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? An aura of mystery has always surrounded the moon. Some say it can affect 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.
The moon is magical and relatively easy to photograph for photographers 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 to use a tracking mount. Getting the right exposure takes time and practice.
Photographing a full moon can be an enriching experience. Ansel Adams once said: “The moon is a sunlit scene.”
Getting great moon shots takes a little planning, the right gear, the proper settings, experimentation, and patience. So how do you photograph the moon? There are several 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 slower 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.
Use the Moonrise Calendar to find out precisely when and where the moon will be visible and when the moon will be most illuminated by 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 vs. 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 camera’s 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 300mm or longer lens 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 noticed the moon rises pretty fast. It takes approximately 2-3 minutes from when you first stop the moon until it rises above the horizon. 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 possibly 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, you should be concerned that 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 to adjust to cooler temperatures. You may encounter some condensation, so before you head out.