photo, which clearly is not the case. Phil also conveniently forgets that the view from the Moon is not filtered through an atmosphere, so the stars have many times the luminosity as here on Earth. Phil’s little experiment, therefore, is entirely invalid, since he forgot to take into account that conditions on the Moon “are weird.” And as with all the ‘debunkers,’ he also forgot to explain why it is that no one thought to expose a photo or two to specifically capture the brilliant display of stars.
Legend holds that a dozen astronauts walked upon the surface of the Moon for varying amounts of time. The Apollo 17 astronauts alone were purportedly there for three days. For the duration of their visits, each of the twelve would have been treated to what was by far the most dazzling display of stars ever seen by the human eye. What they would have seen was many times more stars burning many times brighter than can be seen anywhere here on planet Earth.
Collectively, the dirty dozen took thousands of photos throughout their alleged journeys. And yet, amazingly enough, not one of them thought it might be a good idea to snap even a single photograph of such a wondrous sight. Of course, endless photos of the lunar modules and the monotonous lunar surface are exciting too, but just one or two photos of that dazzling lunar sky might have been nice as well. It’s as if someone went to Niagara Falls and the only photos they brought back were of the car they drove sitting in a nondescript parking lot.
Now let’s turn our attention to the subject of shadows. As skeptics have noted, some of NASA’s photos seem to depict nonparallel shadows, indicating more than one light source. ‘Debunkers’ have claimed that all such discrepancies can be explained by “perspective” and topographical variations on the surface of the Moon. And truth be told, many of the images that I have seen on websites on both sides of the aisle are ambiguous enough that such explanations can be plausibly argued. But there are, as it turns out, images in NASA’s collection that aren’t quite so easy to debunk.
There are, in fact, images that demonstrate unequivocally that more than one light source was used. Take, for example, the image below of one of the landing pods of the Apollo 11 lunar module, allegedly parked on the surface of the Moon.
The primary light source, meant to simulate the sun, is obviously positioned to the right of the scene, as is clearly demonstrated by the shadows of all of the objects in the background. But there is just as obviously a secondary light source coming from the direction of the photographer. We know this because we can see in the foreground that the shadows coming off the small ‘Moon rocks’ point away from us. We know it also because we can see the light being reflected off of the gold foil wrap onto the ground in front of the pod. But we know it most of all because we can actually see the light reflected in the foil wrap on the leg of the pod!
The shadows in the foreground and in the background are at nearly right angles, a phenomenon that cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be explained away as a perceptual problem – especially when we can clearly see the reflection of the secondary light! One other question concerning this particular photo: how do you suppose you would go about capturing such a low-angle shot with a chest-mounted camera? Was the astronaut/photographer standing in a foxhole?
The other issue involving shadows concerns the fact that, in the majority of the photos allegedly taken on the Moon, objects lying in the shadows are clearly visible even though, due to the Moon’s lack of atmosphere and the fact that sunlight therefore does not scatter, those shadowed areas should be completely black. The Moon, you see, is kind of a black and white world. If something is in the direct path of the unfiltered sunlight, it should be well lit (on one side); if it’s not, it should be as black as NASA’s starless lunar sky.
The ‘debunkers,’ of course, have an explanation for this. Let’s turn once again to BadAstronomy.com for that explanation, since that seems to be the website that all the other ‘debunking’ websites consistently reference and link to, the one that all the major media outlets endorse, and the one that even NASA apparently refers skeptics to. According to the site, “The lunar dust has a peculiar property: it tends to reflect light back in the direction from where it came.” Plait them goes on to provide the following explanation of the lighted shadows phenomenon: “Let’s say the sun is off to the right in a picture. It is illuminating the right side of the lander, and the left is in shadow. However, the sunlight falling beyond the lander on the left is being reflected back toward the Sun. That light hits the surface and reflects to the right and up, directly onto the shadowed part of the lander.”
In the previously cited example, Plait managed to make it through four entire paragraphs before contradicting himself. Here he has easily shattered that record by, incredibly enough, contradicting himself in back-to-back sentences! And this, keep in kind, seems to be the best ‘debunker’ that NASA has to offer (it is unclear whether Plait is a paid shill or simply a useful idiot; it other words, it is unclear whether he actually believes the stuff he writes or whether he is knowingly lying his ass off, but the latter seems far more likely).
Plait is right on the money when he says that the light falling beyond the LM on the left would be reflected “back toward the sun.” Unfortunately, he then immediately contradicts himself by claiming that that same light would be reflected “to the right,” onto the module. The only way that that could happen, as Plait surely knows, is if the light were to shine through the lander and reflect off the shaded portion of the soil. But that makes no sense, of course, just as Phil’s explanation makes no sense.
Light does not disperse on the Moon, as Plait himself notes elsewhere on his website. And the surface of the Moon (or at least what passes for the surface of the Moon in NASA's photos) is not a very reflective surface, as can be clearly discerned in the photographs. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the Moon is a very selectively reflective surface, with the light choosing to reflect only on the astronauts and on flags and other patriotoc symbols.
Not too surprisingly, Plait once again invites readers to reproduce the effect right here at home, completely ignoring the fact that, as he himself has acknowledged, light behaves in entirely different ways here on Earth than it does on the Moon. Plait also claims that, “A nifty demonstration of the shadow filling was done by Ian Goddard and can be found here. His demos are great and really drive the point home.” In truth, Goddard’s “nifty demonstrations” are entirely dependent upon the effects of atmosphere causing the light to disperse, and thus they have no validity whatsoever.
I forgot to mention in the earlier discussion, by the way, that Plait also appealed to readers to conduct an Earth-bound experiment to ‘debunk’ the diverging shadows conundrum. According to Phil, “You can experience this for yourself; go outside on a clear day when the Sun is low in the sky and compare the direction of the shadows of near and far objects. You’ll see that they appear to diverge. Here is a major claim of the HBs that you can disprove all by yourself!”
Here is another experiment that Plait might want to try himself: go outside during the daytime on any day of your choosing and look up at the sky. If it is absolutely jet black, then feel free to continue advising your readers to conduct Moon simulations here at home. If it is blue, however (or gray, or white, or pretty much any color other than black), then stop pretending as though conditions on the Moon can be replicated here on Earth when we all know better (or we all should).
And when you’re done with that experiment? Give the camera-to-the-chest challenge a try and let everyone know how well that works out for you. And try to get some of those low-angle shots that NASA likes.
The truth is that even though a limited amount of light would reflect into the shadows, there is still way too much detail visible in the shadows in virtually all of NASA’s photos – if the arguments that NASA and Plait put forth earlier are at all accurate. As readers will recall, the earlier claim was that the lunar surface and the astronauts’ spacesuits were so dazzlingly bright in the unfiltered sunlight that very fast shutter speeds and very small apertures were required to avoid overexposing the shots.
The problem for NASA and its attack dogs is that you can’t have it both ways. If the camera is stopped down to avoid overexposing extremely bright highlights, it cannot simultaneously capture full detail in the shadows. And if the aperture and shutter speeds are set to capture detail in the shadows, the camera would necessarily also capture the brilliant stars, which would be far brighter than anything lying in the lunar shadows. Other planets would be pretty hard to miss in the lunar sky as well, though none can be seen in any of NASA’s photos.
Do you remember, by the way, what Windley told us earlier about the relationship between the aperture setting and depth of field? The basic rule is that the smaller the aperture setting, the greater the depth of field will be. With a wide aperture, conversely, the photo will have little depth of field. That is why portrait photographers tend to shoot with the lens wide open, to deliberately isolate the subject from foreground and background elements. Landscape photographers, on the other hand, stop the lens down to keep the entire scene in focus.
With that bit of basic photographic knowledge in hand, it is fairly easy to determine whether NASA’s photographs were, in fact, taken with a very small aperture setting. And a good place to start, I suppose, is with the very first photo allegedly taken by a man standing on lunar soil. Below is what is alleged to be Armstrong’s very first attempt at lunar photography, just after climbing down from the module.
First off, I think we can all agree that, under the circumstances, it’s a pretty damn good first effort. There are problems right off the bat, of course, with the fact that the shadows are obviously lit with a diffused secondary light source, or else we wouldn’t be able to see the top of the bag, or the United States sign, or the shadowed side of the landing strut, but what we’re really looking for here is depth of field, which this photo has very little of. The photographer has focused on the United States sign (and he did it blindly!), but little else is sharply focused. Hence we know, from the very first shot, that the ‘debunkers’ are lying about the exposure settings.
Moving on to Armstrong’s second alleged photo, seen below, we again find that there is very little depth of field. Both the foreground and the background are quite blurry, indicating that it clearly was not taken with a small aperture setting. And yet there is nary a star to be seen.
Before moving on, there is one more of Armstrong’s photos that I feel obligated to present here. It is, after all, his masterpiece, as well as being probably the most iconic of all the Apollo photos. I am talking, of course, about the so-called “Man on the Moon” shot of cohort Buzz Aldrin, seen below (which is probably not actually Aldrin; my guess is that the same two actors did all the Moon walking in the videos and photos from the alleged missions).
We must first, of course, compliment Neil on the awesome composition. It hardly looks staged at all. But there are problems here. Once again, I’m just not seeing the depth of field that Windley promised us. It’s also pretty hard not to notice that Buzz’s spacesuit isn’t pressurized. Furthermore, the surface of the 'Moon' is quite unevenly lit, indicating that the light source used was much closer than the sun. And then there is the noticeable lack of any shadowing on Buzz’s spacesuit. He’s casting a shadow on the ground, but there is no corresponding shadowing of his body. Even here on Earth, that is only possible with a secondary light source.
There are some photos in NASA’s collection that were taken without a secondary light source, so we do know what fake Moon landing pictures should look like. The action shot below of the lunar rover, for example, was taken without a secondary light to fill in the shadows. The shadows still aren’t quite as dark as they would be on the Moon, but the difference between a fake Moon shot taken with a fill light and a fake Moon shot taken without a fill light couldn’t be more obvious.
NASA liked the “Man on the Moon” image so much, by the way, that they essentially re-staged it for the Apollo 12 mission. As can be seen below, a secondary light was used for that shot as well. Without the fill light, there is simply no way that a portion of the astronaut’s spacesuit would not be shadowed, as it is in the rover photo above.
Moving on then to the next issue, we have the mystery of the disappearing crosshairs. The problem, according to skeptics, is that the crosshair reference marks, which were etched into the camera’s lenses and therefore should always appear on top of any objects in the photos, sometimes disappear behind those objects.
Plait actually gets this one correct in explaining the phenomenon as a problem of overexposure and contrast. When some of the brighter objects in the photos are overexposed, the fine crosshairs tend to get washed out. That is in fact a reasonable explanation for the effect (by the way, I mentioned before that I was not a rocket scientist; I am, however, a photographer).
The claim that the cross hairs should be visible presupposes that NASA added objects to the photos, creating composites. I seriously doubt though that that would have happened. The scenes appear to have been very carefully staged before the photos were taken, so there would have been no need for cutting and pasting. And if NASA had planned on adding additional elements to the photos, I doubt that they would have complicated that process by using cameras with crosshairs; it would have been much easier to create the composites first and then overlay the grid marks on top of them.
However … the same can certainly not be said of the images that purport to show various parts of the ship flying through space. Take the image below, for example, which is supposed to be a two-dimensional rendering of a three-dimensional scene of the command and service modules in lunar orbit. If it were an actual three-dimensional scene, the spaceship would be 69 miles above the lunar surface – which would, I would think, make it difficult for a portion of that lunar terrain to obscure part of the ship’s S-band antennae assembly.
The shot, as can be seen in the enlargement below, is clearly a composite. And not even a very good one. So it is entirely possible that some of the photos allegedly shot on the Moon are composites as well. I obviously haven’t studied every one of them. I’m just saying that the ones that I have seen that have disappearing crosshairs do not appear to be composites.
The next problem with the NASA photos is that some of them seem to have identical backgrounds but different foregrounds. As Phil Plait explains, “In one [photo], they show the lunar lander with a mountain in the background. They then show another picture of the same mountain, but no lander in the foreground at all. The astronauts could not have taken either picture before landing, of course, and after it lifts off the lander leaves the bottom section behind. Therefore, there would have been something in the second image no matter what, and the foreground could not be empty.”
Plait begins his debunking by stating, rather hilariously: “As always, repeat after me: the Moon is not the Earth.” Plait goes on to claim that distances are very difficult to judge on the Moon and that the two photographs were actually taken from much different angles, and yet the background remains virtually unchanged because, despite appearances, it is a really, really long ways away. Either that, or one of the astronauts was really David Copperfield.
The two photographs appear below. I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether, as Plait claims, the ‘mountains’ are in fact many, many times further away from the lander than the lander is from the photographer. And I’ll do so while noting that Phil provides neither the photographs nor a link to them, but instead asks readers to accept what he says on faith. I wonder why he would do that if he were so sure of his conclusions? I also wonder why, in the final photo, the lander appears to be parked much closer to the 'mountains' than Plait would have us believe.