Most people have looked up into the night sky and become enchanted by the moons beauty and thought about taking a photograph. Unfortunately for most of us, what's ultimately captured doesn't reflect what we saw with our eyes. However, that can change with the right equipment and a bit of patience to get the right shot. Whether it is a lunar eclipse, a full moon or something in between, the sight is breathtaking when you get it right!
How to Take Photos with a DSLR Camera
Optical zoom capability or a 200mm+ lens with a tripod will take the best photograph. To clearly see the details of the surface of the moon, a telephoto lens is required. This should be longer than 200mm, and the longer lenses are the most effective. The focal length can be increased with a teleconverter, but this can decrease the quality of the image. A solid tripod is necessary because the longer the focal length, the shakier the camera. Most vibrations can be eliminated with a remote camera trigger and a Mirror Lock Up feature. However, the best possible combination to gear photograph the moon is a camera mount with an astro-telescope.
Recommended Canon DSLR Lenses
For those of you with Nikon, Olympus, Sony or other cameras, the important thing to remember here is that you want a lens with at least 200mm focal length, and as big (lowest f-stop number) of an aperture as possible. This will allow you to take in the maximum amount of light. However, the moon is generally a pretty bright object so aperature is not as big of an issue for moon photography as it will be for other astro-photography.
Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 - this is an ideal lens for moon photography if your budget is less than $1,000. It provides excellent image quality as well as long range and is good for birds and other objects during the day as well.
Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 - this is a good lens for shooting the moon that is affordable compared to some others, but still provides good image quality and excellent range so you can avoid switching lenses while traveling.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 - this lens is a considerable step up from the one above and is designed for use with full frame Canon cameras. However, at f/2.8 it is going to be a lot faster and able to create a much more detailed photo.
Recomended DSLR Remote Triggers
There are many options for remote triggers for DSLR cameras and one of the things I love about my Canon 80D is that it has a remote shutter functionality built right in, so I can use my phone without worrying about any other gear to bring with me on shoots. However, there are a variety of options if you don't have a camera with that functionality.
AmazonBasics Wireless Remote - this uses a basic IR remote to snap photos. It is a very basic piece of kit, but will be able to snap photos without worrying about touching the camera and is also available for Nikon cameras.
Neewer LCD Timer Shutter Release (wired) - this uses a wire connected to your camera to control various settings and also allows for bulb mode as well as functioning as an intervalometer for timelapase and other advanced photographic settings.
You can also use the poor man's remote and set the camera to a 2-second shutter delay to save money and space in your bag.
Recommended Tripods for Moon Photography
When looking for a tripod to take photos of the moon, there are three things that you'll need to take into consideration: weight, stability, and how much load can it hold. For instance, if you plan to hike out to a remote location to get the perfect shot without ambient light polution then you'll need something light. However, if you are more concerned with stability against being buffetted by the wind then you'll need something more substantial. Finally, if your photography plan includes mounting a large lens to your camera then you'll want to check the combined weight of camera and lens and invest in a more heavy duty tripod.
MeFoto BackPacker Air Tripod - This is my primary tripod since it folds up small enough to fit easily in my carry on bag or backpack. However, while it does have a hook to hang a weight from for additional stability, it is not ideal when windy. They do make other versions though that are more robust at the expense of being less travel friendly.
ZoMei Portable Tripod - This is my secondary tripod since it is still portable, but really only travel friendly in my checked bags. When I'm traveling on road trips though, this is my go to tripod since it is much more robust and easier to extend the legs and lock them into place.
How to Take Photos of the Moon with Your Mobile Phone and a Telescope
Of course, not everyone needs to take professional quality moon photos. Personally, I've found that most modern call phone cameras can take a great moon picture when lined up with the eye piece of a telescope. In fact, that's how the photo at the top of this article was taken during a trip to Joshua Tree National Park.
Recommended Telescopes for Moon Viewing
Almost any telescope is going to give you a good view of the moon, but you'll want to invest in one that also has a computerized system to move the telescope into position. While this isn't really needed for the moon - you will find it useful for viewing planets, stars, and galaxies.
Celestron NexStar 130 SLT Computerized Telescope - this is a good telescope with a 650mm focal length and a 130mm aperture that is compatible with 2" eyepieces and has a computerized "go to" system to easily identify star and planet locations.
Camera Phone Mounts for Telescopes
While I often times just hold my camera to the telescope eyepiece, there are mounts that make this a lot easier to do. These mounts will also hold things steady and allow you to share the output with others in your group vs only being able to see things one at a time.
Eyeskey Universal Spotting Scope Telescope Adapter - this mount is near universal for camera phones and mounts on the eyepiece so you can attach your phone to it.
Gosky Universal Phone Mount and Automatic Shutter - this telescope mount functions very similarly to the one above, but also includes a remote shutter so you don't risk bumping the image out of focus.
18x Zoom Mobile Telescope Camera Phone Lens Kit - This takes everything and wraps it up into one nice bundle (18x telescope, tripod, phone mount), though for the price, I suspect it won't be the best solution. However, it might be a fun piece to keep in your backpack.
Camera Settings for Moon Photography
The moon is the brightest object in the night sky, so you will not need a lot of special settings the way you would if you were shooting the milkyway or other objects. Often times, you'll be able to rely simply on the automatic setting of your camera, but here's some targets for those who want to tweak their cameras for the perfect settings to capture details in their moon photographs.
ISO - You'll want the lowest ISO setting possible since there's really no reason to boost it as there's plenty of sunlight reflected off the moon.
Aperture - You'll want to focus on the sweet spot for your lens to ensure the most crisp imagry. Since you'll be shooting on a tripod, you'll be able to adjust shutter speed to match the right aperture setting. However, we recomend that you try shooting between f/11-16.
Shutter Speed - This will need to be calibrated based on your lens, but generally 1/60th is a good starting spot for crisp clean photos. You might not realize it, but the moon is actually moving pretty fast through the night sky. This means that a fast shutter speed is needed to prevent motion blur.
Solutions to Common Problems With Moon Photography ...
How to Shoot the Moon Without Making it Look Tiny
The moon appears extremely tiny in comparison to the surrounding objects in most photographs. The trick is to stand much farther back from any large objects such as houses or large trees. It is important to remember a 50mm fixed lens sees images in a similar fashion as the human eye. This is called moon illusion because the human eye sees the moon as much larger than it really is. This means the moon will appear smaller in photographs and must be balanced by the surrounding objects. To make the moon look big in comparison to terrestial objects, you'll need to plan your shot and find the right vantage point.
How to Prevent the Moon from Looking Like a White Blur
The reason the moon often photographs as a white blur is overexposure. The camera calculates the exposure using the objects around the moon, instead of the moon itself. This is because the size of the moon is insignificant to the camera in comparison with a house or a large tree. The same thing happens if a photograph is taken in a room with dim lighting, and only one small lamp. The light bulb will appear as the same white blur in the photograph as the moon. Although this is common at night, the light from the moon is similar to surrounding objects during daylight hours, and overexposure is eliminated. The photographic term is dynamic range. This means the human eye views surroundings normally because the range of light seen by the human eye is much broader than that of a camera.
Creating a Plan to Shoot Moon Photos
We often take the moon for granted, but the reality is that it moves around in the sky quite a bit. To help predict where it is in the sky and at what phase, I use a mobile app called PhotoPills to predict where the moon will be at any given time. It even has an Augmented Reality mode where you can see the moon position overlayed onto a real setting in your town or natural landmark. This makes it super easy to determine when the moon will rise above the middle of a canyon for instance.
The Best Time to Photograph the Moon
The best photographs are taken when the night is clear, cold, and there is no cloud cover. Even a few clouds or haze will prevent a clear photograph and atomospheric turbulance from heat in the air can also distort the image. Remote locations work well because light as well as chemical pollution can negatively impact the photograph too. Higher elevations decrease the distance between the moon and the camera and the phase of the moon plays an important role as well. Other than those factors, the rest is up to your particular composition plan.
How to Shoot a Solo Moon
A long telephoto lens is required to photograph only the moon. This is accomplished by magnifying the moon until it fills the image. Chances are the image will require cropping because the only way to achieve the desired magnification is with a telescope. The camera should have a telephoto lens, and be secured to a tripod. The camera is then pointed directly at the moon so the image can be photographed. The shutter speed must be faster than 1/100 of a second due to the speed of the moon.
How to Shoot the Moon with a Foreground Object
To shoot the moon with a foreground object, you'll need to be standing a long ways away from the object and use a long telephoto lens to fill the frame with both the object and the moon. Since you are needing to shoot with a relatively fast shutter speed, this will result in the foreground object being underexposed. To compensate for this, you will want to create a composite image where you shoot the moon with proper exposure settings and then shoot the foreground object then combine the two in Photoshop. That isn't extremely complicated but ultimately it is for another lesson.
Have Fun and Experiment, The Moon is A Very Patient Subject to Shoot!
The main reason photographers take images of the moon is because it makes a photograph more enigmatic and interesting. When the moon is used as an element of a photograph, the composition results can be outstanding. The important thing here is to take the time to relax and enjoy experimenting to find the perfect angle, settings, and composition. While it may be tempting to rush out and spend thousands of dollars on new gear - don't! Practice your skills first and then invest in your hobby. Like many aspects of photography, the time hunting for the perfect shot can be as much fun as the ultimate reward of a great moon photo. The options are varied and include everything from the crescent moon to the full moon. Photographing the moon is also beautiful, challenging, interesting, and can be a lot of fun.
Special thanks to photographer and allergist Dr. Summit Shah from Columbus, Ohio, and specializes in allergies in both adults and children. As Premier Allergy's primary allergist and President, he efficiently handles eczema cases, and helps his patients live much healthier lives. He has dedicated his practice to helping people in the Ohio community.