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How to Photograph the Moon

As with any other subject a little planning could make your life a lot easier while attempting to photograph the moon.

Photo by Sinu S Kumar – ISO 100 - Canon 70-200 f2.8 with 2X tele converter – 400mm f/11 @ 1/100

The time moon rises and sets in the horizon keeps changing with each day of the year. So first these on-line resources could help you identify the different phases of the moon and also the rising and setting times, for anywhere on earth. Full moon Calendar provided by Full Moon will tell you the phases of the moon. And the Complete Sun and Moon Data section of the U.S Navy website will tell you both sun and moon rise and set times for any day of the year and for any location on earth.

Moon Photography Essentials

  1.     Telephoto lens
  2.     Sturdy tripod
  3.     Remote shutter release

The lens choice for moon photography depends on what you wish you achieve in your final result. If you are aiming to capture the moon and just the moon, get put on the longest focal length lens you have preferably 400mm or longer. If you are trying to capture some foreground elements, may be a landscape or a structure along with the shot; you should use wider lenses.

Set your camera up on a sturdy tripod, the importance of using a tripod increases with the increase in focal length of your lens. Using a tripod will help eliminate camera shake and thus enable you to get tack sharp pictures.

If your camera has a mirror lock up facility - activate it. Use of mirror lock up combined with a tripod helps further eliminate camera shake.

Remote shutter release mechanism is a must have for any professional photographer. It could either be a wired one or even better a wireless trigger. The combination of using a tripod, mirror lock up and a remote trigger always produces the best results. However if you do not have a remote release system you could use the self timer function to activate shutter.

Camera Settings for Moon Photography

Light coming from the moon is actually sunlight being reflected off the surface of the moon. So the moon is much brighter than you think it is. Moon is also travelling faster than you imagine, combined with a longer focal length; the movement is further enhanced.

Here are some of my settings that work just fine for me.

  1.     Always shoot in RAW
  2.     Use manual focus
  3.     Disable Image Stabilization when using a tripod
  4.     Enable mirror lock up
  5.     Use Remote trigger / self timer
  6.     Use your camera’s lowest ISO

Shooting in RAW helps you capture more dynamic range and better flexibility when post processing. That way you also need not bother about your white balance settings and could use the AWB mode. While focusing such distant objects it is better to switch to manual focusing and precisely focus on the moon surface. When you are using a tripod always turn off your lens image stabilization, else it will try to compensate for the shake that does not exist and thus introduce shake of its own. Similarly the mirror lock up function and a remote trigger/self timer helps further reduce shake. Now coming to aperture values I always set my camera to ISO 100 the lowest setting on my Canon. As the moon is a bright subject no need to increase ISO and increase noise levels. I start off by using aperture priority mode, set the value to f/11 point the camera at the moon, take reading and then shift to manual and dial in the settings. Will start correcting from there, if the moon is over exposed I will decrease the shutter speed and if it is underexposed I will increase the shutter speed.

Remember while shooting the moon always keep your shutter speed above 1/100 if you go below it with a long focal length, there is chance of camera shake and also the movement of the moon might cause image blur.

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