It’s easy to learn how to photograph the moon. In fact once you understand why you need to apply the principles I am about to tell you, moon photography will be a piece of cake.
The first thing to aim for, naturally, is good weather. A lovely clear night is the ideal conditions to take moon photography. Alternatively you can look for a gentle cloud streaking across the surface of the moon. This also makes for wonderful photography. So let’s have a look at exactly what you will need:
Your focal length. If you want to shoot the moon close up, or as close as you can, then you need a very long lens. The best way to get close is by using a telescope. You can place your camera on a mount and then the telescope effectively becomes your lens. It replaces the lens and you can get very close shots pretty easily.
If you do not have a telescope then you can use a telephoto lens. A telephoto lens is a lens that is very long. It is used for wildlife photography and portrait photography. A good range might be something like 200mm to 400mm. These lenses are very expensive but yield the loveliest results.
What about the brightness of the moon? Many people shoot the moon the same way as they would a night time scene. If you do this too, you may experience a large ball of white against a black sky. That might be ok over water for example, but if you want to capture the craters, then this is simply not the way to photograph.
The moon is very bright, especially when it’s full. I recommend choosing settings that mimic brighter, daylight conditions. When I photograph the moon I set my settings at anything from 125th of a second to 60th of a second. If you are not sure which shutter speed is best then try a few shots on a variety of shutter speeds to find the best one.
Setting up. You will need a tripod when you shoot the moon. This is because the moon is so far away, any movement of the camera and you may find you risk missing the beautiful craters. Keep your camera on a tripod, and if you have one, use a shutter cable to control the shutter speed. We use these because we do not want to bump the camera by pressing the shutter button down. And yes, even something as light as finger movement can blur your image.
It’s important to keep the camera still so you get everything in focus. I use manual focus so I can get the craters as sharp as I can. I sometimes find that auto focus can either have problems getting the right focus or sometimes can’t focus at all. Try moving the focus ring until you find a position whereby the moons craters look sharp.
Light sensitivity. ISO is a feature of your camera that controls how sensitive the camera is to lighting. If you are shooting the moon as the main subject against a black sky, then you will not need a very high ISO. If you are shooting the moon as an addition to your scene, then this becomes a different matter altogether.
What about aperture? Since the moon is in the far distance I suggest using a small aperture. In other words use a large f-stop number. I usually prefer F22 for the sharpest I images I can get. It’s better to get as much sharpness into the depth of your scene as you possibly can.
Shoot at the very highest quality you can. I always chose RAW for all my photography and photographing the moon is no exception. If you want high quality images then opt for the highest quality setting you can go. Even if you can’t shoot in RAW, select the largest Jpeg size you can.
Once you have taken your moon photograph, you may have to sharpen it a little. Not because your photo will come out blurry, but remember, it is hundreds of thousands of kilometers away. A little sharpening will help bring out some of the clarity and sharpness in the craters. Try increasing the contrast a little too. That always helps to give the surface more depth and detail, rather than having a big flat white surface.
Photograph the moon well by using these simple tips to help. In the mean time don’t stop looking at the beautiful night sky. You may be surprised at what you see; falling stars, a shift in position of the moon and constellations and even a satellite of two. They may for excellent time lapse shots. Never underestimate the sheer beauty and brilliance of the night sky. It offers us a chance, as photographers to capture the distant past and marvel at the place we live in.
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