Photo by Jennifer Aldrich on Unsplash
There’s nothing quite as captivating in the night sky as the moon. It’s the biggest celestial object near us and one of the easiest things in the night sky to photograph. But how to take pictures of the moon? How do you master lunar photography? Well, we’re going to teach you how right now.
The good news is that anyone can photograph the moon with almost any camera. You don’t need to be a professional photographer. That being said, it does help to have the right equipment, to be prepared, and to plan a bit in advance. By following our expert tips, not only will you learn how to take pictures of the moon, but you’ll learn how to take pictures of the moon so well that people will think you’re an astronaut!
The Best Camera for Lunar Photography
It’s true that you can use any camera to take pictures of the moon. But if you’ve ever tried to snap a photo of the moon and the night sky using your phone, you’ll know it doesn’t really work as intended. The best camera for lunar photography is going to be a full-frame DSLR equipped with a telephoto lens.
You can also use a mirrorless camera or a bridge camera, but a DSLR is always going to be the best for taking the most extreme moon pictures. The thing is that you want a camera with a larger sensor because it performs better in low light. When taking photographs of anything at night, you always want a bigger sensor.
The Best Lens for Lunar Photography
Even more important than your camera is the lens. You want either a telephoto lens or a long zoom lens. This is the only way to fill your frame with the great big white orb in the sky and properly capture the moon in photographs. Keep in mind that the moon is quite a bit farther away than what you’re typically taking photos of. This means that you should get a zoom lens as long as possible.
Speed isn’t really important, you don’t need the fastest lens. But you do want a telephoto lens that is at least 200mm. Longer is better, but anything between 70 and 300mm will work just fine. Plus, if you’re using a really advanced camera, even a lens that’s only 200mm will end up giving you an equivalent focal length of somewhere around 450mm.
There are also teleconverters to consider. If you have a standard lens, it might be cheaper for you to purchase a teleconverter than to try increasing the focal length. If you don’t have any of these things, you can always use the shortest wide-angle lens available and incorporate background elements into your shot to make it more appealing.
Necessary Equipment for Taking Pictures of the Moon
Other than just a quality camera and a good lens, you need a tripod and a shutter release cable. These are the only other two pieces of equipment that are necessary for taking pictures of the moon.
A tripod is critical because you do not want to touch the camera. You want to position your camera in such a way that the moon is fully in your frame and you don’t have to hold the camera in your hands. Even the slightest bit of vibration from you will cause a disaster when you hit the shutter button. Your pictures will look terrible with a camera shake.
Be sure that your tripod is secure and that you’re set up in a place where people aren’t going to be walking in front of your camera. And it goes without saying that you should always make sure your camera isn’t too heavy for your tripod, as this will cause heaps of problems.
The shutter release cable is a great accessory that every amateur photographer should have. It’s not essential, but it will help you avoid any potential camera shake. Since you don’t have to touch the camera with your hand to take a picture by using the shutter release cable, you have absolutely zero chance of encountering camera shake.
But of course, you can also just use the self-timing function on your camera if you don’t want to buy a cable.
What Camera Settings to Use for Taking Moon Pictures?
When it comes to taking pictures of the moon, you do not want to use any automatic function on your camera. The moon is so far away that there’s no possible way your camera is going to properly meter it. This means you’re going to shoot in full manual mode. But if you really want to avoid setting anything, you should at the very least shoot in aperture priority mode.
In general, always shoot in RAW mode so that you get the full spectrum of details from the moon and so that you can make important adjustments in post-processing. Remember to always use manual focus instead of autofocus. Turn off your image stabilization since you won’t need it because your camera is on a tripod.
Your ISO should be set to 100 or lower. You want to eliminate all noise and grain. If your camera will only let you set it as low as 200, so be it.
In terms of shutter speed, you want it to be fast. Remember that the moon is moving gradually across the sky and if your shutter speed is too long, you may accidentally catch its path across the stars. We recommend a very fast shutter speed, somewhere around 1/60 or even 1/125. It does depend on the brightness and what focal length you’re using, but these are recommended speeds to start at on a night when the moon is bright and the sky is clear.
Lastly is your aperture. You want extremely crisp shots of the moon, so you should be shooting at least at f/11 or f/16. It will depend on what kind of light you’re using, but again, this is an ideal place to start. You will need to research the sweet spot of your lens to find the sharpest aperture. The only time you want to open up the aperture is when conditions are bad, as it can help the moon look sharper.
The Looney 11 Rule
The looney 11 rule is a great way for estimating the correct exposure without using a light meter. The rule is intended for use at night. It will give you a baseline to start with when shooting the moon in the night sky. The rule is simple. Always set your aperture to f/11 and leave your shutter speed to be reciprocal of the automatic ISO setting. In other words, f/11 with an ISO of 100 and a shutter speed of 1/100.
This rule isn’t written in stone, but it is an excellent place to start when doing lunar photography.
How to Take Pictures of the Moon
To actually take pictures of the moon, you need to do a little bit of planning. Decide on what time you’ll be shooting the moon, how you want it to look, and then scout the best location to take the photographs. Some of your camera settings will decide on things like if you want to take a picture of the moon and the stars as a background or if you want close-up photographs of the moon’s face.
Depending on what kind of pictures you’re after, you can either set up your tripod in the backyard or drive around in the middle of the night scouting the perfect hilltop vantage for the moon. You’ll also need to be up to date on the lunar cycle. From the new moon to the full moon, this space rock looks quite different and gives different visibility levels. For example, the full moon is always going to be the brightest because it reflects more of the light from the sun.
When it comes time to physically take the picture, there’s nothing to it. Make sure your tripod is sturdy, get the moon fully in frame, and take the picture using your cable release. Keep on taking pictures until you get one – or a dozen – that you absolutely love.
Taking pictures of the moon is not as difficult as it may seem. You can take pictures of the full moon or the crescent moon, you can capture the moon in all its glory at night or during the day, and you can do it with very little experience. So long as you’re willing to be patient, to experiment, and to accept that some of your pictures may not be the best, you’re definitely going to take some great moon pics.
Remember to keep camera shake to a minimum, be aware of your low-light limitations, always manually set your camera, and not be afraid of Photoshop. Sometimes a little bit of editing can go a very long way with perfecting your best moon photographs. If you can afford it, be sure to equip yourself with a reliable telephoto lens, get yourself a shutter release cable, and always follow the looney 11 rule.
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