Are you going outside to photograph the Moon? Hold your rocket boosters—study this free guide and learn quick, easy techniques that you can use tonight. Don’t have time to become an astronaut? Your photographs will bring the Moon down to Earth.
There are 5 main ways to photograph the Moon.
(composite and webcam imagery not included in this guide)
- Scenic landscape
- Telephoto camera lenses
- Telescopes (prime focus)
- Composite (multiple frames combined into a single image)
Scenic landscape photography utilize wide-angle lenses. These type of photographs naturally include the Moon, however, consider the whole frame, and also be aware of the composition. If you haphazardly frame the shot, it will look like you haphazardly framed the shot. Nobody likes that.
- Locate interesting foreground objects
- Travel to familiar landmarks
- Use the natural landscape
- Use the unnatural landscape
- Photograph astronomical phenomenon
Keep this in mind: wide-angle lenses make the Moon appear smaller than usual.
If you want the Moon to somewhat fill the frame, most conventional lenses can’t achieve that effect. Take a quick gander at a few photographs provided in the guide, and you’ll get an idea of how large the Moon appears.
18-55mm kit lenses are useful for scenic landscape photography, especially if you’re just getting started or don’t have access to different types of lenses.
Try using inexpensive prime lenses, such as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens.
You’re not just photographing the Moon. You’re also photographing whatever happens to be in the frame: planes, clouds, power lines, UFO (if you’re lucky), flocks of Canadian geese…you get the picture.
The Moon is merely a background prop which supports the entire foreground, however, sometimes it might be appropriate to only photograph the Moon and sky.
If you include The Great Pyramid of Giza in your photograph, well…now we’re talkin’! If you Include half of your neighbor’s roof in the frame, well… the composition will degenerate into an uninteresting jumble of pixels. If your neighbor happens to reside in a Medieval castle, by all means, frame it up.
I’m going to do you a solid. Here’s a secret tip. Listen up. Scout for locations during the day, or when you have a free opportunity, that way, when the Moon rises, you’ll have a destination in mind, which hopefully includes a worthy foreground object.
Take a quick gander at this lovely example: visit apod.nasa.gov
When people imagine photographs of the Moon, they typically think of images taken with a telephoto lens. For the purpose of this guide, any lens that’s 300mm or more, is considered to be a telephoto lens. Deal with it.
Telephoto lenses make the Moon appear larger, however, the Moon can still appear relatively small, depending on the specific focal length.
- Use a stable tripod
We all know you have the reflexes of a Shaolin monk. Resist any temptation to hold the camera in your hands, young grasshopper.
Modern Canon cameras have a function called ‘Live View’, which allows you to use the LCD screen as a digital viewfinder.
- Turn on your camera’s version of Live View. Focus on the Moon.
- Magnify the image as much as possible.
- Refocus the image.
If you follow the focusing procedure, you won’t have to worry about eyeballing the Moon through the viewfinder. Most people neglect this procedure. Don’t be one of those people. If your camera does not have a LCD screen, take your sweet time when looking through the viewfinder.
When possible, focus on a specific target (Tycho or Plato Crater, for example). Try to make the rim of the craters real crispy.
If you’re using a standard camera lens, photographing the Moon is pretty straightforward.
Looney 11 Rule
- ISO: 100
- Exposure: 1/100 sec.
- Aperture: f/11
*Looney 11 Rule can used when the Moon is full. Other lunar phases require slight changes to the settings.
If you want to be really smooth, don’t you dare touch the camera when the exposure is about to be taken. Set-up the self-timer and let the camera do the grunt work.
Timed exposures reduce the quakes and shakes which normally occur when a finger applies pressure to the shutter-release button. Many people overlook this crucial step. Don’t be one of those people.
Telescopes & Prime Focus
Do you want to break out the big guns? You’ll need to get a T-ring.
T-rings enable DSLR cameras to be threaded directly onto a telescope, transforming the scientific instrument into a telephoto lens. The intricacies of prime focus astrophotography can’t be covered in this guide, however, photographing the Moon is relatively simple.
First things first: purchase a T-ring. Amazon sell plenty of T-rings, or you can order a T-ring directly from a reputable seller. Order a T-ring that fits the specific model of your camera (Canon or Nikon, for example).
- Follow the focusing procedure
Follow the same focusing procedure. Be patient when focusing, if you’re using a telescope to photograph the Moon. You should be able to magnify specific craters or lunar regions. You’ll eventually notice a substantial increase in overall image sharpness.
Some telescopes can be placed on a basic tripod, but it may not be a smart idea. Try to use a stable mount—something with a little meat on its bones. A proper telescope mount reduces unnecessary vibrations. Be mindful of your environment: outside decks, and other platforms, may transfer vibrations to the telescope.
- Set-up camera self-timer (or use a remote)
When you’re ready to take an exposure, try using the Looney 11 Rule. The exact camera settings depend on the telescope’s focal ratio and other conditions. Some telescopes are better at taking quick exposures, while other telescopes require more time (catadioptric telescopes, for example). Use the self-timer option.
If your images have a lot of vignetting, you may need to get a T-ring adapter. Some adapters come with T-rings. If you’re worried about vignetting, consider getting a T-ring and adapter.
If you’re telescope mount is not tracking the Moon, take quick exposures, or the images will turnout blurry.
- Pay attention to weather & seeing conditions
The weather ultimately determines image quality. Most beginners neglect this important aspect of astrophotography, by spending too much time worrying about the minutia of camera settings.
Keep this in mind: It’s not how you shoot the Moon, it’s when you shoot the Moon.
Poor seeing conditions cause some regions on the Moon to appear softer than others, while other regions may appear sharper. The overall effect degrades image quality, for obvious reasons. Don’t get your panties in a twist, though. Take a variety of photographs and then compare each image. Some photographs will be taken during moments of relative calm. Or not.
You can do everything right—even own the most expensive telescope in the galaxy. If the weather doesn’t feel like giving you a sharp image, well…sorry. Try again next week. There’s a reason why astronomical observatories sit on top of mountains in Hawaii. Think about it.
With a tiny bit of a knowledge, minimal gear, and creativity, it’s possible to photograph the Moon in a variety of ways. If you become lost in space, remember the basics and you’ll find your way. Consider begging to the gods for clear weather…they say that helps. Maybe. And if that doesn’t work, try making a sacrificial offering.
…Wait…why are you still here? Go outside and photograph the Moon.
- Exposure time & camera settings
1. Turbulent weather (or poor seeing conditions) reduces overall image quality. Photograph the Moon when seeing conditions are optimal.
2. Follow the focusing procedure. When possible, turn on Live View and then magnify the image. Focus on a specific crater or region.
3. Use the Looney 11 Rule, if you’re not sure which camera settings to use.
Looney 11 Rule
- ISO: 100
- Exposure: 1/100 sec.
- Aperture: f/11
Scenic landscape: use wide-angle lenses. Try to include interesting foreground objects. Avoid unintentional objects. Images of only the sky look flat, so it might be useful to include trees or natural surroundings, to give the image context.
Telephoto lenses: Follow the focusing procedure. Use a stable tripod.
Telescopes & Price Focus: Get a reliable T-ring and adapter. Follow the focusing procedure, however, try to focus on a specific crater or region. Keep an eye on your local seeing conditions or weather.
Recommendations: Telescopes & Lenses
Scenic landscape photography: Canon or Nikon 18-55mm kit lens, Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM lens, Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM Lens
Telephoto lenses: Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III Telephoto Zoom Lens
Telescopes & Prime Focus: Orion 102mm Maksutov, Orion 70mm Explorer refractor, Orion T-ring
Get a Telescope
Cameras & Lenses: B & H
Check your local astronomical seeing conditions: Meteoblue.com
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