HOW TO: PHOTOGRAPH THE MOON

One of the more difficult things to photograph is the Moon.

We have all seen those great photgraphs where the moon takes up most of the frame, and is full of wonderfull detail. I am sure that most of us have wondered “Wow, if only I could do that!”

So we try, and get bitterly dissappointed with our results.

What it comes down to is lens choice.

Sorry to dissappoint the owners of Compact Digital cameras, but this is one limitation that you can not over come. This style of photography is strictly set in the realms of the SLR and the loooong lens.

For example, here is a damned fine Compact Digital Camera. I would be proud to own one of these 9mp beauties:

Specs: 4x optical zoom (32 – 128mm equivalent on a 35mm camera)

It is a great camera. I can not speak highly enough about Fuji, especially their exposure software, and its 9mp!!!!

But 128mm (focal length) aint gonna cut it for a B I G moon shot. You need a lens with a focal-length around 250-400mm before you will get any sort of moon in your image. A 600-900mm lens would be great.

It works like this:

Zoom lenses do two things
1 – They seem to get you closer to your subject, and
2 – they reduce your field of view.

Speaking generally:

A 17mm focal length lens may have a field of fiew of 118degrees. This is very wide, and your subject will appear to be very small (and a long way away) since it may only take up 5% of the distance from the left to the right side of your frame.

A zoom lens of 600mm will have a narrower field of view of, say, 4degrees (I’m just picking a number there). The effect is that your subject appears to be bigger because you have narrowed down your field of view. Your subject may take up 30% of your frame from left to right.

The narrower your field of view, the bigger your subject will appear.

You are not really closer to your subject, it just looks that way. If you want to get closer you need to use a Macro lens… but that is another lesson.

Click on this link to the CANON WEBSITE for an interactive demonstration of Focal Length vs Field of View. Its very cool.

If you want some (boring) technical detail checkout this WIKIPEDIA LINK

Zoom lenses also shorten the distance between objects, but that also is for another lesson.

Now the really tricky bit… exposure.

You will have to do this manually. Even using spot-metering your auto meter will not be accurate enough for this, besides – there is just too much black. Amazingly, under-exposure is the key. (For the same reason as over-exposure is the key to photographing snow. Your camera will try to make all that black sky appear 18%grey. It will do the same thing to snow! – yet another lesson)

My suggestions would be to start with these settings:

ISO/ASA: 100 – 200 Remember, despite the fact that it is night-time, you are photographing reflected sunlight.
Aperture: Start wide- open f3.5-f4 but work your way upto about f11.
Shutter: start with a few seconds and see how that looks.

If that overexposes, adjust your shutter speed down.

Of course, as mentioned above, you will need that tripod. But even with that, you have to remember that both us and the moon are moving on different planes and that you are going to get motion blur no matter what you do. So it will be a matter of experimenting with shutter speed vs aperture.


Look at these two images by J.K YORK

LENS: Zuiko 600mm
ISO/ASA: 100 – 200
SHUTTER SPEED: at or near 1sec
APERTURE: f5.6/8

See just how small the moon is within the frame when using a 600mm lens? – You really do need BIG lenses to get the moon BIG and SHARP. One solution is to hire a big lens for the night, or try using a Teleconverter to double the Focal Length of your lens. A tripod is, of course, compulsory

J.K. YORK’S second shot used a telescope! The moon in this photograph is roughly the same size as the moon in your photograph.

LENS: Telescope
ISO/ASA: 50
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/10sec
APERTURE: f/8

The low ISO/ASA ensured plenty of sharp detail with zero grainyness and fantastic tonal gradations (shades of grey). To get the moon this big in the frame you really do need to use a telescope. Fortuneatly good quality affordable hobbyist telescopes are available with camera-mounts for a lot less that you would pay for a good lens.


Telescopes such as the CELESTRON NEXSTAR SERIES are typical of the high quality equipment that can be found between $1000-$3000

Comments

  • Christina Rollo
    Christina Rolloalmost 4 years ago

    Great tutorial! Came in search of a way to center images in the description on RebBubble, but found this instead. I hope you don’t mind I shared a link to it from my facebook page. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this question!

  • Glad you liked it, and YES you may most certainly link it from your FB Page.

    For the record… you can centre an image in the description box by using “ ” this will give you one space, so you may need to join a bunch of them together until whatever you want to centre is centred.

    – BYRON

  • Christina Rollo
    Christina Rolloalmost 4 years ago

    Thank you Byron :) I can’t get the empty quotes to work though? They show up, I tried them spaced apart and tight together… either way they show up :( No big deal, an image left aligned just throws my balance off is all, LOL.

  • aaaah techie problem… I cant actually display the code between quote marks..

    you need to use " & n b s p ; " without the spaces

    – BYRON

  • Evita
    Evitaabout 3 years ago

    Thank you !!!
    Excellent tutorial…??

  • Thanx Evita.

    Its quite a tricky thing taking a good shot of the moon. You should let me know if youe ever get one!

    – BYRON

  • Glynn Jackson
    Glynn Jacksonabout 3 years ago

    Went out especially to get this for you tonight Byron.. lol
    Canon EOS 500D with a Samyang SLR Telephoto 650-1300 f/8 lens attached through a x2 converter.

    f/0 (f/8)
    1/40 sec exp,
    ISO100
    fl = approx 1250mm

  • Nice work Glynn!

    There are some little colour aberations [blue tinge] where the moon meets the sky, but this can be easily resolved by converting the image to Black & White.

    – BYRON

  • lcretyi
    lcretyiabout 3 years ago

    I have always wanted to know how to do this, I for one am going to try! Thank you so much for all your great wonderful and generous help…laura

  • Let us know how you go Laura!

    Post any images in here so that other members can learn too!

    – BYRON

  • Glynn Jackson
    Glynn Jacksonabout 3 years ago

    is this better now I have converted it Byron? My eyes honestly cant see the difference.. (old age?) lol

  • Yeah its lost the blue tinge now.

    Did you have the focus set to infinity? Its a bit blurry.

    – BYRON

  • Glynn Jackson
    Glynn Jacksonabout 3 years ago

    I can only manually focus it Byron, it was very hard to focus as it is now, couldnt tell you if it was infinity or not.. lol.. all i could do was reach round and fiddle with the major focus ring then wait for the camera to stop shaking and then use the cord release to capture it

  • ok, well, infinity is at one end of the focus ring and close is at the opposite end… just need to crank it all the way round. Its hard to tell at night which end is which so its best to practice that when its light… or take a small torch.

    Of course you can not auto focus on the moon… just wont work.

    – BYRON

  • Lori D Myers
    Lori D Myersover 2 years ago

    I have a Canon Rebel T1i with a 55 – 250mm lense. Can I get a good shot of the moon with this lens if it is set up on a tripod? I am still learning & could use all the help I can get. Any sugesstions or ideas or welcomed…I consider them corrective critisim & I don’t get mad. It is my way of learning from the more experienced & the pros.

    Thank you,
    Lori D Myers

  • Yes Lori, you can, it just wont be very big in the frame [ie. not a lot of detail]

    You need a clear night, and try to get away form any other sources of light…. eg – out in the countryside.

    – BYRON