Photographing the moon is a bit of a challenge. With all the phases and opportunities available it can be a daunting task to break it all down. Kirk Keyes joins me in breaking it all down. This is the Great Outdoors Photography Podcast, episode 157 for Sunday February 5, 2023.
- Why I like photographing the Moon.
- You can shoot the Moon nearly any day of the month…
- Cameras – want a camera with manual settings and interchangeable lenses.
- Most any camera from the last 5 or even 10 years will work.
- Lenses – Any lens will do.
- The focal length choice determines how large the Moon will appear in the final image.
- Unlike MW photography, Fast lenses are not needed.
- Super telephotos can give awesome results.
- Teleconverters – extend the view of your lenses. But sometimes not as sharp
- Tripods – Sturdy!!! Especially for long lenses.
- Tripod Head – 3 Way or Tilt/Pan heads are the best choices.
- Ball heads are often too wobbly and finicky to get set up, especially for long lenses.
- Cable Release / Intervalometer – great with shorter lenses, indispensable with long lenses.
- Filters – Polarizers – add saturation to sky at the right times – quarter Moons.
- Lens Hoods/ Dew Heaters – useful when shooting into the night.
- Star Tracker – super helpful for long lenses, especially when zoomed way in on the Moon.
- Help Maintain your Framing.
Basic Camera Settings –
- RAW – Probably the Most Important setting of all!
- Manual Exposure Mode –
- The Meter can be fooled by bright Moon surrounded by a dark foreground/background.
- Auto Focus – Generally OFF
- But may use it on some occasions.
- Live View – helps preview your exposures.
- Live View Settings Effects – ON
- Blinkies/Zebras – Warns of overexposure.
Basics of Exposure –
- The one that achieves the desired effect of your photographic intent.
Several concepts that can help us make better images – for all our photography.
Dynamic Range –
- How much exposure your camera sensor (or film) can handle and still record useful detail.
Digital Camera Exposure –
- Only two exposure settings determine how much light is captured for exposure –
- shutter speed and aperture.
- ISO is internal to the camera – think of it as a “gain” or Volume setting.
Scene Luminance – may be determined by the landscape, the Moon, or both combined.
- Generally want to match the camera exposure to the scene luminance.
- But – Shortly after sunset – the Moon can be much brighter than the landscape. Creates a large luminance range – high contrast situation.
- Art – so we may make adjustments that are not literal representations of the scene in front of us.
Exposure Latitude –
- Related to dynamic range, but it’s the amount a sensor can be over or underexposed and still yield and acceptable image.
- Most sensors can’t handle too much overexposure, but some sensors, like ISO-invariant ones, can handle some under exposure – up to several stops.
- Be more than familiar with it – Know it – know it intuitively.
- Use it to visualize the relationship between changing shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.
- Program vs Shutter Speed vs Aperture vs Manual
- Want to use Manual, generally.
- There are times when Shutter and Aperture are good choices
- Like for controlling Motion when hand holding
- Need to Maintain Depth of Field in changing light. – think timelapses
- Determine Exposure Settings –
- Since the Moon is always moving, I take the following approach:
- Shutter Speed – Determine this first, as I use it to control the sharpness of the Moon.
- Aperture – Control the Depth of Field
- ISO – I use it to set the overall exposure of the image.
Determining Shutter Speeds –
- Generally, we want sharp images of the Moon.
- Use shutter speed to control the Moon’s motion.
- Longer focal-length lenses require shorter exposure times than shorter lenses.
- How to Calculate Shutter Speeds –
- 500 Rule –
- Antiquated, designed for photographing stars on film.
- Exposure time in seconds = 500/focal length.
- 500 rule variations
- For sharper images and crop factors.
- 600, 400, 300 250 Rule
- Designed for photographing the Moon with a telephoto lens.
- Exposure time in seconds = 4/focal length.
- Much shorter than the 500 rule,
- But may give shorter times than truly needed.
- For sharp stars –
- Complicated to calculate,
- Use an app like PhotoPills Sharp Stars pill.
- Calculates overall exposure for the Moon for detail on the Moon’s surface.
- Shutter Speed, in seconds, equals the ratio of 1/ISO at f/11.
- Set your ISO
- Set the Aperture to f/11
- Shutter Speed is 1/ISO
- So at ISO 100, you’d use f/11 and 1/100th second.
- Little detail is visible on the Moon.
- Since there is little detail, longer shutter speeds can be used
- Up to 30 seconds or longer
- Longer exposures can be used for special effects – Moon Trails
- Use Bulb setting or external timer for longer exposures.
- Not as much detail is visible with a normal/short telephoto.
- Shutter speed doesn’t need to be as short as for telephotos.
- No longer than around one second generally.
- Lots of detail visible on the Moon
- Longer Lenses need shorter shutter speeds to capture this detail
- Often around 1/100th of a second
The Motion of the Moon –
- 29.5 days to orbit the Earth.
- The Moon moves eastward almost 15 degrees across the sky each day,
- Rises about 50 minutes later each day,
- And at mid-latitudes – it sets just over 12 hours after it rises.
- As the Moon orbits the Earth – the phases change
- New to Crescent,
- and back to New.
- Waxing – as it goes from New to Full
- meaning it increases in size.
- Waning – as it goes from Full to New,
- meaning it decreases in size.
- It takes about a week for the Moon to move from New to Waxing Quarter,
- one week from Quarter to Full,
- one week from Full to Waning Quarter,
- and another week back to New.
- Moon follows a path that is tied to the Sun.
- Imagine a stick that runs from the Moon, through the Earth, and then out to the Sun.
- When the Moon is New, it’s near the sun’s position in the sky, and it’s usually within 5 degrees away.
- The Full Moon will always be in the opposite part of the sky from where the Sun is setting.
In the Northern hemisphere
- During Winter,
- the Sun sets in the SW, the Crescent Moon will also be in the SW,
- Full Moon will rise in the NE.
- Spring and Fall,
- the Sun sets in the West and rises in the East.
- The Crescent Moon and Full Moon will follow that pattern as well.
- In the Summer,
- the Sun sets in the NW, so Crescent Moons will be near the Sun in the NW.
- Full Moons rise in the SE.
- For the southern hemisphere,
- swap all the norths with souths and souths with norths.
- East and West are still the same.
- After you get used to these concepts, you’ll be able to roughly predict where and when the Moon rise, and sets will occur and in which direction.
- This is especially true if you see the Moon the day before, you should be able to determine where the Moon will generally be the next day or so.
- And of course, there are apps for that!
- PlanIt Pro for Photographers, PhotoPills, and Photographers Ephemeris
Best Times to Shoot –
- Capture them within a few days after New and a few days after Last Quarter (that is before the New Moon)
- After New Moon – thin crescents set between one to two hours after sunset.
- Before New Moon, they rise within an hour or two before sunrise.
- Look for Earthshine. It’s light reflecting off Earth and onto the shade side of the Moon.
- Don’t sweat overexposing the sunlit part. Go for detail in the shadow part of the Moon.
- Age of the Moon – measured in hours. Takes about 20-24 hours old until visible.
- Record for naked eye is 15h 32m,
- Binoculars 11h 40m at 7.5 degrees from the sun.
- Telescope record – 4.4 degrees.
- Winter and Spring for the northern hemisphere is best time to spot young crescents after the new moon (in the evening) – due to the angle of Earth’s orbit.
- Summer and Fall for before New Moon (in mornings).
- Waxing – Rise about Noon and set around Midnight.
- Waning – Rise around Midnight and set at Noon.
- Often not impressive as they rise during the day
- Washed out by sunlight and atmospheric haze,
- but they can look awesome as they set.
- Rise near sunset
- Set near sunrise.
- They are low in contrast and look somewhat flat.
- They can often look better when photographed one, or even two days, before they are Full.
- The exact time a Moon is Full can vary throughout the day. You look on a calendar and it says today is the Full Moon, well it could have happened at 12:01 AM or 11:59 PM.
- So when trying to shoot the full Moon – you might want to check and determine if one or maybe two days before are going to be better.
- Ideally, check an planning app and see what time the Moon rise is relative to the Sunset
- Look for times when the Moon rises sometime just before or just after sunset.
- Too early before, and the Moon gets washed out in the atmospheric haze
- I like it best when the Moon rises with the Belt of Venus – the purple-pink color in the sky that appears a few minutes after sunset.
- The day after full then can be too bright against the dark landscape.
- Only about 7% larger than an average Full Moon.
- There are also “micro” Moons that are about 7% smaller than average,
- Micromoon is about 14% less than a Super Moon.
- It’s nothing you’d really notice if someone hadn’t told you it was a super Moon….
- But there is a 30% difference in brightness between the super and micro moon.
- But it’s not enough to cause one to change exposure settings.
- Optical illusion.
- Actually the same size
- Moon Illusion if you want to investigate that fascinating effect!
- or Rule of 4th to get less landscape and more sky.
- Invite Brent talk more about this!
Tips for shooting
- Stable Tripod –
- Solid ground,
- Tripod spikes,
- Don’t stand near tripod feet when shooting on some soils
- Weight your Tripod – rock bag
- Weight your Camera –
- I use two 2.5 lb ankle weights around my 200-600mm lens to add mass to it.
- Lens support – Use a lens bracket
- One kind connect to camera and then supports the end of the lens
- Another connects between camera body and lens foot
- Remote release
- Daylight hours – use an exposure suitable for the scene.
- You’ll typically capture detail on the Moon;s surface with longer lenses during the daytime and into the blue hour with this approach.
- use your camera meter and histogram.
- If after sunset –
- use histogram and blinkies.
- Make sure Moon doesn’t get too bright.
- Underexpose if needed – know your camera’s dynamic range
- My Sony can handle about one stop of overexposure for when the Moon has activated the blinkies
- But it can recover about 3 stops of underexposure in the shadows without too much issues.
- More than about 30 minutes after sunset –
- The Moon will overpower the landscape with natural lighting
- Either shoot for the Moon and let the land fall where it may
- Composite/HDR – but be careful – easy to look fake.
- Solitary Moon in the sky – higher than 15 or 20 degrees.
- Start with Looney 11 Rule –
- It generally gets you close
- You can still make adjustments from the Looney 11 setting as needed
- Check your histogram, and don’t trust your LCD.
- Look closely at the histogram –
- If the Moon is small, it may be a blip on the histogram compared to all the black sky.
- Moon is about 4-5 stops dimmer when low on the horizon.
- It increases in brightness as it climbs over the next hour or so.
- Smoke, Haze, Humidity all decrease the brightness of the Moon.
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- Expanded thoughts on a topic covered in recent Podcast episodes.
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Today's Dose of Inspiration
God made two great lights–the larger one to govern the day, and the smaller one to govern the night. He also made the stars.
—Genesis 1:16, NLT
Moonlight drowns out all but the brightest stars.
—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings