Photographing The Moon

Here are a few tips on photographing the moon with long lenses.

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It might be rather big and on most nights very bright but it can be tricky trying to get a shot of the moon without it looking like an overexposed dot in the sky. But if we have clear skies, good weather and you get the technique right, a few hours outside can result in an excellent collection of moon imagery.

Photographing The Moon: Moon Photography
Photo by Pete Bargh.

You'll need a long focal length and anything above the 300mm mark is a good starting point. There are plenty of zoom lenses in the Tamron range which cover the 300mm focal length and beyond, including the SP AF 200-500mm F/5-6,3 Di LD [IF] ultra-telephoto lens and the SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 VC USD G2. Teleconverters can be handy for getting you that extra bit of reach while a tripod is an essential piece of kit when playing with these sorts of focal lengths. Use a remote or cable release if you have one or make use of your camera's self-timer when firing the shutter if you don't have one to minimise shake and remember to wrap up warm! 

There are a few things that make moon photography a little difficult the first of which is metering. As all the camera sees is a blanket of blackness the moon can end up looking like bright light bulb shining out of the sky. To combat this, work manually, taking your exposure reading from the moon. You could also try to underexpose a couple of shots and pull back the detail using curves and other processes when you get back in front of your computer. Auto focus sometimes struggles with this subject so turn it off, focusing manually or, if you can, use infinity.

When it comes to picking an aperture you'll probably start out believing you need to use a low f-stop but this will just leave the moon looking over exposed as it's a lot brighter than you first think so start with f/11 or f/16 and go from there. For this reason, you won't need too longer shutter speeds either and as the moon moves across the sky quite quickly, slower shutter speeds could blur the movement, losing some detail in the process. 1/125sec is a good place to start but this is just a rule of thumb and can be tinkered with. Of course, if you want to include some foreground detail such as a silhouetted tree or building your exposure will have to be slightly longer.

If you can, try to get away from towns as light pollution and dust will stop you getting detailed shots of the moon. A clear sky will also help and for interesting lighting effects, try taking some photos earlier in the evening when there's still a touch of deep blue in the sky. Take several shots as the moon moves across the sky too as it will appear bigger closer to the horizon while shots of it higher into the sky with stars dancing around it will have a totally different feel all together.

Full moon shots are perfectly good but for added drama wait until there's half or less of the moon visible. On these days the shadows and partially lit face give the moon's surface a more three-dimensional feel. Giving you more detailed shots of the craters that are dotted along the moon's surface.

You can find moon rise times online to help you plan your shoots.

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