Question of the night

Reader BKKPhotographer asked:

We’re having some lovely clear nights in Bangkok now it is the cool season. The moon often looks great but I have had limited success photographing it. Do you have any tips for good lunar photography?

The moon is remarkably bright, but it is in a remarkable dark background. So it is hard to photograph.

I would start here:

  • Shoot RAW.
  • Use the longest lens you have. This makes the moon look larger in relation to items on the horizon, like trees and builings.
  • Use the steadiest tripod you can find.
  • Focus manually – or autofocus, then switch to manual and leave it there (“infinity”)
  • Spot meter off the moon, and then vary from there – a stop should do it.
  • Try low ISO: the moon is bright so you will not need very long exposures.
  • Shoot all phases, not just full moon
  • Use a wire release, or the 2s self timer.

Here’s some exposure settings to start with:

  • 100 ISO
  • F/11
  • 1/125 – 1/250

You see, it’s really very bright, the moon.

Try that!

19 thoughts on “Question of the night

  1. Very good – very well done (and as you see your settings do not differ from mine much at all).

    VR made a difference I am sure.

    Oh and I forgot to mention to all: shoot a lot – only one sharp one is needed 🙂

    • And shooting in RAW allowed me to reset the white balance from my “halloween” setting I had left the camera on!

      BTW, I wanted to say thanks for the little lessons you are providing. These really are useful to me.

  2. Pingback: Moon Shots « Bkkphotographer's Blog

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  5. Pingback: Moon Shots « Bkkphotographer's Blog

    • Are you focusing at infinity? You might find that you’ll get sharper moon shots if you focus at slightly less than infinity, due to how the atmosphere curves the light (it helps to think of the atmosphere as an additional lens element that we all view the moon and stars through). Does the 30D have live view (at 10x) or at least depth of field preview?

      It also helps to get out of town and away from smog, light pollution, etc. Also, the higher in the sky you can shoot, the less particulate matter you’ll have inadvertently filtering your shot. That’s OK if you are looking for that certain “glow”, but it affects your ability to get that tack sharp moon shot like the one that Yannick linked to.

  6. I take two types of moon shots.

    For shots of the moon by itself, I agree with all Michael’s excellent advice above. One thing I’ve noticed is that, not only does the full moon reflect an enormous amount of light, it also makes the images look flat. Slightly waxing or waning by a few days from the full moon helps to highlight the relief of the surface (though not everyone likes shots of a less-than-full moon).

    For shots of the moon in the background of a landscape, I’ve always made a chart of the dates for the moon phases correlated with the moonrise/moonset and sunrise/sunset times for the location in question. Then I try to take the shot of a moonrise just after sunrise or just before sunset, when the dynamic range isn’t as off-the-charts as it is at night. Note that moonrise/moonset varies daily based on a number of factors including latitude; you can calculate this or just look it up for your location here: I actually calculate the moonrise for trips to the Sierra Nevada’s including one this spring, weather willing.

    Lately I’ve taken to bracketing these shots and stealing some techniques from the HDR crown to layer better exposures between the landscape and the moon. Note: these aren’t the garish ethereal shots you’ve probably seen on HDR sites, this is only used to punch up the landscape just a touch. Also, as for panos, bracketed landscapes deserve the time and effort to shoot the actual shot in manual — including turning off auto ISO.

  7. John B is absolutely right. Indeed moon+environment calls for different technique than just moon, and indeed. slightly off full is better since you see features – that’s why women like to be lit from directly in front. 🙂

  8. Heard of that “Sunny 16” rule?

    On a bright sunny day, a good exposure can be obtained at f/16 if your shutter speed matches your ISO (i.e. 1/100 sec at ISO100, 1/200 at ISO200, etc.). Then play with equivalent exposures.

    But the moon only appears at night you want to say?

    But what is lighting the moon?

    There you go.

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