When to shoot the moon
If you’re planning to shoot the moon, no matter what stage it’s in, you’ll want to start by knowing what time it’s expected to rise and plan your night accordingly. Capturing the moon when it’s close to the horizon makes it appear larger than when it’s high overhead. It’s also a great time to add some compositional elements in the shot.
Choose a clear night for a clean shot of the moon’s surface, or a night with a few clouds for some spooky ambiance. While planning a moonscape shot, try to find interesting foreground elements to add into your sweeping view.
To have the option of both a moonscape and a closeup, use a telephoto lens (at least 200mm) that allows you to capture both.
How to shoot a sharp image
Plan to use full manual mode (or at least aperture priority) on your DSLR camera since full auto has difficulty metering the moon correctly.
Next, plan on using a tripod or a rest to shoot the moon for the sharpest image. While dealing with low light settings, you’ll be hard pressed to capture a sharp image without it!
When taking a close-up of the moon, I always TRY using the auto-focus first to capture the sharpest image. But if the camera goes nuts trying to focus, I flip the lens to manual and set its focus to infinity.
Taking the shot
Starting out with the “Looney 11 Rule,” set your aperture to F/11, ISO to 100, and shutter at 1/100th of a second BEFORE you go outside. If you change the ISO setting later, the rule states the shutter speed should reciprocate. So if ISO is 200, shutter should be 1/200thof a second.
Remember to use the settings above as your baseline and play around from there. As far as I'm concerned, there are no set rules if you end up with cool pics! I’ve also discovered that these rules will be broken in certain weather conditions, so don't stress out if you have to use a faster shutter speed when it’s windy. That said, changing your shutter speed will affect all the other settings, so change them as you need to.
It was windy on the night I shot the February 2021 ‘Worm Moon,’ so I lowered the aperture to allow for the increase in shutter speed. As you can see, it's still a nice shot of the moon even if the face appears softer than the edges with the lower f-stop.
To capture a sharp image, take a deep breath and hold it before slowly pushing the shutter-release button. If your images show that you’re still a little heavy on the shutter-release, plan to use the timer feature in your DSLR next time, or invest in a cheap remote to avoid any excess camera shake.
Playing with the settings
Using a higher ISO setting can lighten the scene a lot! You can even create a moonscape that appears like high noon if you wish. Don’t think you have to stay within a rule box of must do’s to take a great moon picture. Play with the ISO (and other settings) to see what kind of creative images you can make.
Depending on the time of year you’ll want to dress accordingly, but even during the warmer seasons, a pair of thin gloves and a light hat may come in handy… as does a can of bug spray when the mosquitos are biting!
Keep a flashlight (or cell phone) in your pocket in case you need to see the buttons on your camera.
If it’s really cold outside, keep extra batteries warm by stashing them in a pocket close to your body. I've discovered that an outer coat pocket isn't enough to keep batteries from depleting in the cold. You might also bring a small blanket, or invest in a insulated coat for your camera so it doesn’t malfunction too soon on a frigid night.
Before coming in from the cold, stash your camera in a Ziploc bag or a camera bag to allow it time to warm up slowly. This helps keep the condensation off your equipment.
Now's your chance to get out there and practice so you’re ready for the the Pink Super Moon coming the end of this month.
Thanks for reading!
For more information about moon photograph, check out these References:
Panic, Mike, January 16, 2020, How To Photograph The Moon (With 10 Great Examples), https://www.lightstalking.com/how-to-photograph-the-moon/
Vorenkamp, Todd, 2017, 14 Tips for Shooting the Moon, https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/14-tips-for-shooting-the-moon
42 West, March 10, 2021, Lunar Photography: How to Photograph the Moon, https://www.adorama.com/alc/lunar-photography-how-to-photograph-the-moon/