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How to photograph the moon

Photograph of bright moon -- how to photograph the moon

One of the first things that came to my mind when I got my Tamron 70-300mm f4.0-5.6 lens is to photograph the moon. I guess everyone had tried to photograph the moon with their cameras. But most of the time you would end up getting a blurry image and the moon appears as a bright disc. Moon photography is tricky, but if you know those tricks you can take great moon photographs. Let me explain how I took some moon photographs — a short guide on how to photograph the moon.

Why you don’t get good results when you photograph the moon?

First of all let me explain what spoils your moon photographs. Why do you see the moon as a bright disc in your photographs. When you frame your image, the moon covers only a small part of the frame. The major part of the frame is dark. This tricks your camera by calculating the exposure based on those dark areas in the frame. So it results in an over exposed moon. In other words, you will not be able to see the details on the moon.

Taking photograph of the moon is almost like taking the photograph of a bright bulb in a dark room. When you expose your camera to the dark areas, you would get a very bright bulb. So the idea is to expose your camera for the bright bulb to bring out the details. The other areas will be totally dark, but it doesn’t matter as the bulb (or moon) is our main subject. Another mistake most people usually make is using the ‘night mode’ in their cameras. Since it’s night, most people enable the night mode and photograph the moon. In night mode, the camera selects the lowest shutter speed and highest ISO possible which results in blurry images with a lot of noise. Now you know what is the reason behind those blurry, over exposed images you get when you try to photograph the moon.

Read: 14 tips to prevent blurry photos

If you expose for the dark areas around the moon, you would end up getting an over exposed image. 180mm f11, ISO 100, 10s

How to Photograph the Moon

Let me explain how I took my moon photographs. Time for moon photography has some significance in getting good results. Moon looks bigger and less bright just after sunset or just before sunrise. It would give a blue background too. Taking moon photographs in the middle of the night doesn’t give good results. Try to take the photos from the highest elevation as possible. Less the distance between your equipment and moon, better the results would be.

Equipment required

  • Camera: You don’t need an expensive camera to take moon photographs. Any entry-level DSLRs and some point and shoot cameras will do the job.
  • Lens: You need atleast a 200mm focal length lens. However, the minimum requirement is a lens with a 300mm focal length. For point a shoot cameras, a 10x optical zoom gives okay results. For point and shoot cameras, an optical zoom of 10X or higher will work.
  • Tripod: A sturdy tripod is essential.
  • Shutter release cable/remote trigger: A remote trigger or a shutter release cable is useful to avoid camera shake (Read more on camera shake here) However, this is optional. Camera’s self timer is enough.
  • Other optional accessories: For higher magnification, you can use teleconverters. Teleconverters increase the effective focal length of the lens. If you don’t have teleconverters, you can crop the image for your desired magnification.

I. Setting up the shot

Mount your camera on a sturdy tripod. Extend the tripod as high as possible. Frame your shot my keeping the moon at the center.

II. Camera settings

It is highly recommended to use RAW file format to capture as it gives you full control over processing the image. Set the white balance on your camera to auto mode. If you are using RAW format, you don’t have to change this setting.

III. Exposure settings

You can do either manual or semi automatic exposure settings. However, semi automatic mode is more than enough and easier. So I shall explain using a semi automatic mode.

1. Metering mode

There are various metering modes available in your camera — spot metering, partial metering, evaluative metering, center weighted metering etc. They are basically used for calculating the exposure of a scene. Since you have kept the moon in the center of the frame, you should choose partial metering or spot metering.

2. Aperture priority mode

  • Set your camera’s exposure mode to ‘Aperture priority’ (Denoted as ‘Av’ in canon cameras)
  • Now set the EV value to -1 or -2 stops depending upon the brightness of the moon (Click here to read more on ‘stops). If you are photographing the moon just after sunset/just before sunrise, an EV value of -1/2 stops or -1 stop will work. When you select a -1 EV value, the camera under expose (reduce the brightness) the scene by 1 stop by setting the shutterspeed.
  • Set the aperture to f11. You can choose between f8 and f11

Read: Introduction to Aperture

3. ISO

  • Set the ISO to 100 or the lowest one available in your camera. This will minimize the noise in your image.

4. Focus

Set to manual focus. You can focus on some contrast areas on the moon or set the lens’ focus to infinity. If you are keeping the subject off-center, focus lock the image and recompose. OR choose proper focal points if you have that choice.

IV.Taking the shot

You can use a shutter release cable or a remote trigger. If you don’t have those, just use the self timer in your camera. It avoids camera shake. A shutter release cable/remote trigger with a mirror lock-up feature gives sharp images.

300mm cropped. f8 ISO 100 1/40s

V. Post Production

I always recommend to post process the image to enhance the details on the moon. Processing the photograph depends on your taste. Here are some points to consider:-

  • If you are using a 300mm lens or lower, you may have to crop the image for better magnification.
  • Try to avoid tight cropping if you have kept the moon in the centre. Crop using the rule of thirds.
  • You can either change it to a black and white image or a color image.
  • Adjust  the contrast and do some sharpening to bring details on the moon.
Before post production. 300mm (not cropped) f11, ISO 100, 1/250s
Full moon after post production
Final image after processing. Cropped for better magnification. Sharpened using high pass filter, increased midtone contrast and blacks in lightroom

So, are you ready to take some moon photographs? Share your moon shots in our Flickr group: ShutterStoppers Flickr Group

 

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Vidhu Soman

Vidhu is an enthusiastic photographer from Kerala, India. His desire to share his knowledge and experience on photography was the motivation for creating Shutterstoppers. His dream is to provide a platform for people all around the world to exchange ideas and information on everything related to photography. In addition to photography, he also has a keen interest in traveling, philately and science.

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