It follows the Earth on our yearly trips around the sun. It’s a constant companion, ever changing and moving across the sky. It’s our moon. And it can be one of the trickiest objects to photograph. It’s existence as a wonderful reflector of light, most of the time against a black night sky, and its relative size can confound amateurs and pros alike.
So then, how do we photograph this wonderful satellite in all its glory? Today Peter Carey shares some moon photography tips.
First, remember the moon has its own Golden (or Magical) Hour for optimal effect. The Golden Hour for moon photography has a twist though. Because the moon’s rise and setting each night varies by nearly an hour each day, unlike the suns, you have to do a lot of planning ahead. Or just have dumb luck, look to the East and notice the moon is rising. If you prefer the planning route, this site from the US Navy provides both moon and sun rise and set times for any day or location you’d like, both US and International. And then using the graphical information at Full Moon Calendar.net, it’s easy to calculate the best time for shooting. A full moon rising usually gives the most dramatic shots as the moon is coming up just as the sun is setting (within about 20 minutes, give or take). So using either of the resources mentioned here will get you in the right ball park. And don’t forget to check your local weather forecast for rain.
Next, you’ll need a setting. While a picture of the moon by itself is always nice, placing something else in the frame will give a point of reference and bring quality to the moon. Catching it right as it comes over a mountain or desert or even the ocean. Place it between some trees, buildings or with action in the foreground. Anything that catches your fancy will do. But make sure the object is distant enough to help emphasize the moon. If you aren’t zoomed in enough, the moon will appear as a mere bright speck in the sky. So grab at least a 200mm zoom lens before you head out for best results. The longer the lens, the better (all images in this post were shot around 400mm). Renting a lens for a few great moon shots is another option that won’t break the bank and allow you to experiment.
Another reason the Golden Hour is so important is contrast. The ideal time to capture the moon near the horizon is when you can still see the horizon. If you were to capture the moon long after the sun has set, say 3 hours, the foreground subject matter will not be illuminated and may not show well in the image. Or if the sky is already black, the moon will show as just a white blur if you attempt to brighten foreground objects. The image at left was taken in Utah just 20 minutes after the sun had set over the mountains to the West. If much more time had gone by, the clouds and hillside would be much less illuminated and the moon would have been less ‘oranged’. This time right around sunset can bring some interesting colors to the moon and is often referred to in the Autumn as the harvest moon.
While the Golden Hour for the moon is great for full or near full moon shots, you can still use the traditional Golden Hour around sunrise and sunset to capture half or crescent moons. This will take a little more work as the moon will be further off the horizon and thus subject matter will need a little more work in framing, but it can be done with great affect.
Spot metering will be your friend in shooting the moon. If your camera has it, use it while metering off the moon. Experiment with bracketing to bring out other objects in the frame. If your camera doesn’t have spot mode, it may still have a bracketing feature. Use this along with biasing the exposure to underexpose everything. It’s better to have the foreground a little dark than the moon be completely blown out with no detail.
Lastly, give yourself time. Time to scout out a good location. Time to understand that unlike the sun, the moon’s rise and set move North and South by quite a bit each night. So take the time for a month or two to get to know the moon and its habits. You’ll be better set to capture a beautiful image with just a little effort.
What are some of your favorite techniques for capturing images of the moon? Do you have some amazing shots of the moon you’d like to share? Use the Comments section below to provide your input!
Peter is an avid photographer who enjoys travel, portraiture and wildlife photography. A travel related blog of his past and current shenanigans can be found at The Carey Adventures.