SHOOT THE MOON
This how to photography article explains the essential techniques to photograph the Moon.
Although the greatest human adventure, a trip to the Moon, occurred a few decades ago, it is still an object of mystery, wonder and beauty. The Moon may be lifeless, but it was critical to the development of the earliest life forms on Earth and is still important to keeping the planet habitable.
To be able to photograph the Moon, you must understand it better than taking an occasional peek at it whenever you’re outdoors. The best way to start is to study a moon calendar, which will reveal its many phases and its positions in the night sky in relation to your latitude on Earth. With that information, you can observe it during a number of consecutive nights to formulate some ideas of how and when you might want to photograph it. Be prepared to watch it early and late during the evening, even the middle of the night, if possible. The Moon may “always” be there, but it is constantly changing beyond just its known phases. On a clear night, you’ll be able to distinguish many of its features and details. Conversely, when the atmosphere is humid, the Moon will glow eerily with a diffused light.
You’ll also want to spend some time looking for the best location from which to shoot the Moon. Your backyard may be convenient, but streetlights and other strong illuminations from your city or town may interfere. If you’re truly serious about capturing spectacular images, then your best shooting locations will be found far from the city in a farmer’s field or a large, open space in a state park.
The proper equipment is equally important to photographing the Moon. Start with selecting the right lens, which must be of a long focal length. A 300mm lens is the minimal, but it will only cause the Moon to fill approximately one-eighth of the frame. A 500mm lens or longer is necessary. These lenses are very expensive, but they can be rented for four days for approximately $40, depending on the focal length and make. Because of this lens requirement, you’ll need a DSLR camera. Some compact cameras do come with multiple zoom lens factors, such as 10x, 15x, 20x and more, so a compact may be an alternative, but, of course, only a very few models have these large zoom multipliers.
You’ll also want to add a tripod and a shutter release cable or remote trigger device to your equipment, since you’ll never be able to hold a DSLR steady with a long lens. Even pressing the shutter release button, with the camera on a tripod, will introduce too much motion.
The next series of techniques to help you bring home excellent pictures of the Moon relates to your camera settings.
- It’s best to shoot RAW images, so you have all the data for the photo-editing process. Make sure you bring some extra memory cards, since RAW images are much larger files.
- Select the Aperture Priority mode on your camera, which will give you the widest lens opening, allowing the camera to capture as much light as possible.
- Keep the ISO sensitivity between 100 and 400, so there is virtually no digital noise and details will be sharp and clear.
- Use the spot-metering mode, since the bright moon in the dark sky may confuse the camera. It will try to add more exposure because of the darkness, which will overexpose the Moon and lose details.
- Since exposure can be tricky, select the bracketing mode, which will record the same image at various exposure values. You’re much more likely to record one or more amazing photo.
Finally, equip your Moon photograph expedition for your comfort and safety. Bring a campstool because you may have to wait hours for the best shot; pack raingear for yourself and a rain cover for your equipment; and tell someone where you will be shooting, especially if you plan to trek outside the city to some lonely spot.