How to Photograph the Moon
Photos of the moon are beautiful if done well, but it can be very hard to get a picture of the moon that doesn’t look blurry! Once you're aware of what equipment you need, when to take the best photos, and how to set up your camera, you'll be able to get great shots of the moon. With a little photo-taking know-how, the moon might just become one of your favorite photo subjects.
Choosing the Right Equipment
Use a high-quality camera.A camera phone will not take good pictures of the moon--they will turn out blurry and distant. It’s best to use the highest-quality camera you can obtain. Lens quality is more important than camera quality, so many camera models will be suitable once the right lens is applied.
Choose a lens that is 200mm or higher.A high mm measurement on a lens means that the lens can zoom in at a greater distance. Get the highest mm lens you can. More than 300mm is the best, but you can also take good moon photos with a 200mm lens.
Use a tripod.Stability is very important when photographing the moon. Even the slightest jiggle can result in a blurry photo, so you will need a tripod. Pick a tripod with adjustable legs in case of uneven terrain.
Get a shutter release cable.Touching the camera to take a picture can wobble it and blur your picture. A shutter release cable allows you to take the shot without touching the camera again once it's set up. If you don't have a cable, use the shutter delay set to 3-10 seconds.
Picking a Time and Place
Choose your favorite moon phase.The moon can be photographed in any phase except the new moon, which is not visible to Earth. The first quarter, half, and third quarter phases provide high contrast that allows you to see the craters in greater detail, while the full moon is a dramatic choice for a skyscraper. What phase you choose is up to your personal preference, but it’s best to have a phase chosen before going out to photograph the moon.
Learn when the moon rises and sets.When the moon sets or rises, it is closer to the horizon, making it appear larger and closer. This makes it much easier to photograph! Check an almanac or a weather app for moon rising and setting times in your area.
Pick a clear night.Clouds, fog, and air pollution will blur your photographs. Check a weather app before leaving for your session and while photographing. A clear night with low smog content and no rain is best for moon photography.
Choose a location away from direct light sources.The moon appears bright because it reflects the light of the sun, and additional light from streetlights, homes, and cars can make the moon appear duller and blurrier in pictures. It is fine if there is light in the distance, but be sure that you are not photographing close to another light source.
Taking Your Pictures
Set up your camera.Set up your tripod on stable, level ground, and adjust the legs to keep your camera level with the horizon. Make sure your tripod is stable before mounting the camera and lenses. Remove the lens cap and turn your camera on. If you are using a shutter release cable, attach it now.
Focus your camera.Turn off your camera’s auto-focus feature first--auto-focus is not ideal for night photography and may not produce the best focus. Look through the camera view and manually adjust the focus until you can see crisp details of the moon’s surface. Each camera model has a different method for adjusting the focus, so be sure to consult your camera’s manual beforehand.
Choose a short shutter speed.Shutter speed is also referred to as “exposure time.” A shorter shutter speed exposes the camera to less light, which means that the details of the moon will be sharper and there will not be a halo of light surrounding it. Use the shortest shutter speed your camera has.
Use a timer or shutter release cable.When you take a photograph, the pressure of your hand on the camera can destabilize it, making your shots blurry. A shutter release cable allows you to stand away from the camera while taking the photo. If you don’t have a cable, use the camera’s shutter timer.
Take multiple shots.Once you have your camera set up and focused, take a series of shots of the moon. This will let you have a selection of photos to choose from. Try a few different shutter speeds and focuses to make sure you have the best possible shots!
QuestionCan I use 13 megapixel camera?Ryan DikostaCommunity AnswerYes, absolutely. Megapixels are not a major deciding factor for moon shots, though. It is the zoom capability that gives you fine details.Thanks!
QuestionCan I use my phone's camera?Ryan DikostaCommunity AnswerIt will be hard for your phone camera to focus that far; the picture will turn out to be blurry.Thanks!
QuestionWhat type of camera do I need?Top AnswererAny type of camera could work; the higher quality, the better. But as long as you can change the ISO and F stop, you should be able to get some decent pictures.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if I don't have a good camera, and I'm just using my phone? Are there any tips for a bad camera or phone?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou could try dimming the light and tapping the phone to focus the screen -- this usually helps. You can also buy phone lenses online.Thanks!
QuestionYou didn't mention anything about ISO or f/stop. Suggestions?Juliana DonnellyCommunity AnswerSet your ISO to 100 if you have a Canon DSLR; 200 if you have a Nikon DSLR (basically, whatever base ISO you have in your camera). For most other brands, the base ISO is also 100. If you have a point-and-shoot camera, see if you can find a menu setting to set your ISO to 100. Make sure “Auto ISO” is turned off. Set your aperture to f/11.Thanks!
- Play around with the manual settings. If you are zoomed in just on the moon (so it takes up lots of the shot), you'll need different settings then if you're doing a scenery picture with the moon in the distance. You'll be able to change the brightness (or darkness) of the moon and how much detail of the moon you see.
- Look for natural reference points to include in your photographs, like trees or the moon's reflection in water.
- During the editing process, you can make the night seem darker than it was in real life.
- The moon is often up during the day. Try a daytime moon photo!
- There aren't specific best times to photograph the moon, although the setting or rising moon is easiest for most cameras. Try experimenting with different times of night and different seasons!
- Make sure you don't use IS or VR on your digital lens or camera--they can cause your camera and lens to vibrate.
Things You'll Need
Camera, digital or otherwise
Appropriate lens, 200mm or larger
A shutter release cable
A sturdy tripod
Sources and Citations
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Video: 5 Tips For Photographing The Moon
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