8 Essential Moon Photography Tips

moon photography

Being a photography enthusiast, every time you see a full moon or a beautiful frame in which you think the moon would look beautiful, you wish to freeze the moment in your camera. Many of you must have tried to photograph the moon but actually ended up with a photo in which the moon looks like a spotlight in the sky.

So how to click a photo which has maximum details and correct exposure of the moon? I have tried my best to detail out the best tips and techniques to photography the moon, starting from all the equipments required to suggested camera setting one can use to get the correct exposure.

This post is divided into four parts:

  • What you need for Moon Photography
  • List of 8 Moon Photography tips
  • Camera setting for Moon Photography
  • Secret tip

What you need for Moon Photography:

  1. DSLR paired with a telephoto lens (APS-C)

To increase your focal length and reach closer to the moon, use an APS-C camera (not mandatory, one can always use a full-frame camera) mounted with a telephoto lens.

  1. Tripod

To avoid any kind of shake while shooting handheld, it is advisable to mount the camera on a steady tripod.

  1. Shutter release

Pressing the shutter release button can cause minor shake in the photo. To prevent that slight shake, you can use a shutter release cable or remote.

List of 8 Moon Photography tips:

  1. Switch to manual mode

To get started with moon photography, the first thing you should do is switch your camera mode to manual. Do not let the camera decide the exposure for you, take the charge and manually set the shutter speed, aperture value and the ISO.

  1. Use spot metering

It is important to set the metering mode to ‘spot’ as it will allow the camera to precisely exposure for the moon and not for the surrounding dark sky at night. Using the exposure compensation scale, you can then choose your camera settings.

  1. Get closer with telephoto lens

Using a telephoto lens would help you get closer to the moon, else you will have to crop the image clicked using a non-telephoto lens. Shooting with an APS-C sensor (crop sensor) camera would be an added advantage as it gives you 1.5x (Nikon) or 1.6x (Canon) focal length. So, if you are shooting with an APS-C sensor camera mounted with a 400mm lens, you would actually get a focal length of 600mm on Nikon and 640mm on Canon.

  1. Shoot at sweet spot of your lens

The sweet spot of a lens is the aperture value that gives the best sharpness from the center to the edges of the photo. The sweet spot of your lens lies somewhere between the maximum and the minimum aperture value. To know more about sweet spot, click here.

  1. Switch off IS/VR

Image Stabilization/Vibration Reduction in your lens looks for vibrations in your camera in order to reduce the same. But if your camera is steady (on a tripod), this process of hunting vibrations can actually lead to minor camera shake. This is the reason why you should always switch off IS/VR switch on your lens to capture sharp photos.

  1. Use Mirror lockup

Mirror lock-up is another feature present in majority of DSLRs which allows you to lock the mirror and eliminate the minute share that it generated when the shutter release button is clicked. To know more about mirror lockup, click here.

  1. Shoot in RAW

Shooting in RAW lets you retain all the details of the image which can be used during the post processing stage. Using the RAW file you can change the white balance as per your wish, as well as the exposure. You can also edit the same RAW file multiple times, without losing any details or affecting the image quality. Read: RAW vs JPEG

  1. Shoot when the moon is high in the sky

If you are after a shot of the moon with great sharp detail on its surface, you are best to wait until the moon is high in the sky. When the moon is low at moonrise and moonset, it is being distorted by atmospheric refraction, and even though you may be focused perfectly on the moon, the detail on the surface will look slightly blurry and out of focus.

Camera settings for Moon Photography:

  1. Aperture

As you want your photo to be sharp, using the lens on the ‘sweet spot’ aperture value would help you achieve the best result. In simple language, set your aperture anything between f/8-f/11.

  1. ISO

While shooting the moon, you might want to crop the image during the editing phase and you would hate to have any grains on it. Use the lowers ISO range, usually ISO 100 in most of the DSLRs, to get grain-less photo of the moon.

  1. Shutter Speed

Once you have set the aperture and the ISO the third important thing is the choice of shutter speed. Try and capture the moon at 1/200 – 1/250 sec to make sure there is no shake in the image. Fortunately, you might spot an airplane crossing over the moon, you can free the moment by using the shutter speed mentioned above.

  1. Focal length

Do not give up hope of clicking the moon if you do not have a big telephoto lens with you. Cropping the image can always get you decent quality moon photos, though the telephoto lens would fetch you better results as you can get away with cropping the image. Focal length ranging between 200mm – 500mm is ideal for moon photography.

BONUS tip:

Create artistic photos using multiple exposures

Once you have clicked the moon alone in the frame, you can always experiment with interesting techniques. One such photography technique could be merging multiple exposures.

moon photography

Let’s take the example of the image shown above. I had clicked two different exposures and later merged both the frames into one. The first image was exposed for the moon and the second image was exposure for the structure (Bahai Temple). Later, i simply merged both the images on Adobe Photoshop to achieve the final result.

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