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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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ISS Solar Transit
I guess it's also the right setting for pictures of the Moon at night.
Title text: I guess it's also the right setting for pictures of the Moon at night.

Explanation

Cueball is trying to take a photograph of the International Space Station moving in front of the sun (example).

A normal camera is not able to take a photograph of the sun due to the extreme brightness. This is why Cueball is using a solar filter, which makes the sun look orange instead of white.

Digital cameras need to determine the color temperature of a photograph to correctly display colors. This is done using the white balance setting. The joke here is that Cueball selects the "direct sunlight" option, as he feels it is the option that best suits his unusual situation of directly photographing the sun, even though the "direct sunlight" setting is intended to be used for photographing objects directly illuminated by the sun and not for the sun itself.

The light that reaches the camera sensor from an object illuminated by "direct sunlight" is, in fact, indirect sunlight, so when photographing the sun itself, the camera receives sunlight that is even more direct than "direct".

The use of a solar filter influences the color temperature, so "custom" would probably be the correct option here. A camera using the "custom" option usually requires you to focus on a white or gray object first to determine the correct setting. The camera depicted in the comic seems to be a DSLR, which would be able to capture in raw image format, allowing the user to adjust the white balance afterwards in software.

The title text is pointing out that the sunlit side of the moon is also in direct sunlight, which is why we are able to see it, and so "direct sunlight" would actually be the correct setting in this case.

Transcript

[Cueball is kneeling in front of a camera attached to a tripod, standing on a small platform, and angled sharply upward toward the sky.]
Off-screen voice: What's going on?
Cueball: ISS solar transit. From this spot, the space station should briefly line up with the sun. I got a sun filter and I'm trying to take a picture of it crossing.
[Image of a very orange sun on a black background, as seen through the camera.]
Cueball: Perfect. Hmm, I should set the white balance.
[White balance menu is shown with the following options:]
- Incandescent
- Fluorescent
- Direct sunlight
- Flash
- Cloudy
- Shade
- Custom
[Cueball pauses to think.]
[Selects Direct sunlight.]



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