10 Keys to Photograph the Moon

The Moon is an easy target for night photography. Here are some tips to get your best portrait of Selene.

The Moon October 2010

The Moon October 2010

1. Phase
The full moon is brightest but if you want to get some shadows and contrast on the lunar surface you should avoid it. Photograph the moon when it’s almost full to get bright and beautiful detail near the terminator (border). Check a lunar calendar to make sure the moon is near perigee as it can be about 14% bigger when it is closer to earth.

2. Equipment
The moon is bright but due to distance it will appear really small in the frame. Use the longest lens you have available and don’t be afraid to stack teleconverters to get even more focal length. Mirror lenses can be a good idea for moon photographs as they can give you a lot of focal length and are usually very cheap. If you own a telescope get an adapter and you will have a giant moon to photograph!

3. Stability
Stability is really important for moon shots. Use a good tripod and make sure it is very stable, shield it from the wind and hang some weight to add stability, the long focal length lenses are very sensible to vibrations.

4. Focus
Autofocus will probably work fine with the moon but you can be 100% accurate using live-view zooming at 10x and manual-focusing.

5. Aperture
DOF (depth of field) is not important as the moon is, for practical purposes, at infinite distance from the camera. Use the aperture that maximizes your lens sharpness, something around F8 to F11 usually achieves good results. Avoid using the lens wide open, you don’t need it and you lose sharpness.

6. Shutter Speed
The moon moves very fast so you need to freeze the movement! Shutter speeds like 1/160, 1/200, 1/320 and 1/400 usually work very well to avoid blurring due to movement. Use the ISO to make sure you don’t need to use a slow shutter speed. ISO 200 or 400 should be a good choice. The camera exposure meter won’t work check the photo to find the proper exposure time making sure you don’t overexpose the moon.

7. Shooting
Shoot using a remote release, shoot several times, let the tripod absorb vibrations between shots and then pick the sharpest frame as your final result. Avoid touching the lens or the camera while shooting to reduce vibrations. Shoot RAW to make sure you can adjust things before editing.

8. Processing
When you process the moon the critical factors are sharpness and contrast. Sharpen the photo carefully to avoid sharpening artifacts but getting good detail, use curves to adjust the contrast to taste, a good curves adjustment really pops detail from the moon. Color is not critical, the moon looks good in several colors, including blue (once in a blue moon).

9. Cropping
With modern high-megapixel cameras don’t be afraid to crop the photo to taste to enlarge the moon in the final frame.

10. Presentation
Presentation is important. You can use a frame, a mat or text to go along with the photo, text is good for special events like perigees, apogees and eclipses. Composites are also common and can be used to present the moon in different phases or stages.

Photo: October 2010 Moon
Canon 550D
Canon 400mm F5.6L lens
Kenko 1.4x TC
F11, ISO400, 1/160
Manual Focus
(C) Luis Argerich

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  1. bycostello

    never finured on the moon been as something that moved fast… good tips…

  2. Jim Borden

    I agree with almost everything written here. The item I disagree with is the comment about f stop. The advent of programs such as FoCal that allow us to calibrate our camera bodies to lenses for correct position of focal plane has blown away the old thought process that the sweet spot of lenses is near f8. What we did in the old days was shoot at f8 or so to hide the fact that the lens and camera were not calibrated. Now, we find that lenses actually are sharper at nearly wide open. My 600 f4 is sharpest at f4.5,so moon shots at f4 or f4.5 with that lens are sharper than if at f8.

  3. Kadambari

    Mirror up function can be used to avoid vibrations.

  4. Pamala

    Un gros bravo

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