Just a Phase: How to Photograph the Moon

January 9, 2021

Night photography can turn photographers into night owls. And it’s easy to see why! Capturing the moon in all of its brightness and depth is one tricky shot, making photographers stay out for hours, tweaking their camera to achieve an award-winning nature photo.

But if you are a novice photographer or simply want to hone your nighttime photography skills, we have you covered! Here’s how to photograph the moon, whether it’s crescent or waning in the great big skies above.

Bring Along the Proper Camera Gear

First, you want to choose and carry along the right kind of gear to lasso the moon. Here are a few items you will need:

Tripod: You will need a steady tripod to avoid camera shake that can ruin the photo. It’s entirely possible to photograph the moon holding the camera, but a tripod will make it as crisp as possible.

Long Zoom Lens: These lenses are designed to fill the frame, allowing you to capture the moon in all its glory. Choose the longest zoom lens possible, 200mm or longer. You can work with a shorter lens, also, capturing foreground elements such as trees and cityscapes.

Shutter Release Cable: Bring a wireless remote or shutter release cable to have a hands-free experience, avoiding camera shake. Alternatively, you can use your camera’s built-in self-timer function.

Camera: Last but not least, bring the right camera! Avoid point and shoot cameras that have a small-size sensor and tend to overheat during long exposures, producing digital noise. Instead, bring along a DSLR with a long lens. Mirrorless cameras work well too.

Camera Case: Nighttime presents certain challenges, so take care of your equipment and especially your expensive DSLR camera with a camera hard case. If you plan to do any traveling, be sure to invest in a travel case for your camera too.

The Best Camera Settings to Photograph the Moon

nighttime photography skills

Now that you have all of your needed equipment, practice getting the camera settings just right. Night mode presets or auto functions simply won’t cut it when photographing the moon. Instead, you will need to shoot in full manual mode, or at least Aperture Priority. Keep in mind that even the geographical location and moon’s phase could determine your settings and may need to be tested and adjusted for each season and even how bright the stars are too.

Ready to take a shot at the moon? Let’s begin!

ISO: When photographing the moon with a digital camera, set your ISO no higher than 100. A similar setting is needed for film, too, requiring a 100 ISO or slower. This will guarantee less noise and grain on the final picture.

Aperture: To photograph the moon, you need the shot to be as clean and crisp as possible. To do so, you’ll need to set your aperture to f/11 or f/16. This might vary, depending on the type of lens you have, but it’s a good starting point to begin a few test shots.

Shutter Speed: As mentioned, the moon’s phase and location play a factor in how you achieve an excellent photo. However, aim for a clear night sky with a shutter speed of 1/60th or 1/125th.

Use the Looney 11 Rule: A good rule of thumb, this photography rule helps you to guess correct exposures when you don’t have a light meter, which is wonderful for helping you photograph the moon. There’s a similar Sunny 16 rule for daylight photography as well. Essentially, the rule acts as a starting point when shooting the moon.

Find an Ideal Location

As you learn how to photograph the moon, the importance of finding an ideal location cannot be understated. So, before you set up your tripod willy-nilly, consider these tips to select a great spot!

Allowing the Moon Center Stage: Unless you want to photograph the moon set behind a landscape of cityscape, choose a spot with little to no ambient light. This includes everything from lamp posts to moving traffic and headlights. To avoid ambient lighting, seek out remote areas or visit a public park after hours. Camping is a great time to photograph the moon and also learn how to photograph stars.

Moon and Foreground Photos: When you want to photograph the moon, as well as a landscape or glittering lights, seek out higher ground like a lookout in a nearby park. This way, you can capture the moon above without the exposure being too interrupted by the ambient glow below. Of course, this takes practice and might need further tests too.

Now that you understand how to photograph the moon, grab your camera and get some practice!

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