How to Photograph the Moon
Many of us are fascinated with space, its beauty, endlessness and a large number of planetary bodies and phenomenons it’s populated with. Luckily for us, nature has gifted us with one large ball made of rock and metal that we can observe and photograph without having to use a large telescope and that’s, of course, the Moon.
The aim of this article is to provide you with all the necessary information that will allow you to take great photos of the Moon no matter if you want to shoot it outside in nature or from your own window or balcony.
We’ve decided to split our guide into five simple and easy to understand steps, ranging from choosing the right lens to all the post processing that can be done to make your photos of the Moon look as natural and as detailed as possible.
Picking the right lens for the job
The general rule of taking photos of the Moon is the more zoom you can muster from your setup, the better. Since we are talking about an object that’s more 238,000 miles away from Earth, it makes sense to choose a lens with a long focal length to do the job, doesn’t it?
We would recommend using at least a lens with focal length of 300mm, especially if you’re using a camera with a Full Frame sensor. The 70-300mm zoom lenses are the most common ones and can often be found at very reasonable prices.
However, if you really want to capture the Moon in all of its glory and in really sharp detail, stepping up to a 400mm, 600mm or even longer lens is always a good idea, if your budget can support such an investment. This will especially hold true in case of the Supermoon, when the Moon is the closest to Earth and looks even bigger than it usually does.
Stabilizing your setup
If you want to take the best possible photos of the Moon, you will need a tripod. A regular tripod with a ball-head will do the trick, since it will allow you to point the camera up to the sky in any position you like and lock that position down immediately.
You will also be dealing with less than ideal shutter speeds if you want to maximize the image quality and get much cleaner photos, so having the added stability of a tripod will also be beneficial.
Lastly, focusing will be less of a pain if you have your camera set on a tripod. Since it won’t always be easy to get the Moon in perfectly sharp focus and sometimes you’ll be forced to resort to magnifying your view to achieve it, having less shake to deal with will save you from a lot of frustration if you decide to photograph the Moon handheld.
There’s also another thing you can add to your setup to make it even more stable and that’s Vibration Suppression Pads. These pads are placed under each leg of the tripod and will negate the effects of vibrations caused by the wind and prevent your setup from sinking into uneven ground and leaving you with photos that aren’t straight and aligned with the horizon.
Getting the correct exposure
Believe it or not, in a way, the Moon is one of the easiest things to photograph during night time exposure-wise and the reason for that is because it has the benefit of reflecting the light coming from the Sun. This makes it much brighter than our surroundings and thus, easier to shoot without having to resort to very slow shutter speeds and bright aperture lenses.
When it comes to aperture, you should keep it at f/11, since it’s the sweet spot for most lenses in terms of their resolution and sharpness. Your ISO should be set at 100, if your camera allows it. Some Four Thirds cameras have a base ISO of 200 and in their case, it will do just as nicely as an ISO of 100. This will allow you to get clean and noise free images.
Finally, there’s the shutter speed. All you’ll need to do is to set it high or low enough, so the Moon itself isn’t over or underexposed and all of the craters on its surface are clearly visible. It’s also a good idea to take photos remotely with the use of a remote shutter release or a smartphone application, so you can be sure that the camera is always nice and still.
Adjusting the focus
The first thing you should try before trying to focus manually is to set your lens to focus to infinity. This option is great for very distant subjects, since it will allow the entire scene to be in focus and always perfectly sharp. Still, infinity focus doesn’t work well on some older lenses, so make sure to test your own lens before you plan to use it for Moon photography.
To help yourself focus manually with more ease, we would recommend that you use the Magnify feature available on all modern cameras. It will enhance your view of the Moon and its details by zooming into it, allowing for much more precise focusing.
While using autofocus usually isn’t the best method, you could get away with using it only if you own a type of telephoto lens that’s long enough to fill a lot of the frame with the Moon itself. This could give your camera enough information to work with and to focus precisely. It’s something to keep in mind, if you’re not comfortable with focusing manually.
Editing the photo
If you plan to apply some finishing touches to your photos of the Moon, make sure that you shoot in RAW rather than the JPEG mode. This will give you the opportunity to make color, brightness and sharpness adjustments with almost no loss to image quality.
The first thing you should do is to adjust the Moon’s color. A lot of cameras will apply a slight warm tone to the image and all you’ll need to do is to reduce the saturation and make it look more gray, which is it’s natural color because of all the silicon, magnesium, iron, aluminum and calcium found on its surface.
After that, adjust the shadows and the highlights until the Moon looks properly exposed to your eyes. You can also add some sharpness, if you like. If you just plan to upload your photos to social media and you’re not making any prints, you should also consider cropping those images a bit, so even more details on the Moon are immediately visible.
So, let us quickly summarize all the information found in this article. To capture the Moon in all of its glory you’ll need a lens with a long focal length attached to a mirrorless camera or a DSLR, a tripod, a low ISO setting and an aperture of at least f/8, some patience with focusing and a few touch ups to make your photos look as good as they can.
While photographing the Moon may seem daunting and finicky at first, there’s no reason to worry since it shouldn’t take a lot of time for you to become comfortable with the entire process and learn to take photos of satisfactory quality. Just grab your camera and go and have some space fun.