Learning how to photograph the moon presents several challenges for photographers of all skill levels. However, with time, practice and patience, along with an arsenal of good equipment backed by time-tested techniques, any amateur photographer can successfully rise to meet the challenge of lunar photography.
Throughout recorded history, the moon has fascinated human beings. Among the many reasons for this ongoing love affair is the sheer reliability of its comforting presence in the night sky. It is a way to measure time, tides and even direction. In addition to its usefulness, the moon is also a source of inspiration and wonder. Its silvery appearance and the way it's always there yet ever-changing makes it one of the most intriguing aspects of our solar system. The mysterious and beautiful qualities of Earth's lone sentinel in the sky have tempted many a soul to try and capture the moon on camera. Perhaps it's human nature to snatch a little slice of magic and ponder its larger significance.
How to Photograph the Moon: Tips and Techniques
Despite a distance of approximately 240,000 miles, photographers of all skill levels have attempted to take pictures of the moon. Most of the time, close-up images of the moon come out blurry and lacking in detail unless the photographer is lucky enough to possess some really stellar equipment. However, even amateur photographers with ordinary point-and-shoot cameras can learn how to photograph the moon effectively. Try out the tips and methods in the following sections to get the most out of your lunar photography efforts.
Limitations and Equipment
The most important step in moon photography is learning about your existing equipment's capabilities and limitations, and then adjusting your goals accordingly. For instance, a simple point-and-shoot camera won't work well for detailed shots of the moon's surface, but might capture decent images of a city or landscape that includes the moon in the background. Take stock of your photography equipment and decide if you want to upgrade or try to make the most of what you already possess.
- Camera: Most high-end film or digital SLR (single lens reflex) cameras with a long focal lens and customizable settings will render professional-looking moon images. If you're operating on a smaller budget, a digital point-and-shoot camera with at least a 24x optical zoom feature may also deliver good photos.
- Tripod: A good tripod with retractable legs and a quick release system is vital for clean photos of the moon.
- Film: Although slower speed films typically render crisper and sharper images, experts largely agree that most film types will work just fine.
- Remote Shutter Release: Releasing the shutter remotely via a cable or infrared connection reduces the risk of camera shake or minute vibrations that may blur the final images.
Before you gather your equipment and clear your calendar, get educated about lunar phases. The moon waxes and wanes on an unyielding schedule, which actually makes it easier to get prepared. Consult an online resource such as Moon Connection to find out when the phases of the moon will occur.
Whether you're taking pictures of the moon, photographing meteors or shooting the stars at night, be prepared to adjust your camera settings frequently.
- Exposure: In most cases, aim for underexposure rather than overexposure to capture the most detail. A little trial and error will also show you the exposure settings that work best for your equipment.
- Bracketing: Bracketing your exposures means that the camera takes a picture with the manual settings you've already applied, and then takes several more photos with slight alterations in shutter speed and aperture. This increases the chance of capturing perfectly exposed images.
- Shutter Speed: High shutter speeds with mid-to-low f-stop numbers usually render clear images that are free of blurring, hot spots and light halos. Try several settings to make sure you find the sweet spot.
Follow Your Instincts
When it comes to figuring out how to photograph the moon properly, don't be afraid to rely on your instinct, especially if you're already familiar with your equipment. It also helps to remember that sometimes the best photo opportunities for lunar photography occur in the full light of day.