Killer Tips for Photographing the Moon That You Can’t Pass Up


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The moon has long been a source of deep fascination for mankind. As long as anyone can remember, human beings have stared up into its source of light in the pitch black of night and wondered about it. Some have even gone a bit batty thanks to the moon’s effects (at least, some would have you believe).

Photo by Khatawut J

Photo by Khatawut J

But hardcore photographers know that the moon is good for one thing above all else: Being the subject as they take killer shots of its mesmerizing properties.

In spite of this, taking successful shots of the moon can be trickier than you may expect. Some of the factors that can frustrate great shots include its relative magnitude, the fact that it’s an effective reflector of light and its position against a black sky much of the time. So what do you do? How do you get around these challenges to still take killer photos of this lunar spectacle?

Moon Photo 1

Bask in the lunar glow of the moon!

If you’ve been dying for some highly effective tips on moon photography, then your prayers have been answered at last. Here, we present killer advice on getting successful images of the moon in all its glory.

Heed the Moon’s Golden or Magical Hour

You can help yourself a lot by heeding the fact that there’s a so-called Golden or Magical Hour for moon photography. During this precious hour, you’ll get the most optimal effects for snapping pictures of the moon. You have to do some mental calculations, though, to figure out exactly when this hour takes place. See, unlike the sun’s rising and setting every day, the moon’s rising and setting can differ by as much as an hour from one night to the next.

Moon Photo 2

Every night, just one hour out of 24 is the optimal time for photographing the moon.

Sure, you can just look up at the moon every night and exclaim, “Whoa, there it is!” but that’s no way to ensure that you snap pictures of it when the time’s most opportune. Instead, go the scientific route and head to the U.S. Naval Observatory website, where you can specifically calculate when the moon’s going to rise and set, both in the U.S. and internationally.

Moon Photo 8

Ethereal and not of this world!

So far, so good, but you’ll also need to know exactly under what conditions the Golden or Magical Hour takes place. A rising full moon is typically when this occurs, as this phenomenon provides for the most dramatic images since the sun’s setting as the moon’s rising (approximately within 20 minutes of each other). How are you going to find detailed information on when the full moon takes place each month? By heading to the Full Moon Calendar website, of course! There, you can find out the specifics on the lunar cycles of every month, which will help you plan for the Golden or Magical Hour.

It’s All About WHERE You Choose to Shoot

Getting memorable images of the moon is all about from where you take the picture! This important reality can get lost in the preoccupation with making sure that you catch the moon as it appears during its optimal phase. If you truly want a high-quality and impressive shot of the moon, you’ll be highly meticulous about your shooting location.

There are generally two kinds of moon photography: one where you showcase the moon all by its lonesome and another where you have a point of reference in the shot.

Moon Photo 3

Moon + City Skyline = Success

If you want to shoot the moon all on its own, then it’s highly recommended that you avoid any and all ambient light. This will include things such as traffic and even street lights. Naturally, to avoid all these forms of intrusive light, you’ll want to head to a place that’s more secluded and really dark, such as a public park after hours or just a remote street.

Moon Photo 7

Note the absence of ambient light.

Now, let’s say you’re attempting to fit a city skyline into your shot of the moon. You should find a lookout point that makes enough room for the twinkling lights beneath and perform additional shoot tests to ensure you have the right exposure.

Consider Adding a Point of Reference

If may be boring to simply photograph the moon all by itself. In fact, many of the most breathtaking examples of moon photography include points of reference to provide more character and flavor to every snapshot of the moon. But if you want to add a point of reference…what would be a good selection?

Moon Photo 9

EXIF Data: Camera: Nikon D5000, Exposure: 13, Aperture: f/10.0, Focal Length: 44mm, ISO Speed: 400

If you want to play it safe, you can always include the usual suspects in your shots, like a desert, the ocean or a mountain. Photograph the moon over any of these three locations for a routine moon picture. If you want to go just a little bit more creative and unique, then set up your shot so that the moon is tactically placed right in between some tree branches or even buildings, for example. You can even include some action right in the foreground of the shot.

Moon Photo 4

The point of reference is the tree branches, which add to the spooky-yet-esoteric quality of the image.

However, no matter what point of reference you select, make sure that it’s distant enough to really highlight the moon. You see, if your camera fails to be adequately zoomed in, the moon will just be a bright, little speck in the sky…which is no good and not that impressive at all! Instead, arm yourself with at least a 200mm zoom lens, and remember that longer is always better. You can even grab a 400mm zoom lens.

Without the Right Equipment, You’ll Have a Hard Time

Here’s the fundamental equipment you’ll require: a camera, a tripod, a mirror lock-up and a remote shutter release that’s either infrared or coded.

Various camera types may be utilized, so long as they possess a lens with a focal length big enough to offer adequate magnification.

As mentioned above, anything 200mm and above works brilliantly. On the other hand, an excessively long telephoto lens will just compress things in your shot much too closely together.

Sony NEX-7 18-200mm zoom lens

Meet the Sony NEX-7 18-200mm zoom lens, perfect for moon photography.

The mirror lock-up will get rid of vibrations by locking up the mirror, waiting a little bit and then opening and closing your shutter. The mirror lock-up is a godsend because zoom lenses and high magnifications have a tendency to cause vibrations. In turn, these vibrations will cause your images to lose their sharpness.

Aperture…Aperture…Aperture…

A tiny aperture works best for moon photography. This has to do with the fact that the moon’s obviously a great distance away. You’ll want to employ a big f-stop number. Some photographers are fond of using nothing smaller than F22 because this f-stop number creates really sharp images. In moon photography, it’s always better to obtain as much sharpness as possible into the deepness of your images.

Aperture_diagram.svg

Aim for F22, if you can.

Of course, you shouldn’t be limiting yourself to just F22 since that’s just a baseline number. Don’t be afraid to experiment with even higher f-stop numbers when shooting pictures of the moon. If going greater than F22 works for you, then more power to you. Keep in mind, though, that the tinier your aperture, the longer the shutter speed you’ll require.

Don’t Forget to Sharpen and Tweak

Even when you’re all done with your moon photographs, your job’s still not done. It won’t hurt to sharpen and tweak them some. This is a precaution because your images are of an object that’s really, really far away. If you improve the sharpening a little bit, you’ll start to notice a bit more definition in the moon’s craters, which adds to the overall enjoyment of the picture.

Moon Photo 5

Sharpening and tweaking in editing should let you actually see the craters in your moon photograph!

What you can do is rely on your contrast tool in an accessible program like Photoshop or whatever your most favorite editing program is. Photoshop’s a neat tool to aid you when you want to improve your image’s light and dark points. By tweaking the light and dark points, the moon’s surface in your image will benefit from a more 3-dimensional appearance instead of having just a white and flat surface. When you improve contrast, sharpness and clarity, the moon in your pictures will look more realistic.

Moon Photo 10

EXIF Data: Camera: Nikon D50, Exposure: 1, Aperture: f/8.0, Focal Length: 200mm

Check out two different versions of the latest Photoshop on Amazon.com. There’s Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 and Adobe Photoshop & Premiere Elements 11.

Moon Photography 101: Master It!

Now, you have all the tricks of the trade that you require to become a master at photographing the moon. Getting great images of the moon is a multi-faceted approach that you can’t just rush. It takes planning, gathering the suitable equipment and then faithfully executing when the time’s right. You’re not even done when you finish shooting the moon—you still can tweak and improve with Photoshop after you take your last images!

Moon Photo 6

Howl and bark at the moon!

Never think that taking pictures of the moon is something so easy that anyone can do it. You have to calculate when the optimal hour for picture-taking presents itself, and then you’ve got to pay attention to the cycles of the full moon. You have to scout for the perfect location, based on how you want the moon to appear in your images. You may even consider including a point of reference. It goes without saying that you need the right equipment, but without the right techniques, like the proper aperture and post-shooting editing, it’s all in vain!

Ever tried taking shots of the moon before? If so, how did your images turn out? Tell us all about it in the comments section. And, as always, if you enjoyed this killer tutorial on photographing the moon, then let all your friends know by sharing the post!

Marc Schenker

Marc Schenker is the chief editor of Photodoto. A happenin' copywriter, editor and blogger, he's also a freelance writer for hire. You can connect with him at marcschenkerwriting.com and through his various social media accounts.
  • http://jmphotographyonline.ca Jay McIntyre

    Great pointers, I’ve been trying for the perfect moon shot for quite some time now and haven’t got the one I want yet.

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  • http://www.andreajehnkennedy.com Andy

    This is a GREAT tool, shared it with my photo club and tried your tips last night, had to give you props when I posted to flickr, hope your article gets a lot of hits, it’s a great one!
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/andreajehnkennedy/4071810239/

  • http://www.pixpa.com Arvind Sharma

    Thnks for sharing man …these are really helpful especially the 2x converter.

    I have tried to capture moon but not getting desired results now i think that 2x may work for me

  • Hi

    poop

  • John English

    awesome article, there’s going to be a supper moon tonight so i can’t wait to try my luck with these tips. my moon shots so far have never worked out as it always appears as a tiny speck or really bright that it looks more like a twinkling star. hopefully i’ll be able to improve on that tonight

    • http://marcschenkerwriting.com/ Marc Schenker

      Tell you what, John. If you experienced success with your budding moon photography due to our tips, then feel free to share your story in these comments!

  • http://photosbylmb.com/ LMB

    Great article! Will have to try this. I’m working on a 12 hours project for school and I think the moon would be awesome to photograph tonight!
    Thanks!

    • http://marcschenkerwriting.com/ Marc Schenker

      Glad to be of assistance with your school project. If you get a good grade, share some credit with me, alright? :)

  • Jeana Lindo

    this helped a lot! thanks!

    • http://marcschenkerwriting.com/ Marc Schenker

      You’re welcome, Jeana!

  • ntlgnce

    Blurry, The moon is always blurry, I have an android Desire, with a 8 MP camera. Takes great pics but never of the moon? Why?

    • vegan pete

      It’s the focal range – it’s not focusing because the moon is so far away ;)

    • Eric Lefebvre

      You don;t have a camera … you have a phone that happens to be able to take pictures.

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  • alex

    great this helped me a lot ….for now just goin to try the 55 mm :D

  • Phil

    Can you tell me why when to moon is full you can’t get the same clarity you can when it is partially obscured

  • Vlad781

    Hello there, I’ve got a 300mm Optomax, which I’m attempting to use with a 3x teleconverter on my t2i. Unfortunately, I cannot get a crisp shot. The image always tends to be distorted, and washed out/blurry. Could this be because I’m using an m42 lens and the sharpness is limited by the adapter?

  • Nick

    There is no reason to be shooting the moon @ F22!

    You say because it is so far away, but aperture affects depth of field, not the focal point. Maybe for an entire scene being in focus F22 is plausible, but still too much I think.
    If it’s all about quality, wouldn’t you be worried about diffraction and loss of IQ @ F22?
    If a lens is sharpest at say F8, why on Earth would you go any more than F8 or F11?

    Also, by using F22, you will need to bump the ISO up or use a longer shutter speed, which are both the absolute enemy of moon photography.

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