Moon photography tips, from me to you.

posted: 3875 days ago, on Sunday, 2007 Feb 11 at 18:43
tags: astronomy, Moon, outreach, astrophotography, Carol Botha.

by Carol Botha (www.carolbotha.co.za)

Carol, a member of OOG, enjoys hanging out in Greek restaurants when she isn't imaging the sky from Bellville, Cape Town.


"You" being somebody who finds page one of Digital Photography for Dummies cumbersome reading, and "me" being somebody who once took a beautiful shot of the Moon by accident and got it published in a magazine (thumbnail size and cropped to the rule of thirds to my dismay).

I know the first question will be, "How many pixels are we talking about?" I would have to find my camera manual to answer that one, so let's rather move on.

To photograph the Moon with a digital camera you will need the following: Moon, camera, tripod or beanbag/cushion, backup batteries and extra memory cards.

The Moon comes in different shapes and brightness, and sometimes you see it at night, and sometimes during the day. But it's usually the rising Full Moon that makes the likes of you and me grab our digital cameras.

It is useful if your camera has a M setting, for Moon. Well, actually the M is for "Manual" mode, which gives you some control over the amount of moonlight that will hit the heart (sensor) of your camera.

If your camera has no manual setting you will have to catch the Moon rising shortly after sunset. With my Fuji FinePix S5500 I switch to "Landscape" mode. "Auto" tends to overexpose the whole picture and the "Night Portrait" mode will change the Moon into a Sun. You will have to experiment to see what time of day and light conditions works best for you.

Most important is to stabilise your camera to prevent shake even if your camera comes with image stabiliser. Use the self-timer setting the one you use to photograph yourself!

If your camera has a M setting you are nearing professional status. My first camera had that option, but with an auto telephoto focus. However, I could adjust two values: Tv (shutter speed, time value) and Av (aperture value). Each step in the Av setting is called an F-stop. Some cameras have no M setting but offer an "aperture priority" mode, in which the camera automatically selects the shutter speed according to your choice of F-stop.

If you're still with me, good! Here is precisely how I went about shooting the Moon.

Using my Fuji FinePix, I got familiar with the Tv and Av controls, and set the exposure time to 1/60th of a second (some cameras display this value without the numerator, just showing "60"). Next I set the Av to f/5.6. Then I zoomed in on the Moon (with all of the promised 10x optical), set the time delay and took this shot:

For the next shot I set the shutter speed (Tv) faster and the aperture (Av) smaller: 1/125th at f/7.0.

The resulting photo is much darker. Why? A faster shutter speed lets in less light. A higher F-stop means a smaller aperture and obviously less light. This is not a printing error the bigger the Av (F-stop), the smaller the aperture.

As with most first-time digital camera users I progressed to a more serious camera even before I had learnt all the functions of the previous model. I can now attach different lenses (very very close to professional status) to my Canon EOS400D. For Moon photography I use a 70-300mm lens (it's the only telephoto lens I have right now).

Shooting in the dark has the disadvantage that manual focussing is a bit of a hit and miss affair only to be remedied by the acquisition of yet more serious equipment. I use a tripod and a remote control, instead of the self-timer.

During my last Moon session I got the best results with Tv = 1/80th, Av = f/14, with the lens at 300mm.

When I set the shutter speed slower in the next shot (1/40th, f/14) the Moon became overexposed:

If you set your shutter speed too slow the Moon will appear elongated (because of the Earth's rotation).

Start experimenting with Tv and Av and soon you will get the hang of it and the desired effect. If you're bored you can even read the rest of your instruction manual and once you've achieved some success maybe you will share some tips with me!

But for now, go M for Moon.

Related articles you may also enjoy:

Photographing the Full Moon with a Digital Camera: Using a compact digital camera to record the changing size of the Full Moon.

nothing more to see. please move along.