DWVPhotoworks' Guide To Shooting The Moon
I haven't been shooting the moon for long; there have only been a handful of outings in the last year. That being said, I have learned a few things that have given me success and I thought I would jot them down in hopes that someone else can learn something or even just encourage them to go out and give it a try for themselves.
Regardless of the type of image you are striving for, the essentials are:
Camera with manual settings (preferably a DSLR)
- Sturdy tripod
- Clear sky
While not crucial, these are helpful items:
- Intervalometer or cable release (if need be, 2 second delay works in a pinch)
- Star-tracking app
A good starting place is f/8 1/100s ISO 100.
There are many factors that can influence what your settings need to be to get the image you want. I encourage you to change them and see what works best for you, your equipment, and your environment.
The first thing to make sure of with any shoot is that you are prepared. Always make sure you have fully charged batteries, a clear memory card or two, and that your lenses are all cleaned up, packed, and ready to go.
I recommend using a lens 100+ mm. in focal length.
Starting with lenses > 100 mm:
This will give you a larger image of the moon, showing more detail in the crevasses and craters on the surface. My lenses top out at 200 mm. so I do not usually go this route very often but would likely consider going with a longer focal length. Closer shots, such as these closer shots, leave less room to be creative with the shots and that is the other reason why I shoot around the 100 mm. focal length.
The 100 mm. mark will give you a moon that is roughly the size of a nickel on a sheet of 8.5"x11". What that means is that you will have some other areas of the frame to play around with. I think the most important thing with photography of any nature is to make the image interesting. I want people to see something in a different way than they usually do in their everyday lives. The best way to make a lunar shot interesting is to add foreground.
My first few attempts at getting a sharp image of the moon were just plain and simple; put it right in the middle of the frame and hit the shutter. That was it. Just the moon, sitting there. While still crisp and detailed, it wasn't the most interesting point of view. See example above.
I wanted to have a different shot than everyone else that was shooting the "Super Moon". So what I did was pull back down from 200 mm. to 95 mm. Instead of having a white circle on a dark sky, I was able to bring in some more scenery by including trees on either side of the moon. Not only does it give something else to look at but it helps the moon anchor the viewer's eye, creating a better shot.
So now we know what tools we will need for the job, it is time to find a good location. I knew that I wanted to get some trees in the shot so I went somewhere with trees.
It can be difficult trying to find an ideal location. This is where a star-tracking app can be a very helpful tool. I use "Planets" for iPhone. It will give you an augmented virtual reality view into where planetary bodies are in space and time. That sounds advanced so, in other words, it will let you hold your phone up to see where things are.
You can track constellations, planets, and definitely the moon. You can change the settings to see the map in real time, or you can set it to a date/time in the future. Another great feature is the "Visibility" feature that will show you what will be visible, and when, over the course of the day.
So if you want to see when the moon will rise, you can see that it will be (insert time).
Being able to accurately determine where the moon will be and at what time is highly beneficial for multiple reasons. It is definitely crucial for framing a shot where you plan to track the moon's path over time. This is where a few other tools come into play.
When composing your shot, you can add more life to the image by showing the path of the moon. To do this, I used my intervalometer set for 15 second intervals.
One problem that you may have with this method is your exposure settings. Depending on the conditions in your area and the sky, the lighting levels may change which will require you to change your settings as well.
For example, if the sun is just setting while your moon has cleared over the horizon, the sky will continue to get darker and the moon will continue to get brighter.
Unfortunately, there isn't an easy way around this but there are a couple things you can do to help.
You can change your settings on the fly: This method can be tricky. What I did was gradually and slowly increase the shutter speed (letting in less light) to get the proper exposure. The same can be done with closing the aperture setting, and in some cases a combination of both.
The second method is to shoot bracketed: This option is available on most DSLR cameras nowadays, sometimes referred to as AEB, or Automatic Exposure Bracketing.
What this will do is shoot 3 shots (or more, depending on your camera's preferences). The first shot will be using your standard settings, the second will be under-exposed and the third over-exposed. This way, you will have a much better chance at getting the correct exposure.
There are some problems with this method you will need to consider as well. You will be taking three times as many images which can be problematic if you have smaller memory cards. The other problem is that it can be more draining for your batteries. Taking three times the images means three times the battery power. Not that these two issues are deal-breakers, they're just something to keep note of.
Regardless of the creative vision of your shot, you will want to make sure that your focus is set correctly. The best way I have found to do this is to use "Live View". That way, you are able to see on your LCD what your shot looks like and can manually focus.
What I do to focus is compose the shot, zoom in as far as I can on the Live View LCD and focus manually. This method will ensure that you have pin-sharp focus and create stunning imagery.
Once you are happy with what you have captured, or you have run out of available memory/battery power, you are done (almost).
You have many different options and things you can do with the images from here so I will just include one that I did from summer of 2014.
I decided to compile all of the usable images from my outing into one image in a stack. With each image being a separate layer, I blended all of the layers using the 'Lighten' blend mode creating a streak across the image. To highlight that this blur of colors was actually the moon, I went and copied every 57th frame so the moon was more predominant in that section of the flight path.
So go out and have some fun; try something different. The moon is quite commonly photographed so doing something different can often be difficult. If you have thoughts or images you would like to share, I would love to hear and see them. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments or send me a message. I'd love to help! Cheers!