Fly Me to the Moon
Have you ever looked up in the evening sky at a full moon that appeared so close you could almost reach out and touch it? The moon has always been surrounded by an aura of mystery. Some say it can affects human behavior, sleep, and ocean tides. Hospital emergency rooms and jails claim to reach capacity whenever we have a full moon and there are various reports of strange occurrences in general during a full moon.
For photographers, the moon is magical and relatively easy to photograph because it’s the largest and brightest celestial object in the night sky. Fortunately, the moon is large enough for you to shoot with a normal telephoto lens. The moon is far brighter than you might think and easily over-exposed. But it’s bright enough so you can use a shutter speed that is fast enough so you don’t have use a tracking mount. Getting the right exposure takes time and practice.
Photographing a full moon can be a very rewarding experience. Ansel Adams once said: “The moon is a sunlit scene.”
Moon Photography Tips
Getting great moon shots takes a little planning, the right gear, the proper settings, some experimentation, and patience. So how do you photograph the moon? There are a number of factors to consider if you want to capture a good moon shot. We have some valuable tips for settings and the gear you’ll need to get a great shot.
Before you head out with all your gear in tow, it’s helpful to know where the moon will rise and in which direction. If you need help finding the perfect location, try an app from the Apple App Store or Google Play called PhotoPills.
2. Recommended Gear
A DSLR (set to manual mode) and a minimum 200mm telephoto lens are highly recommended. No matter what type of camera you’re using, a tripod is a must to avoid camera shake. A tripod will also allow you to take celestial pictures at lower shutter speeds. Since you’ll be shooting with a longer focal length, you need to keep your camera as steady as possible to prevent camera shake.
Look online for charts that show moonrise times. We recommend the Moonrise and Moonset Calculator on TimeandDate.com. Use the Moonrise Calendar to find out precisely when and where the moon will be visible and when the moon will be most illuminated the sun. Wait as late at night as you possibly can before you photograph the moon so the sky will be plenty dark. You’ll have a better chance of the moon shining bright against and dark evening sky.
We recommend shooting using RAW and JPEG if the option is available on your camera. It’s a great idea if you’re shooting with a smaller zoom or telephoto lens. Shooting in RAW will give you the option to crop your images so you get more of the moon to fill the frame. Remember, when you shoot in RAW you are recording ALL of the image data from your cameras sensor. So, you can adjust exposure, contrast, blacks, shadows, and brightness. Making adjustments in RAW will help you bring out the stunning detail on the moon’s surface.
5. Zoom In
Once you’ve decided on a suitable time to photograph the moon, the technique is pretty straightforward. You’ll need a lens of 300mm or longer to get it at a reasonable size in the frame. A tripod will keep your camera still, and a remote shutter release will reduce shaking further – if you don’t have one, set the camera’s self-timer to a few seconds in the Setup menu.
6. Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO
If you’ve ever taken the time to stop and watch a moonrise, you’ve probably notice the moon raises pretty fast. It takes approximately 2-3 minutes from when you first stop the moon until it rises above the horizon. In order to get a sharp image you will need to shoot with a faster shutter speed. Start at 1/125 second mark and check your focus. As for your aperture you want to get as much of the lunar surface in focus as you possible can. So, avoid shooting wide open at 2.8 and an aperture around f/9. For ISO, start with 400 and move up to 800 if necessary.
Use a Remote Shutter Release or see if your camera has an app that allows you to fire the camera from your smartphone. If you don’t have a Remote Shutter Release or remote firing capabilities, set the self-timer to 3 seconds so the camera is perfectly still when the shutter goes off.
7. Double Check your Focus
Turn off automatic focusing and focus manually. Next to getting a properly exposed image, getting a sharp image is crucial if you want to photograph the moon. While previewing your images, zoom in double check the image for exposure and focus. Consider using the Live View mode, then zoom in and carefully manually focus on the moon’s surface. Check your focus frequently to ensure your images are tack sharp.
If you live in an area where the temperature drops close to freezing in the evening, during you should be concerned with moisture in the air will condense on your gear. Condensation in your camera, viewfinder, lens, and rear screen can create serious problems. Minimize the probability of condensation by giving your camera gear a little time adjust to cooler temperatures. You may encounter some condensation, so before you head out to photograph the moon, bring plenty of lint free cloths and a lens cleaning kit.