For ages, the moon has fascinated scientists and poets, artists and dreamers. You can safely add photographers to the long list of moon gazers.
Earth’s nearest space neighbor makes for extremely interesting photographs that can be accomplished with relative ease with even a modest point and shoot camera. For best results, you need manual control of your camera’s focus and exposure. You’ll also need a way to brace your camera for the long focal length and exposure time required.
How to photograph the moon
Capturing spectacular shots of the lunar disk with a point and shoot or consumer dSLR is very doable, but you’ll need some “manual” dexterity and some additional gear to help make it happen.
The moon at night
To get a great shot of the moon when the sky is black, set your camera’s ISO to its lowest setting, usually 64 or 100 and set your camera’s resolution (picture size) to its highest setting. Not all cameras can handle focusing automatically at night, so it’s best to manually focus the camera to infinity, if possible. Your camera’s manual will tell you if you have this option and if so, how to set it.
For maximum sharpness at full zoom, use the camera’s highest f-value. These range anywhere from f13 to f16 all the way up to f32 or more. At f13, your exposure will be around 1/30 of a second. At f32, you will need a half second exposure.
Long exposure times require the use of a tripod to avoid motion blurring. Buy the sturdiest tripod you can afford, but know that even inexpensive tripods can provide satisfactory results. To minimize camera shake, use a cable release, wireless remote release or your camera’s self timer to trip the shutter.
The moon at twilight
Capturing the moon is somewhat easier during the “blue hour” when the sky turns a deep indigo after sunset. You can use your camera’s automatic metering system, but you’ll need to set your exposure value to -1 or -2 depending on how long after sunset you are shooting.
Again, a higher f-setting will guarantee sharper photos but require longer exposure times, making the use of a tripod a must. Try to work a foreground element into your composition to give a sense of scale to your photo.
Shooting by moonlight only
For the intrepid photographer, try the challenge of shooting a landscape lit entirely by the light of the full moon. You’ll need a camera with a Bulb (or “B”) setting to achieve the long exposures needed (anywhere from two and a half to five minutes or more).
Use a low ISO setting to minimize digital noise in your image. If your camera has an anti-noise feature, use it!
Use a moderate f-setting (5.6 or 8 works well). Be prepared to go with manual focus and make sure your batteries are fully charged and/or you have fully charged extras along – long exposures are battery-eaters.
Related reading: More tips on photographing the moon