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How-to's

How to get great photographs of the Moon

Bo Stahlbrandt (bgs)


Keywords: moon, lunar_photography, astrophotography, stars

Want to take great photographs of the Moon? Maybe you are like many of us who've tried to shoot the Moon, but it did not come out the way you wanted? It might be because you missed out on some of the settings and background details to make your Moon shot a great Lunar photograph. Here are some tips to ensure you will nail your Moon next month.

Reduce vibrations - use tripod | The lens to use | Moonie 11 | Shutter speeds | Landscapes with Moons | Going Lunar 2.0

 

The Moon does not change

The good thing with a full moon is that it is, a full moon. This month, next month, next year. Yes, you can have clouds and different atmospheric disturbancies, but once you have the basic settings nailed, you can use them again next Moon. There are more variancies than this of course, due to e.g. Apsis (the Moons orbit around Earth is elliptical and the appearent brightness will vary depending on where the moon is in its orbit relatively to your position), but the Histogram on your cameras LCD screen will help you monitor the exposure and compensate for this.

The Moon by esantos

The Moon by esantos
"I chose to shoot a few days before the full moon as I believe you'll get better detail since the sunlight is still at a slight angle.
Plus, you get the details of the surface in a more 3D presentation at the edge of the dark side."

See complete details for this shot.

Nikon D810, Nikkor 200-500/5.6 ED VR AF-S. 
Click for large image | Portfolio

Tripod

First of all, use a tripod. No tripod, no fun. You really should not try to photograph the Moon without one (1). An example of a good setup could consist of a Gitzo Tripod with a Markins ball head. Weight down the tripod to stabilize it as much as feasible, with for example a camera bag. If it is a bit windy, make sure your weight is not dangling in the wind making the tripod move. If it is really windy though, you probably want to pick another time for the shoot. And, if you wondered: No, you don't need a motorized tracking device to get a good capture of the moon.

Since you are using a tripod, you should have Vibration Reduction (VR) turned off.

 

Moon Over Lake Yellowstone by Reuben

Moon over Lake Yellowstone by reuben
Nikon D2X, 28-70mm, f/11, 10s, ISO 100
Click for gallery

 

Mirror Lockup

If you're using a DSLR and if your camera has Mirror Lockup (ML), use that. It will reduce camera vibrations. If you are using a Mirrorless Z series camera, good for you. No mirror required. If you are using a smartphone for capturing the Moon: This is Nikonians, not Smartonians, ok?

Remote release

Use a remote release, wirebound or wireless (e.g. via your smartphone - yes as a remote control - if you have a recent camera). The WR-R10/WR-R11a/b can be used for this of course including other tethered solutions. This will further reduce vibrations. If you don't have a remote release unit, use your cameras Exposure Delay feature at 2-3 seconds to reduce vibrations. If your camera does not have Exposure Delay, use the cameras Self Timer and set it to a few seconds which does a similar job of removing your hands from the camera at around the time of exposure.

 

Super Blood Moon Eclipse by elec64

Super Blood Moon Eclipse by elec164
Nikon D7200 on a RRS TVC-34L with a Markins Q20i, Vello Free Wave Plus Remote
Sigma 50-500 OS @ 500mm, f/9, 1/8s, ISO 4000 
Click for large image | Gallery

 

Watch out for Aliens

As you probably have gotten by now, you should try your best to get rid of any sources of vibrations since that will be visible in the final result. Aliens, or humans walking around nearby disturbing your shot is a bad thing. Beware of wind and try to reduce for any other sources of vibration as well.

Lens

You can use a moderately long telephoto lens with very good results, such as a 70-200 at 200mm or a 300mm lens. Longer lenses than that will potentially introduce additional issues and can be something you can experiment with once you have nailed your 200mm shots (the image above by elec164 is not an example of someone photographing the Moon for the first time). As said, disable VR if it has any.

Manual Mode and Moonie 11

A variation of the rules of thumb "Sunny 16" rule is "Moonie 11".

Use your camera in Manual Mode (many of us landscape photographers tend to go with Aperture Priority for anything, and it can work for Landscape Moons as seen on this page, but think Manual Mode for now).

At aperture f/11, set the shutterspeed to the reciprocal of your ISO, e.g start with a 1/400s at ISO 400. Do a few test shots. You don't need an aperture value higher than f/11 since the Moon is so far away and the Depth of Field is insignificant at that distance. The exception to this would be if you're using a teleconverter on your telephoto lens and that combo is sharper when "stepped down" further.

Try with changing your settings, taking down the aperture to f/5.6, which equals two EV aka stops. Now adjust the shutter speed and ISO accordingly: Raise your shutterspeed by one stop to 1/800s and drop your ISO by one stop to ISO 200, resulting in 1/800s at f/5.6 and ISO 200.

Take some more shots. Adjust as required, e.g. stop down slightly to f/6.3 and increase the ISO to 320. There is a bit of wiggle room, just make sure you are not over-exposing the Moon.

You have to adjust for clouds and other atmospheric disturbances, haze and dust. Use your cameras histogram to nail the exposure.

More on Shutter Speeds

You want to keep your shutterspeed at 1/250s or faster to avoid blur. At this shutterspeed and a bit faster, you'll increase the chance of capturing a calm moment in any turbulent air between you and the Moon. Too fast shutter speeds will work against you though, affecting the appearent noise. As always, you can get great shots at very low shutter speeds, but start with reducing the number of variables that can introduce errors in the final result. Shutterspeed is one of them.

 

Full Moon and Siberian Husky by Alaz

Full Moon and Siberian Husky by Alaz
Nikon D700, 400mm f5/6, -2 stops, 1/15s, Aperture Priority.
Is this a single shot or a composite? What do you think? Comment below
Click for gallery

 

Landscape Moon Shot

If you want to shoot the landscape together with the moon, you want to make sure there is a good ambient light for your landscape. Shoot a day before full moon before sunset or the day after the full moon around sunrise. Doing so and the Moon will still look full and you will have plenty of light to capture the landscape.

 

Friday Night Moon by 6X7

Friday Night Moon by 6x7
Nikon D700, 300mm 5/6, -1 stop, 1/1250s, ISO 200, Aperture Priority
Click for gallery

 

Lunar 2.0 - Getting Shadows

Shooting the Moon a few days past full and you will have the chance to get richer captures, not being so flat as they may turn out at smack full moon. This would then be level 2.0 of Moon Capturing, after you have nailed the 1.0 full version.

More to read on Lunar Photography

There is a good article on shooting stars applying the 500 rule and another one on photographing stars with landscapes.

We have many good discussions in our Astrophotography forum about how to get your favorite celestial body sharp, big and beautiful. An important aspect is the Rate of Movement.

This article is based upon conversations held in the Nikonians forums by members such as elec164 and ericbowles.

 

Notes:

1) There are examples of Nikonians shooting the Moon handheld, propping up their telelens with some bags sitting in the car and getting lovely results, but that is for another article.

2) The complete details for the Moon photograph by esantos located at the top of this page, taken 10-JAN-2017 @ 6:28 PM CST, are:

Equipment
  • Nikon D500
  • AF-S Nikkor 200-500 mm f/5.6E ED VR
  • Nikkor AF-S Teleconverter TC-17E II - 1.7x
  • RRS Versa Tripod TVC-34L
  • RRS BH-55 ball head
  • Nikon MC-30A remote trigger release
 
Camera Settings
  • File type: Camera Raw (NEF)
  • Exposure: f/9.5, 1/100sec., ISO 100,
  • Exposure Mode: Auto
  • Equivalent Focal Length in 35mm Film: 1275.0 mm
  • Metering Mode: Matrix
 
Image Processing
  • Photoshop
  • White Balance set to 4650 K
  • 95% processing done in Adobe Camera Raw
  • Levels adjustment, crop out about 33% of empty black field, size for web display and output sharpen using Pixel Genius Photokit Sharpener

 

(7 Votes )

Originally written on January 22, 2021

Last updated on January 25, 2021

2 comments

Matthew K Skelton (RoaringLion) on February 5, 2021

Thank you! Very helpful as I struggle with this. Best, Matthew

Alan Dooley (ajdooley) on January 22, 2021

Awarded for his frequent encouraging comments, sharing his knowledge in the Nikonians spirit. Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the 2017-2018 fundraising campaign Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas, especially photojo Ribbon awarded for his repeated generous contributions to the 2019 Fundraising campaign

There's a LOT of excellent information here. I'm one of the goofballs who shoot the moon hand held or propped on a cushion on top of my car. I don't own a really good tripod and often just grab by 150-600mm Tamron on a D800 and snap away for a few minutes. But the ideas presented here are great places to get into this segment of our photography hobby.

G