There is a little companion following the Earth on our yearly trips around the sun. It’s a steady escort, ever varying and moving across the sky. It’s the moon. And he can be one of the trickiest objects to photograph. The moon is a wonderful reflector of light, most of the time against a black night sky, and his relative size can confound amateurs and pros alike.
Although it is by far the biggest and brightest object in the night sky the moon is not an easy subject to photograph. Using a standard 50mm lens, an image projected onto a slide or negative is only about 1/50 of an inch. With the introduction of digital cameras a whole new area of lunar photography is available to the amateur. I want to share a few things to consider when trying to photograph the moon. Equipment, techniques and even a photoshopped composition will be presented.
So then, how do you photograph this satellite in all its glory?
First, remember the moon has its own ‘Magical’ hour for optimal effect. As the moon’s rise and setting each night varies by nearly an hour each day, unlike the sun, you have to do some planning ahead. You can find some valid information on Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_moon. Or just have dumb luck, look to the East and notice the rising moon.
And with all your planning ahead - don’t forget to check your local weather forecast for rain.
Photographing a full moon isn't much different than photographing any other sun lit object. There is only one matter to consider and this is, that your favorite subject is pretty far away. Due to this fact it is nearly compulsory to use a camera with a long lens rather than a so called point and shoot or a single use "disposable" camera. In fact, with any camera you can get an image of the moon but one that will be looking like a tiny white point rather than anything alike the moon.
Next, you’ll need a good composition!
While a picture of the moon by itself is always nice, placing something else in the frame will give a point of reference and bring quality to the moon.
Catching him right as he comes over a mountain or desert, placing him between some trees or buildings or with action in the foreground would be a great idea. You should ensure the object is distant enough to help putting emphasis on the moon. If you aren’t zoomed in enough, the moon will only appear as a simple bright point in the sky. Try to get a 200 mm zoom lens in order to get the good results. The longer the lens, the better (all images in this post were shot with a 200 mm lens and a 2x extender).
You could consider to rent a lens for even greater moon shots this option won’t break the bank and allow you to experiment a lot more.
Spot metering is essential in shooting the moon. If your camera has it, use it while metering the moon. You can bracket your shots to bring out other items in the frame. The general rule for moon exposure is to better have the foreground a little dark than the moon itself completely blown out with no detail.
TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING THE MOON
- Always use a tripod and cable release.
- Use the camera's highest resolution setting.
- Photos of the full moon are flat and featureless. For more interesting pictures, photograph the Moon at crescent or quarter phases when mountains and craters are illuminated.
- Always bracket exposures. To be safe, bracket at one or preferably two stops on both sides of the exposure.
Now go out and try your luck!