The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon

The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon

The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon

The Super Blood moon drew plenty of interest from the photographers worldwide. It was an once-in-a-lifetime event, and this 31st January was that night where photographers were on the terraces or traveling to get their perfect shots. Not everyone gets the perfect shots, especially without the proper planning, preparation, and knowledge. This article will take us through the basic question ‘how to photograph the moon’.

The importance of moon photography lies in the fact that it is a beginner’s guide to more complex, and captivating astrophotography, and don’t require as much equipment and expertise as star trails or Milky Way photography. The fact that you can see the moon with bare eyes easily, and in most parts of the world is a blessing in itself. You can see stars at some places, but can’t see star trails. And you can see Milky Way at some places but it’s not really easy to see. Both of these are also a pain to be able to focus – which works so smoothly with the moon.

Setting the Mood – Requirements and Preparations

Getting the perfect moon shoot does require basic equipment and some preparations. The most important part of moon photography is the planning. Websites and apps like The Photographer’s Ephemeresis help you know the moon rise and moon set times and directions. The apps actually help you locate the position so that you can know what kind of compositions will work. Also, you can pre-visit the location to understand the area. If you are good at directions and know the place well, then you can even plan the best location based on the directions and timings.

The other requirement, apart from knowing the perfect location, is to be able to time it perfectly. Timing moon photography is important based on the type of composition you require. Generally speaking, the later you shoot, the darker the sky and hence clearer the moon. Also important to notice is the weather updates. Unless you want a cloudy feel to your moon photography, you will want to be sure the skies are clear.

From the equipment point of view – there’s a requirement of a high focal length lens, depending on the distance of the moon as well as the requirement of the composition. A basic cheap 70-300 is good enough to get some quality moon photography pictures, but it is the superzoom detailed pictures that require higher zoom. Also, it is about the distance of the moon from the earth. Moon rotates around earth in an elliptical orbit. So the distance varies and isn’t always the same.

Some of the lenses and their price range that can be used for moon photography (prices are just an indication and may not be same in your place/area):

Brand Focal Length Price
Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary $699
Canon 70-200mm f4 USM $649
Canon EF 55-250 (APS-C sensor) f4-5.6 IS II $141
Nikon 200-500mm f5.6E ED VR $1396
Sigma 70-300mm f4-5.6 DG Macro $169
Tamron 70-300mm f4-5.6 Di LD Macro $126
Sigma 150-600 f5-6.3 Contemporary DG $989
Canon 400mm f5.6 $1249
Nikon 300mm f4 $1999

 

A quality tripod is essential as the exposure times will be fast, but not fast enough. Avoiding blurry images is key, and with tripod, you can carry out tack sharp pictures quite easily. Another important requirement for photographers who are traveling to colder or warmer locations is a cleaning cloth. Condensation can occur when we move our equipment from controlled or non-extreme temperatures to extreme ones.

The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon

The first basic step is to not shoot immediately but let the equipment get used to the change in temperature. These days, cameras and lens built are sturdy, and hence some caution can help prevent our important equipment. Even in case condensation shows, clean lens wiping cloth are handy in such situations. Condensation causes water droplets to form that aren’t dangerous unless they enter the lens or camera body.

The Common Camera Settings

There’s nothing really extra-ordinary about the settings for a moon picture. An aperture from the one stop closer to the least aperture to the highest aperture – all can provide you the sharp enough picture. The aperture will actually depend on the depth you require and the composition you are making. A close-up may not require as much smaller aperture as a wide shot with landscape. Even in a wide shot, you may not have a small aperture if you wish to keep the moon blurry for a painterly feel.

Settings for a nightscape with moon could be f11, SS 30 seconds, ISO 100 (as a starting point). The same, for the shot to have a softer dreamy feel, could be f2, SS 5 seconds, ISO 100 (as a starting point).
For a moon close-up shot, ideal starting settings could be f8, SS 1/50, ISO 1600, or f8, SS 1 seconds, ISO 100. We usually select aperture first, and then ISO as 100 if we want a low ISO, or shutter speed if we are more concerned about a faster shutter speed.

Making the Shot – The Various Compositions

After you have made sure of the equipment, the location, and the time and direction, it is time to finally make a picture of moon. There are various ways of going about it. We will go from what most of the people want, to how to get creative.

Shooting Moon with Details – A Full Close-up

A close-up of the moon is what most photographers generally aspire, and want to get. It is not an easy thing, as it requires a really large focal length, a closer range moon, a high-megapixel camera, etc. Not all of the requirements are needed at the same time – but a couple of these would be great. In case you have a large focal length camera, all you need to do is fill the frame with the moon after giving a little breathing space, focusing on the craters, and shooting.

If you don’t have a large focal length camera, you can cover it up by shooting on months when the moon is closer to the earth in the lunar cycle. This way, you will be able to cut some extra focal length needed. Shooting with a high megapixel count camera can be another way of covering up because there is more leeway in cropping the image later.

Shooting a Close-up but with Some Composition

This is the range most photographers operate at, which involves some form of composition with a foreground object, while keeping the main subject fairly large and the craters still visible. Ideally, such pictures shouldn’t be cropped because they are likely to be enjoyed in larger version with all details intact.

Shooting a Painting or a Scenery Form of Moon Picture

Moon adds much to the general pictures if we plan and compose them in the way. One of the ways is by making the sky the part of your landscape or nightscape picture, and make it look attractive. It is important to maintain the hues of the picture. A picture shot in moonlight will have a shade of blue cast all over. It is the color temperature which you can fix either while shooting or in post. You can also neutralize it, but a bluish tint will add a natural tone to such pictures. Such pictures also take practice and artistic vision as you will end up with plenty of negative space unless you are shooting from a high vantage point in mountains.

Editing Moon Pictures

Now that you have captured the picture, it is time to take it to the next level by adding the final touches in post-processing. So let us open the image in Lightroom (or any other editing software of your choice) and follow the steps (you may choose to skip or re-order based on personal choices):

  • Adjust the WB to make it correct. If it is a close-up, a neutral White Balance with accurate details of the crater will be ideal. A temperature of 4500 is ideal for Moon pictures with zero tint.
The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon

The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon – White Balance

  • Crop the picture as per your requirement. It is based on two factors. Firstly, if it will be printed, and how large. For large prints, the cropping scope is minimal. Secondly, it is the personal creative preferences of the photographer.
The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon

The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon – Crop

  • Fix the basic exposure by adjusting exposure slider. In most cases, if you have made the exposure correctly in camera, this won’t be needed.
The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon

The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon – Exposure

  • Boost the whites very slightly to give the shine to moon without burning out any of the important details. (Between +5 to +20). Please note, boosting highlights will burn the image faster than boosting whites.
The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon

The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon – Whites

  • Boost clarity by about +20 to +30 points to improve the details.
The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon

The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon – Clarity

  • Reduce the saturation and vibrance to -100 to remove any color cast or difference. We did not touch tint because we can always fix moon images by making saturation and vibrance -100.
The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon

The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon – Saturation and Vibrance

  • A very slight contrast can be further added with tone curves without either burning out or darkening the details.
The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon

The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon – Tonal Curve

  • In Details tab, go to sharpening. Hit alt button and simultaneously drag masking slider up till you can only see edges and crates in white and rest in black. Release the alt and the mouse click. Now increase the sharpness slider. This will only affect the details portions, and won’t introduce artifacts due to sharpening.
The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon

The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon – Sharpening

  • If there’s any long exposure or high ISO noise, fix it with the Luminance Noise Reduction sliders below the Sharpening panel.
Placing Moon in a Picture it wasn’t Present

Another way of making a moon picture is by placing it in the picture it wasn’t originally there. Unless you mention it clearly that the picture is composite, and don’t enter to competitions the composites aren’t allowed – or where editing is limited, it is not ethical to make composites. Matte painting is an art where original elements are often mixed with painted elements where this form of work may find a good audience.

To do this, it is important to have a large moon picture. We open both the moon picture and the other picture in Photoshop (or any other similar layer-based photo editing software). First, we make a selection of the moon. We copy it and paste it as a new layer in the image where we have to add it. In the layer modes, we change the mode to lighten to remove any dark edges that may be visible. We transform the layer to make it fit to the composition.

Conclusion The Ultimate guide to taking the perfect picture of the moon

Moon photography is one of the best ways to getting used to the night sky. It is fairly easy, and only requires carefully planning and preparation. While the 31st January event won’t repeat, there are seldom events related to moon that can be photographed, and some of the most beautiful pictures have involved moon as a part of it.

Free photo of the moon 

 

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