How to Photograph the Moon or Super Moon – Tips & Settings In Moon Photography For Beginners

How to photograph moon

How to shoot moon

Capturing the beauty of moon in photographs is not as difficult as many people believe. Moon photography doesn’t require expensive equipment, and with the right approach it’s easy to take stunning pictures with a fairly basic camera equipments. Understanding the right shooting techniques and camera settings should allow any photographer to take pictures of the moon.

Camera or exposure settings to photograph Moon

Shooting the moon and stars involves a lot of trial and error, and being able to manually focus and expose shots is essential. However, Some modern DSLR can handle both exposure & Auto focusing quite efficiently. Spot metering is perfect for photographing the moon. Sunny 16 rule states, all you need to expose the moon is to set you camera settings to ISO 100, 1/125 sec Sutter @ F/11, but you will still need to take some shots at different exposures to ensure you get the exposure right.

Shooting moon in manual mode

  • Turn off your flash (obviously)
  • Set your camera to full Manual Mode.
  • ISO: Choose a base ISO (100 or 200). For most brands it is 100 (For Canon base ISO is 100 and for Nikon 200). In case of a point and shoot set it to lowest ISO  you can find from menu setting. Never use Auto ISO.
  • Aperture: Set your aperture to f/11. Don’t get confused here with bigger f-stop (smaller aperture). Remember, you are not shooting the dark, instead you are shooting bright Moon against a dark sky and a larger f number (smaller aperture) will help you to keep your moon in sharp focus. If you use
  • Shutter Speed: For ISO setting 100, set your shutter speed to 1/125 and for ISO 200 setting 1/250. Yes, it is possible to photograph the moon handheld.

Shooting moon in Auto mode

  • Turn off Flash.
  • Select Spot meting mode
  • Turn off “Auto ISO” mode & choose a base ISO (100 to 200)
  • Set your camera to Aperture priority & select aperture @ f/11. In this mode you set the aperture & camera automatically sets an appropriate shutter speed for you.

These numbers are just a GUIDELINE. It is not necessarily the settings that matters, but rather the getting the correct exposure depending on that particular situation.

Focus

You can choose to focus both in Auto or manual mode. Latest DSLRs have a nice feature called “contrast detect autofocus” in live view mode, it is slow but can focus distant objects quite accurately and serves great in situation like this. Traditional AF mode also works most of the time. When focus is achieved switch off the the AF. To focus manually, set your lens to manual focus mode through AF switch of the lens or the camera and set your focus to infinity. You can also try to focus using autofocus confirmation or live view mode. Some lenses go beyond infinity focusing, so be careful while setting the focus to infinity. It is a good practice, after taking pictures, to check focusing & sharpness by reviewing & zooming in the rear LCD of the camera.

Preparation

Scouting a location is an important first step before an astrophotography shoot. You should visit in the daylight to look for good places to shoot from and how to get there. Visiting the location when it’s dark allows you to check the amount of light pollution from streetlights and buildings. If there’s too much light from man-made sources, you may need to find another location. Checking the weather forecast is another important step, as you need a clear night with little or no cloud. If you plan to take shots of the moon, it’s worth checking what phase it’s at before going out. you can check current moon phase here

Equipments

A digital SLR is the perfect camera for astrophotography, but a modern compact system camera will work very well. You must be able to manually focus the camera, and be able to set exposures manually. Wide-angle lenses are great for shots of the night sky, and if you want to take photographs of the moon you will also need a telephoto zoom. A sturdy tripod is essential for Moon photography. This is important if you want to eliminate the chance of blur. When using telephoto lenses any camera shake is accentuated manifold and completely renders the photo unusable. The slightest movements of the camera can ruin a great shot, so it’s worth investing in a heavy tripod. You often need to experiment with exposures, so having spare memory cards is always a good idea when shooting at night. Finally, a torch can be very useful when working in the dark.

Often photographers attempting to photograph the moon complain of capturing nothing but a white blob against a dark background. The reason for that is their camera has exposed for the sky in large and the small space occupied by the moon has been overexposed as a result. This is particularly true when a wide angle lens is used for photographing the moon. Lenses which have a focal length of 50mm or less are considered wide angle. These are NOT SUITABLE for the purpose of photographing just the moon alone on a dark night. Ideally, you will require a lens that has a minimum focal length of 200mm or more. Longer focal length lenses will help you to fill the frame with the moon. For a rough estimate, for each 100mm increase in focal length, the image of the moon on frame (24x36mm) will increase 1mm in a 35mm full frame camera. That means, a 2400mm lens is needed to fill the whole frame with the moon. This will also crop out the dark background and enable the camera to meter only the moon and eliminate any chances of overexposure.

Longer focal length lenses are very expensive, as result an alternate solution is to buy one that has a reasonable optical range and is compatible with a teleconverters. A teleconverter will increase the focal length of a lens with minimum loss in the optical quality, and loss of brightness depending on magnification power of teleconverter. For example, if you have a 400mm f/4 lens and use a 2x teleconverter, the resulting focal length will be 800mm and a maximum aperture of f/8.

Moon and Bird Silhouette on SupermoonPhoto by Matthew Paulson

Moon photography using telescope

Telescopes are less expensive alternatives (can be very expensive as well). However, with patience, good results can be achieved with an inexpensive telescope. There are two types of Telescope Photography. (a) Afocal – The most inexpensive method.  In this method you have to focus the telescope on the object first and then point your camera into the eyepiece to take the photo. A nice option for less heavy point and shoot and cell phones cameras. Sometimes you may need to tape the camera to the telescope to keep the whole system steady. (b) Prime Focus – This is more more expensive, but less complicated than Afocal method. For this you’ll need a TRing and a TAdapter designed specifically to allow you to attach your camera directly to the telescope.

Huge Moon RisingPhoto by: Anita Ritenour

Add foreground interest

Shots of the night sky can lack a sense of scale in two-dimensional photographs. Adding foreground interest, such as trees or buildings, introduces scale and creates more satisfying images. It can be difficult to balance exposure between the night sky and foreground objects, and it’s important to take lots of shots at different settings. Shining a torch at foreground objects during exposure can create very effective pictures.

Related Article : Super Moon Video

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