How to Photograph the Moon Like a Pro

howtophotographthemoonIf you have been taking pictures for any amount of time, chances are you’ve tried to take a picture of the moon in the past. How did it come out? Perhaps like a white blob that is a lot smaller than you hoped it would be?

If you answered yes, this article is for you. Not only will you learn why pictures you have taken of the moon in the past have failed, you’ll also learn how to photograph the moon like a professional photographer. If you’re relatively new to photography, you should take A Jumpstart Guide to Photography before continuing to get the most out of this tutorial.

Why Does the Moon Look Smaller in Pictures?

The reason the moon looks smaller in pictures is the same reason why just about everything looks smaller in pictures. Your average camera has a wide-angle lens. This is true of point-and-shoot cameras as well as DSLRs.

To understand this, you have to remember that your eyes are like a 50mm fixed lens. Since the wide-angle lens on your camera is shorter than 50 mm, the moon always look smaller.

There’s another reason why the moon look smaller too. Known as Moon Illusion, this is a phenomenon where the moon appears bigger to your eyes than it actually is.

Why Does the Moon Look Like a White Blob?

Simply put, your pictures of the moon are overexposed. Obviously the moon is most visible at night when everything else is dark or dimly lit. Even if you point your camera directly at the moon, the camera sees that everything else is dark and compensates for these low light conditions with a longer shutter time.

The result is a moon that looks more like a white circular object or a blob and not actually like the moon you tried to capture in your picture.  The techniques in Night Photography Unlocked make all your nighttime pictures look better.

Equipment You Will Need

In order to take good pictures of the moon, you need a DSLR camera with a 200mm telephoto lens or a point-and-shoot camera with an optical zoom.

You also need a tripod because of the longer exposure times required to make the shots work. A remote camera trigger is ideal, but if you do not have one the self-timer in your camera also works. This is because even the slight motion of pressing the shutter button can actually distort the picture and turn it into that all familiar white blob that you’re trying to avoid.

The Long Exposure Photography course shows you how to set up your equipment for the low light conditions present when photographing the moon.

Photographing the Moon

Assuming you are using either a telephoto lens or optical zoom on a point-and-shoot camera, a tripod is practically a necessity. Set up your tripod and try to fill as much of the frame as you can with the moon at maximum zoom. Without the use of a special camera mount for a telescope, you won’t be able to fill the entire frame and your moon photograph will probably need some post process cropping.

Set your camera mode to full manual, ISO to 100, aperture to f/11, and the shutter speed to 1/125 (assuming an ISO of 100). If your camera only goes down to ISO 200, use a 1/250 shutter speed.

These values are sometimes referred to in the photography world as the Looney 11 rule which refers to the aperture setting that works best for photographing the moon.

When moon photography gets really tricky is when you want to include a foreground object with the picture of the moon. The moon will always look overexposed if you just take a standard picture of the scene. The best way to accomplish a moon/foreground picture  is by taking two separate images and combining them using Photoshop.

The first image should have the moon properly exposed while the foreground is severely underexposed. The second image focuses on the foreground and the moon will be overexposed. These two images can easily be combined in Photoshop to create one image that is properly exposed and includes the details of the moon that are often missing in these moonscape pictures.

If you are unsure about how to properly perform post processing using Photoshop, check out Foundations of Photoshop.

The Secret Professional Photographers Don’t Want You to Know

As you realize now, including the moon in a landscape photograph usually requires Photoshop or some other image editing software. Once you have a few good pictures of the moon, you can reuse them for your other night photographs. Professional photographers do this all the time and it gives them stunning results without the headache of multiple pictures each time they take a night photograph.

Photoshop lets you resize your moon pictures and you could even add clouds or various colors to the moon to match your photo easily. These modified moon photographs can be inserted anywhere and add unique character to your photographs without much effort at all.

There is something about the moon that intrigues humans. It only makes sense that you should try to capture this intriguing quality in your photographs. Whether you decide to take pictures of just the moon or create beautiful landscapes with the moon looking above, understanding the process and practicing the techniques outlined above will give you the best possible moon pictures, regardless of the type of camera you are using.

Don’t forget that once you have a few good moon shots, you can reuse them over and over again in any pictures you take. Get creative – add the moon into a daytime landscape or shade it slightly red for a spooky Halloween themed picture.

Above all else, have fun and enjoy these new techniques which are guaranteed to make moon photography much more interesting.