Photographing the Moon

The first ‘Supermoon’ of 2020 took place last night.

And we totally missed it!! Did you see it? Get any good images?

If you missed it too, no worries, last night was only the first of a slew of supermoons due this spring, the next being May 7th. Do you want to be ready to see and photograph the next one? We thought it’d be fun to present a short tutorial that’ll have you on your way to creating great moon images so that you’ll be prepared to shoot the next supermoon, or at any stage in the moon cycle, for that matter. 

But first things first. What the heck is a supermoon, anyway? Simply put, a supermoon happens when the moon’s orbit is closest to Earth at the same time that it is also full. This makes it brighter than a normal full moon. Last night’s moon, in fact, will be the brightest supermoon of the year as it passed by Earth, at its fullest, at a mere 221,855 miles away.

If you’d like to photograph the moon with success, it is important to keep in mind a few important details. None are too terribly difficult, yet they are all important steps for creating quality images of the moon. Today we’ll break these details down into three parts. Planning, Gear, and Settings. 

Let’s discuss each component. 

Planning
Planning is an essential component for all photography, so this should not be too surprising for anyone. 

When shooting the moon you’ll want to find a clear night so as to have optimal conditions. Check your favorite forecasting apps or websites and choose a night that is forecasted to be clear. Next, find out when the moon will rise and set. Using an app like PhotoPills will make this easy. If you have a moon cycle that you’d prefer to photograph, you will be able to find out when the moon will be at what stage through PhotoPills, as well. Correspond a moon cycle you want with a clear night and then head out at the right time of night and your planning is nearly finished. 

Where will you go, though? Location is important. You’ll want to select a spot with composition in mind unless your goal is to capture only the moon. You’ll also want your shooting location to be free of other light sources, so make sure you have a nice dark place free of any external lighting, like light poles, or buildings, etc.  

Gear
As with nearly all landscape and astrophotography, you’ll want to utilize a good sturdy tripod. Is it possible to handhold a moon shot? Sure. But why mess with losing stability if you can easily have a perfectly stable shot by using a tripod? The last thing we need is to be out all night only to come home to a less than sharp image. Use the tripod now, thank us later. 

You’ll need a camera that allows you to take complete control in ‘manual mode.’ This could be a DSLR, Mirrorless or even a bridge camera. As for lens selection, the longer the better but you’ll likely want something at least 200mm in length. 400mm would be optimal.

Be sure to have either a remote shutter release or your camera’s built-in self-timer (at 2 seconds or 5 seconds) so as to avoid any shake you’d cause from pressing the shutter. 

Settings
We are going to want to purposely underexpose our image of the moon in order to get maximum detail. You cannot achieve this in auto mode, so set your camera to Manual. While we’re at it, shoot in RAW, as well, so that you’ll have more ability to control things during post-processing. 

You likely will not have trouble achieving good focus on the moon (because it is so bright) using your camera’s autofocus, so go ahead and try that first. If your camera struggles to find focus, or if you prefer to manually focus, it is very simple to find focus manually. First, use your camera’s Live View. Use the Digital Zoom to get close up on the moon. Twist the focus on the lens until you find tack-sharp focus, and then zoom back out. 

And then its time for our settings: ISO, aperture and shutter speed. 

Let’s start with ISO 100, or whatever your camera’s lowest ISO setting might be. Most are 100. For aperture, begin at F/11. Again, in our quest for detail and sharpness, we want to control the amount of light we are letting in. Start with a shutter speed of  1/125th. It is difficult to provide a perfect shutter speed that will work in all conditions. The amount of light from the moon will change your shutter speed. Use 1/125th as a starting place. As always, once you have taken your photo, take a look at it. Zoom in. Check sharpness. Do you see the detail that you want to see? If not, make adjustments. If after shooting your moon looks too bright, or lacks detail, increase the shutter speed and shoot again. If your moon is too dark, slow your shutter speed to allow more light in. 

There you have it! Photographing the moon can be a lot of fun and we hope that you’ll get out and try these simple techniques to get you started. 

Kenton Krueger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kenton Krueger grew up and spent the first 33 years of his life in the corn country of Omaha, Nebraska. After studying aviation at the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Aviation Institute, he “conned” his way into the newsroom at the award-winning Omaha World-Herald where for 3+ years he wrote and photographed news articles on a variety of topics such as community events, travel and even mixed martial arts for the sports department. Yet something was missing. While on backpacking trips to Grand Teton and Grand Canyon National Parks in the mid-2000’s he was quick to realize that the wildlands of the western United States stoked a fire in his heart as nothing else could. This realization led to relocation to Flagstaff, Arizona, and he hasn’t looked back. He has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone National Parks as well as in the Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, newspaper photographer, and writer. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.