Shoot the Supermoon Like an Astrophotographer

June and July 2013 full Moons are featured as “supermoons.” This means that the full Moon is almost on the same day as the Moon perigee (shortest distance to Earth). The difference between a supermoon and a normal full Moon is very hard to detect but it’s a great time to shoot the Moon. In this article I will explain how to shoot the Moon like an astrophotographer using your regular gear. Without a telescope you will get a sharp, crisp and big image of our beautiful satellite.

Step 1: Shoot the Moon
Use your longest lens (200mm, 300mm, 400mm) and shoot the Moon from a good tripod. Focus manually carefully using live-view, use ISO2oo or 400 and shutter speeds like 1/250 or 1/320. Shoot many photos, 50 or 100, we will use these photos to increase our detail by stacking the photos like astrophotographers do.

I’ve written a previous article with tips to shoot the Moon and you can read it before proceeding to the next step.

Step 2: Process your RAW files
After shooting you need to process the RAW files and convert them to 8 bit Tiffs (no need for 16 bits). Use your favorite RAW processor like Canon’s DPP, RAWTherapee, DXO Optics or any other. Play with contrast, highlights and shadows trying to get an even illumination on the Moon surface. That’s a very important step because as you have noticed the Moon has areas that are much brighter than others, we want to avoid areas that look overexposed while other areas look too dark. Balance the illumination as good as you can and then batch process all your photos together.

Each of your 8-bit tiff files should look like this:

Our Usual Smallish Moon

Not a big winner uh?

Step 3: Crop & Center
This is where we’ll use our bag of magic tricks to increase the detail and resolution of our Moon. The first step is to remove all the empty black space around the Moon, if you are patient you can crop each file, if you are skillful you can use a tool to do that in batch mode and if you need a hand you can use PIPP, a very nice tool that will help you automate the centering and cropping of your files. Follow this tutorial to learn how to use PIPP for lunar discs. Don’t even think about being scared because it’s really easy and you will have your cropped and centered tiff files ready in a folder in about 5 minutes. Don’t use PIPP to filter your photos by quality, because we’ll use another tool for that. Just crop and center.

PIPP Screenshot (notice the full lunar disc option is checked)

Step 4: Stack the Photos
In this step we’ll use an astrophotography tool to align and stack the photos we’ve just captured. There are several tools you could use out there and I’ve chosen Registax6 which is free. The recipe using Registax is as follows:

1. Load all your frames using SELECT

2. In the Limit Setup area set the number of frames you want to stack, something like 80% of your frames is a good number, this will discard the worst 20% frames and only stack the good ones. In my case I shoot 110 frames and selected to stack the best 90 shots.

Registax Screenshot

3. Press “Set Alignpoints” (should be underlined in green)

4. Press “Limit” (should be underlined in green)

5. Press “Align” (should be underlined in green)

6. You are automatically taken to the “Stack” tab, Press “Stack” (should be underlined in green) (this can take some time and it can be in 0% state for a while don’t give up!)

Before Stacking

7. Go to the “Wavelets” tab and play with the sliders making sure you use “Do All” to see the effect on the complete photo. This is a very important step where you will be able to increase the detail of your photo in a big way.

Wavelets in Registax6

7. Save the photo

Step 5: Final Processing
Open the stacked and processed photo and do whatever you want as final processing, touching contrast, curves, sharpness, etc. If you were careful with the wavelets step in Registax you will probably need no extra processing.At this point you might want to incrementally increase saturation to reveal the Moon colors as explained in this article.

And here’s the final result:

Color Moon




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11 Comments on "Shoot the Supermoon Like an Astrophotographer"

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CB
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This is awesome! Thansk!

Amit Mittal
Guest

This is a great step-by-step guide. But I couldn’t help notice that all the tools listed are for Windows. Can you please provide some Mac alternative?

Dominik Rubo
Guest

Fantastic step-by-step explanation! I tried it yesterday with just 30 images to start with, an I’m pretty surprised by the results. The stacking not only evens out the noise, but seems to actually increase sharpness. How is that possible?

Here’s the result of my first attempt:
comment image

Nate Kay
Guest

Wow, fantastic shot! You’re essentially combining all the usable, n0n-noise information in the photo when you stack. This helps get rid of the uneven noise across all the photos you’re stacking as well as sharpening the picture because most of the good stuff matches. Hope that makes sense.

Matej Čebulec
Guest

Hey, i started doing it, and i stopped at Registax steps. When i select photos in Registax and “import” them, nothing changes, i don’t even get my picture in program, screen remains blank white and if I try to set alignpoints nothing changes. Please help! I guess something is wrong in settings.

EricS
Guest

By chance, is there way to do most of these steps in photoshop?

eric leleu
Guest

geeky but cool !

Jeremy Cook
Guest

Really stunning results. I tried shooting the moon a few weeks ago, and my results left much to be desired. Thanks for the tips, maybe the next round will turn out better!

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