Acolytes of the Lunar Lunacy Congregation are bestowed with ancient wisdom: the art of how to photograph the moon.
Coveted knowledge has been collected over the centuries and scribbled onto delicate scrolls, banishing the shadows of ignorance upon those who practice the time-tested lunar photographic techniques.
Your initiation has begun—put on your black robe.
Full Moon Photographic Fever
Photographing the full moon can tremble the patience of the most stable individual.
A silver bullet list of camera settings doesn’t exist. Why? Because not everyone uses the same camera, lens, or telescope.
It’s true! The full moon is pretty damn bright (-12.74 apparent magnitude) but the moon’s brightness is not static: each phase covers a certain percentage of the moon’s surface. Many people forget about this complication, or don’t consider it.
The exposure settings for a full moon simply won’t work for a crescent moon, but I’ll expand on that topic during a future post.
The photographic exposure needs to be tailored to the moon’s specific phase
Let’s take a quick gander at the full moon, shall we?
What do you think? Is this lunar photograph properly exposed? Hmmm…are you sure? Positive? Think about it for a moment. The lunar surface looks a little bright, especially around Tycho Crater.
Let’s take a gander at another full moon image:
…What about this one? The surface still looks a little bright, but the lunar terrain has far more visible detail and the maria has nice contrast. The rays around Tycho Crater are also clearly visible.
However—let’s take one last gander at another full moon photograph:
…What about this image? The overall brightness is even and lunar detail is still relatively maintained (unlike the overexposed photographs).
The rays around Tycho Crater can be used as a visual aid—if you don’t see any rays t—then your image is overexposed. The magical red arrow points at one of Tycho’s rays.
A little change in exposure times can make a big difference.
Camera Settings for Lunatics
Camera settings will vary depending on a few factors:
How much the full moon fills the frame (focal length)
The speed of the lens / telescope (focal ratio)
As a general rule:
- Wide-angle / telephoto lenses require faster shutter speed.
Take a look at the panoramic photograph.
Each image was taken during the same lunar phase, but guess what? That doesn’t mean every image used the same exact camera setting.
Each telescope (and lens) had its own particular speed, or focal ratio, which determined what the exposure should be—not some predefined formula. The only constant that remained the same was the ISO setting (100).
If the moon doesn’t fill the frame, then the exposure will have to be relatively quick, especially compared to a moon photograph, which fills the frame.
** The camera’s ISO should be as low as possible—noise severely degrades lunar resolution. **
Under very special circumstances raising the camera’s ISO can be a viable option. Don’t be afraid to experiment: the above image was taken at ISO 6400 (note the lowered resolution).
A lunar eclipse can become quite dim, especially during totality—which requires major changes within the camera settings (even though the moon is full).
** Start Here **
Exposure: 1/100 seconds
The exposure will vary depending on how much the full moon fills the frame and the speed of your lens / telescope.
You may discover that 1/100 seconds is a little too slow (if you’re using a fast telephoto lens): keep adjusting the exposure until you have decent contrast between the lunar highlands and seas—an overexposed moon will washout subtle detail—especially around Tycho Crater’s ray system.
Keep ISO low
Keep exposure times quick
Magnify Image 5x—focus
Magnify Image 10x—focus
Take a variety of photographs and keep increasing the exposure until the moon’s disk becomes obviously dark.
Compare your images and truly look at what’s visible and what’s not.
Your initiation has just begun: you’ll soon understand the moon’s dark secrets and will bend them to your will. Keep your eye on the moon because it now has its eye on you.