Daily Archives: March 12, 2011

The Night Sky: The Moon

Ever tried to take photos of the moon over a skyline only to have it not turn out? Or any moon photos just end up being a bright orb in the sky with no detail? Yeah, me too. The question remains: how do you expose the moon properly? You’d think that like other night photography situations you’d be using a longer shutter speed with a low ISO, but that’s incorrect.

As most of you know, the moon is incredibly bright but its brightness depends on what phase it’s in. Therefore, it makes sense that you’d have a shorter shutter speed for the full moon as compared to when it is a sliver. So how exactly do you know which settings to use? I don’t know any rules, but there are exposure tables that can tell you. I’ll also tell you what settings I used or recommended to me so you can experiment from there. I’m not promising that these settings will give you the best exposure as that depends on personal preference, but it gives you a good starting point. 🙂

Note: All of these settings assume an ISO 200. If you want to use ISO 100, go up one f-stop in either the shutter speed or aperture. (i.e. 1/125s to 1/60s or f/11 to f/8.)

Full Moon: 1/125s, f/11 (equivalent exposure: 1/30s, f/32)
Gibbous Moon: 1/125s, f/8 (equivalent exposure: 1/30s, f/22)
Crescent Moon: 1/125s, f/6.3 (equivalent exposure: 1/30s, f/16)
Sliver Moon: 1/125s, f/4 (equivalent exposure: 1/30s, f/8)

Now that we know approximate settings, how to actually take photos? If you are using a fast shutter speed, you could shoot it hand-held but I recommend using a tripod for the best results, especially if you’re doing multiple exposures. It’s best to shoot on a clear night as any clouds will make the moon have a fuzzy halo. As tempting as it is, try not to use auto focus as it won’t guarantee that the picture will be sharp.

I find taking photos of the not full moon to be more interesting as the shadows do a better job of accentuating the craters and mountains.

Settings used: Moon: 300mm lens, 1/125s, f/6.3, ISO 200; Skyline: 70mm lens,  30s, f/11, ISO 200.

If you want to have the moon in landscape photos, you can either do multiple exposures (newer cameras are capable of doing this) or photoshop the moon in. If you have multiple exposures on your camera, you have the capability of exposing both the moon and skyline appropriately as well as controlling the size and location of the moon in your shot. If you want it to look natural, make sure that the moon’s orientation remains the same and you don’t use a lens longer than 300mm. But if you want, don’t be afraid to play around – I’m not going to stop you. 🙂

What are your experiences photographing the moon?

If you have any moon photos, please leave a link in the comments as I would love to see them!

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