Shoot The Moon
By Justin Lewis
28 May 2009
I've only been shooting the moon for about a year. I've been lucky enough to key in on some sure fire ways to get that great capture. Part of it is in camera settings and the equipment you use. The other part is in the conditions of the weather.
I use a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi. With that I always use a 300mm lens when shooting the moon for any close-up type pictures, but you can just as easily use a smaller 55mm or whatever you have.
The thing about moon shots is that the moon and the Earth are always moving. When you shoot the moon you need to have a very fast camera. The XTi lets you shoot up to 1600 ISO speed. This is the setting I always use. It's the only way to get a good focused shot in the dark.
The camera I use also has several focus points which I can see in the view finder. I can place any one of these points over the moon to focus on it. If I'm having a problem with focusing using all the focal points, I set the camera to only use one of them. Once this is done I can place the moon anywhere (using any of the focus points), so I don't need to set the moon in the center of the picture.
If you have to set the moon in the center but want to have it off center later, just crop the photo so that the moon is off to where you want it.
I make sure to use a tripod because without it, the moon moving, the Earth moving, and your hands and body moving won't make for a good shot. I also use the timer setting on the camera so I'm not touching anything when a shot is taken. I suppose if you had a remote this would work too.
With the 300mm lens on the camera, the camera set to 1600 ISO speed, set on a tripod and in timer mode I take my shot.
There is one other thing about camera settings. I usually go with aperture focus, but I've used the other settings on the camera including Full Auto. I just feel that I get the best shots on AV rather than TV, A-Dep, M, or any of the auto settings like Landscape. The best thing to do here is just experiment. You've got HOURS of moon time usually, so don't get stuck just using one group of settings.
As for the other side of this, the conditions you're shooting in...
Most times I shoot late at night between 9PM and 2AM. I like the dark and the more dark the better in most cases. I've shot in early twilight before but the results were not as cool, though they were really nice shots. I try to avoid places where there is any light sources like street lamps, or even being away from the city where there is too much light to really see the sky well.
I try to make sure that it's cool out if not cold. The colder the air the better it is to get a clean shot. The hotter it is it's more likely that you'll have to shoot through some humidity. But if it's hot, then at least try to make it a night when it's very dry out.
It doesn't matter if it's cloudy or not. If you can see the moon, then that's when you shoot.
I think while these other suggestions might be good the real key to shooting the moon is to shoot it when it's not 100% lit up. The light reflecting off the moon even in a sliver is enough to light up the entire surface when it comes to the camera. I usually focus on the lit part and then find that I've captured the entire surface of the moon while the lit part is a bit blown out or glowing.
In some shots you can see it looks like the moon is sitting in an egg shell.
I've taken shots in cloudy weather which have rendered great results as well. Sometimes the clouds give a very spooky feeling like from the old Wolfman movies or something. Other times the clouds can give the moon and mystic feel to it.
The only time I've had trouble shooting while cloudy was after some rainy humid weather where it was hot and just hazy. I couldn't get the camera to focus on the moon correctly, I couldn't get the camera to shoot fast enough. I tried several variations on my settings and just came up with hazy out of focus shots.
I'm sure with better lenses or better cameras that you could create better shots of the moon than myself. It's not that difficult though to even get good shots with a camera that is less advanced than even the Rebel.
I have a Pentax Optio 7megapixel digital camera and I've taken shots of the moon with this as well. While it doesn't have the range of the 300mm lens, I can still come away with some nice skyline shots including the moon. With this kind of camera, the thing would be that you need a much brighter moon lit night to get a good shot. Otherwise it might be difficult to get it to show up since the light source is so far away (the moon).
There are ways around this such as picking a super dark place to take the shots (like where there are no lights at all ie. the mountains).
The point is that it doesn't take a super advanced camera or lens to get great shots of the moon or with the moon in them. I'd love to get out to a beach to shoot the moon over the water at some point. I'd also like to try other locations like mountains or desert even.
It's fun to test out what settings work and which ones don't. I think in the right situation you could get almost anything to pick up some great stuff. Just make sure you pay attention to how sensitive the camera is to light.
Some post processing tips...
Since there's always motion on the Earth and the moon moving about in the sky there is a great chance that your shots will come out blurry a bit. You can fix this slightly by editing the photo the right way.
You don't have to do anything major, it's a matter of increasing pixels while shrinking the photo. This is something I've done for a lot of photos to just sharpen them up a bit and it works every time.
If you have Photoshop or Gimpshop (the free open source version of a Photoshop like software) you can open up the resize options of the picture. In the size options you should see a box that says 72 which is the pixels per inch in the picture. Change that number to 200 while resizing your photo to something smaller (going from 800X600 to 700X500 or whatever size you want from whatever size you have, just be sure to go bigger to smaller).
Once you have that, you can also select what kind of translation you are working with (at least in Photoshop you can). I always select BICUBIC SHARPER. Once you do this you can come away with something that appears to be more clear than it really is.
You can use the BICUBIC SMOOTHER if you've got a lot of noise or an overly sharp photo to begin with, but the smoother part is that it dulls the sharpness of the photo. While this can be useful in some cases, mostly you'll want to SHARPEN.
All this stuff put forth here is from my own limited experience on these tools, these situations, conditions, and programs. There may be better ways, there may be more than the ways I've placed here. I'd encourage people to at least try it this way, try these techniques, and experiment. See what you come up with, look up other techniques and try those.
I hope this has at least been an interesting read and given you something to think about.