How to photograph the moon - with the camera you've already got.

 

Did you know that a photo of the moon doesn't require exposure that's much different than a photo of your dog in the back yard?

Makes sense, though. When you see the moon it's been hit by the direct light of the sun, and that light has passed through Earth's atmosphere one time. Your dog in the back yard is hit by the light of the sun, which has passed through the Earth's atmosphere one time. So the kind of exposure for the photo above isn't much different than a photo taken on Laurens Street at high noon: ISO 200, f7.8, at 1/320th of a second. The camera was a Fuji SL1000.

This takes a little more thought than holding up the camera and snapping, however. Let's talk about the settings you'll be making:

You're going to want a lot of magnification, because the moon is a long ways away. About 240,000 miles on average. And it's only about 2,150 miles in diameter. So taking a photo of it is like photographing a basketball that's 87 feet away from you.

See that photo at the top of the page? To get that same image size, you'd need a 1200 mm lens on a 35mm camera. About an 800 mm lens on your expensive DSLR camera. It's amazing how powerful the lens on a bridge camera like the Fuji SL1000 or a Nikon P520 or a Canon HS50 can be! Whatever camera you use you'll want to use the highest power lens you've got.

But those lenses don't just magnify the moon - they magnify the shakiness of your hand. I used a strong tripod to hold the camera steady.

Set your focus to infinity, rather than relying upon the AF of your camera.

If you can turn off image stabilization on your camera, do so. When you're using a tripod, image stabilization can actually make the image a little less sharp.

You still want a high shutter speed because the moon is moving rather quickly. But you don't need a small aperture for depth of field at these great distances. I set the lens almost wide open.

Use a low ISO setting like 100 or 200 for best sharpness.

If you leave your exposure on automatic or program, the dark heavens surrounding the moon will fool your camera's electric eye. The camera will overexpose the photo, leaving nothing but a brilliant blur instead of the moon's detail. Set the +/- button on your camera to darken the photo, usually around minus (-) 3 or 4 f stops. Or set the exposure manually and adjust the shutter speed until you like the results.

Your photos will be sharpest when the moon is high in the sky - because the rays of light aren't traveling through as much atmosphere.

Your photos will be more interesting when the moon is not full. At full moon the light is coming from behind the camera and you don't get any dimensional modeling. Half moon or less gives the most crater detailing.

Squeeze the shutter release gently to minimize camera shake. A remote control or the camera's self timer help minimize the shake you give the camera when you press the shutter release.

And send me some copies of your photos - maybe on our FaceBook page.