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As the brightest object in the night sky, the Moon has captivated people around the world for centuries. The Moon is simply fascinating, particularly with the recent 50th anniversary of the first humans landing on the Moon. It is also one of the most incredible subjects to learn to photograph. Everyone loves to observe the Moon, but have you ever looked up to the sky at night and thought, “how can I capture this magnificent phenomenon?” Well, as photographing the Moon can be a challenging undertaking, I have highlighted some information about the Moon and recommendations regarding equipment and camera settings you’ll need to consider to achieve better moon photography.
It is initially worth considering what the Moon actually is. Well, in general, the term “moon” denotes an object that orbits something other than the star in a solar system. Earth’s Moon is an astronomical body that orbits the planet and acts as its only permanent natural satellite, orbiting the Earth every 27.3 days. It is the fifth-largest Moon in the Solar System and is an average of 384403 kilometers (238857 miles) from Earth.
When you look up at the night sky to view the peaceful and tranquil Moon, you might notice that the Moon looks a little different each night. This is due to our Moon’s many phases and types.
The amount of sunlight that reflects on the Moon’s surface that we can see from our point of view on Earth varies every day, and this is what we refer to as a Moon phase.
Moon phases change during the lunar month from a New Moon (which occurs the moment the Sun and Moon are aligned, with the Sun and Earth on opposite sides of the Moon) to a Waxing Crescent moon (when a thin sliver of the Moon becomes visible after a New Moon), First Quarter Moon (the moment the Moon has reached the first quarter of its orbit around Earth), Waxing Gibbous Moon, Full Moon, Waning Gibbous Moon, Third Quarter Moon and Waning Crescent Moon.
A full moon occurs when the side of the Moon facing Earth is fully lit up by the Sun. There are several types of unusual full moons that look different in color and size due to its position to the Sun and Earth. These include blood moons (that appears reddish and occur during a total lunar eclipse, when Earth lines up between the Moon and the Sun); Supermoons (a moon that appears larger because it is closer to Earth), Blue Moons (the “extra” Moon in a season with four Full Moons or the second Full Moon in a calendar month) and Harvest Moons (the full, bright Moon that occurs closest to the start of Autumn), for example.
When photographing the full moon or different phases of the moon, you will need some essential pieces of equipment. I recommend you use a tripod for stability. Whilst you may get away with hand-holding your camera, you will get better results by mounting your camera on a tripod and avoiding camera shake. In addition, a remote shutter release cable is a useful bit of kit to help prevent camera shake. It is not essential as you can use your cameras self-timer function.
The type of lens you use largely depends on whether you would like to capture the moon in the landscape, or as a detailed close-up. Wide-angle lenses are great to photograph the moon as it moves over an interesting landscape. Alternatively, a telephoto lens is a great choice for getting closer to the moon to reveal its surface details. Consider using a long focal length lens with a range of 300-400mm.
Once you have chosen a lens and set your camera on a tripod, you will need to select your settings. Firstly, I would recommend setting your ISO to 100 to prevent noise and grain in your images. Next, select an aperture in the region of f/8 – f/16 to achieve clearer and cleaner shots. In terms of shutter speed, 1/60th to 1/125th should be a great starting point.
When you have applied the settings, all you now need to do is set the focus of your camera. I like to use my cameras manual focus to focus on the Moon. Once the focusing distance to the Moon looks sharp using manual focus, you are ready to shoot the Moon.
In my experience, manual focus works better than autofocus as the Moon’s surface is sometimes too dark to be recognized by the camera’s autofocus and I find manual focus to be more reliable in obtaining sharper shots in low light. By using manual focus, if you’re camera settings aren’t spot-on for any reason, you will still have reasonably sharp photos that you can recover in your editing software.
If you apply all of these tips, you’ll achieve better Moon photography and be equipped to photograph the Moon at the best time.
In summary, photographing the Moon is one of the most enjoyable subjects any photographer can learn. To achieve better photos of the different phases and types of the Moon, be sure to use a tripod. Also, consider a remote cable release, choose a wide-angle or telephoto lens, get your settings right, and focus your camera on the Moon manually.
Do you have any other tips for better Moon photography? Alternatively, share your pictures of the Earth’s natural satellite or the Moon shining brightly over your chosen scene with us below.