How to photograph the Moon

Moon Photography

It was a full moon night. Sky was clear. A friend, a photography enthusiast, called me and shared his challenge, “Dude, I’m struggling to photograph the moon. I’m in my balcony and can see the Moon in full view but not sure about the camera setting and I get either very dark picture or blur moon surface or over exposed moon. What’s wrong — is it my lens or setting which is causing the trouble?”

I too had a failed attempt of photographing the moon couple of months before the friend called. Not sure whether the weather was hazy or some problem with the settings I did in the camera, but this time I thought I’ll get it right. So, I asked him to wait till I get a perfect Moon shot.

I pulled my gear out, mounted the 70-200 mm telephoto lens, did an approximate camera setting, and shot the moon. This time, I was amazed to see a sharp Moon’s picture in LCD display. I took 5-6 more pictures by tweaking the settings to ensure what I saw in LCD is not deceiving. And, when I see it on Laptop, or relatively larger screens, I should see the same sharpness and size of the moon as LCD display of my DSLR was showing.

After 10-15 minutes of my experiments and satisfaction with the photo. I called my friend and shared how to photograph the moon.

Excited, I shared my first moon photograph on my various WhatsApp groups related to photography, social, and professional friends. Apart from comments like, nice click, awesome, great shot, etc, I received some overwhelming specific responses:

“If you’ve taken this picture, take bow!”

“Looks like the Moon’s photo is taken at NASA.”

“Wow! Which lens and camera did you use?”

“When I take Moon pictures, I only get blur surface. What’s the camera setting you used?”

“It’s very sharp. Can we take such pictures?”

“We can clearly see textures on the Moon’s surface.”

“Can I share it on my Instagram story?”

You can understand which comments are from social groups and which ones are from the photography groups.

In one of the photography enthusiasts’ group, a neighbor asked: How do we take the moon’s photograph? Is there a special camera or trick of taking such pictures?

I wrote step-by-step process of making a stunning Moon photograph — waiting for the right time, taking the gear out, getting a right telephoto lens, aperture/ISO/shutter speed setting, and, finally, editing the photo.

My friend whom I mentioned in the beginning of the post, did he also get the sharp full Moon photo? Yeah, he did.

Alright, here you go with the crisp steps for making a Moon’s photo:

Grab a DSLR and a telephoto lens (200mm or higher). Set the camera on manual mode with below settings:

1. Aperture around f4, to get enough depth for a tack sharp photo.

2. Shutter speed around 160, if it is handheld, to prevent motion blur during handheld shoot. If it is tripod mounted, then shutter speed can go further down.

3. ISO around 200 to get enough exposure, because this is night photography and you’ve already optimized aperture and shutter speed.

4. Focus: single point focus, to keep sharp focus on the moon.

5. I always recommend editing to make the picture look like how the eye saw it. Cameras are mechanical, won’t deliver the exact image. So, you can adjust, sharpness, exposure etc in the post processing.

For better editing output — shoot in raw.

I took the photo handheld, with the above settings and adjusted contrast, highlights, shadows and noise in Lightroom.

If you still don’t get sharp Moon photo, primary reasons are:

1. Weather is not clear

2. Focus is not correct

3. Handheld grip is not firm

All the best photographing moon!

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