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Moon Photography – Getting Great Moon Pictures

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These two moon images were both shot with 300mm zoom on a digital camera at 400ISO and F5.6 - The day image was at 1/3000 shutter speed and the night image was at 1/350 shutter speed.

© 2008 Liz Masoner licensed to About.com, Inc.
Moon photography is something almost everyone has tried at some point. Many times the result is a blurry image or a bright speck on the film. However, getting great moon pictures is simple once you know a few tricks to the subject. Many photographers already have the equipment to successfully take great moon photos. To reliably get good moon photographs you will need: a camera that lets you control shutter speed and aperture, and a zoom capability to about 300mm (this is 10x zoom on some point and shoot type cameras). That’s it, no tripods, no $5000 lenses, no super-human powers.

Exposure
The main problem most people have with moon photography is that they think of the moon as a “night subject”. Because of this they turn their cameras to the night preset or automatically start at a slow shutter speed to increase light. The moon, however, is so bright that the opposite is true. It is basically like taking a photo of an illuminated light bulb in a dark room. If you use the exposure reading your camera gives you with its built-in light meter, the image will be overexposed and a bright dot without any detail. To get a clear, detailed photograph of the moon you will need to underexpose the image by 1/2 stop to 1 stop. It is fine to use a small F-stop (large aperture) for this application as the distance between us and the moon increases the effective depth of field considerably.

Shutter Speed
The moon moves. Because the moon rotates around the Earth as the Earth itself is moving, slow shutter speeds will cause blur on your moon photographs. Use the highest possible shutter speed with a relatively small F-Stop to get a good exposure (in this case slightly underexposed) image. With the desired slight underexposure, you should be able to get a fast enough shutter speed to hand-hold your camera. With a 300mm zoom you will need a shutter speed of at least 1/350 for a clear image.

When to Shoot
Contrary to what you may expect, nighttime is not always the best time to shoot the moon. Just after sunset and just before sunrise often yield the best moon images. Look for a time of day when the sky still has just a hint of blue to it and you can see where you are walking without a flashlight. Because of the timing of the moon cycle, there will be several days each month when the moon rises or sets before dark night. Also, because of atmospheric conditions, the moon appears largest just after rising. The first 30 minutes after moonrise is the best time to get close-up images of the moon as it appear much larger in the sky than later in its arc.

See below for our advanced moon photography lessons
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