Taking pictures of the moon can be very complicated. There are two obvious variables that can trick you to starting with the wrong camera settings; 1.) Dark doesn’t mean start with high H.0+ ISO or slow shutter speed 2.) The moon is bright, but don’t over compensate if you are catching clouds or an early evening sky.
Short Answer for Camera Settings
(At night, in the dark of night):
1. Start off at ISO 100,F11, and 1/250.
2. Use mirror lock-up
3. Use a shutter release cable or wireless trigger
4. Shutter speed will dictate detail, no detail, increase shutter speed
5. If you have a foreground object, such as clouds or otherwise – for best results, expose once for moon, then expose a second time for foreground object.
Exceptions to the rule:
1. The camera settings provided are general starting points, your camera and equipment can cause a variance in outcome. Play with settings from this starting point until you capture an image you like.
2. Mirror lock-up is very specific to shake/vibration that stems from the internal mechanisms within camera. This is intended for use while on tripod, in conditions warranting use. You can also use stabilization features of the lense or camera itself if mirror lock-up isn’t necessary.
3. Shutter speed would be the first suggestion for increase of speed, if you find minor overblown exposure or lack of detail.
Suggestions for best moon photographs and lunar photography in general
The best pictures of anything in the sky are typically done at dawn and at the twilight hour. These are the times when you will capture the most color in the sky. Pictures of the moon are usually best when there is something in the foreground, that is highlight by the moon being in the picture.
Step 1 – Know the Lunar phases, plan ahead
It is good to know each time of moon phase, when they occur, and from which view in your local area you can view the moon. I personally use: TimeandDate.com (visit) as a way to plan ahead. On their website you can input your area to get specific times. Additionally, plan whether you will be shooting at Twilight (Magic Hour) or at night. If you are using foreground objects Twilight will yield the most favorable results. During the twilight hour you will be able to capture the largest range of colors in the sky, and often times this helps with creating a nice tone with the contrast of the foreground silhouettes.
Step 2 -Equipment
4. release tethered or wireless
5. extension tubes
6. tele converter
Step 3 – Plan the Composition
1. What is your picture going to comprise of? Person, sky at twilight, horse, horse silhouette, cityscape, mountain range, trees?
2. Knowing what you will be placing in the composition is crucial for your preparation of the shot. If you are shooting a photo at Twilight, you will only have 10-20 minutes of shooting time, which leaves very little room for error or lack of preparation. If your composition is going to be a pitch black shot at night, or a dark night sky with clouds illuminated from a city… there are many possibilities, knowing what you want to achieve helps you prepare and achieve the best outcome.
Step 4 – Tips for the Pictures and Post-editing
1. Take at minimum 3 shots (bracketing) at set-, 1 stop minus, and 1 stop above.
2. Set focus early, turn off auto focus, take shots, change exposure (stops) lengths.
Choosing the correct moon photography settings is critical, and can be one of the hardest things to get right. Because of the variety of shooting conditions, there are no one-size-fits-all camera settings that work in all situations, but there is a process you can follow each time.
Choose settings manually – Your camera’s autoexposure won’t cope with a bright Moon against a dark sky, so switch to full manual mode. Start with an aperture of f/11, your camera’s lowest ISO speed (say ISO 100), and a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second. Use your camera’s autofocus to focus on the moon, then switch to manual focus mode to lock the focusing distance.
Test and improve – Take a test shot and review it on your camera’s LCD screen, zooming right in to check the detail and exposure. Adjust settings accordingly and repeat the process. When using very long lenses, try to keep your shutter speed below 1/2 a second to reduce blur. With wider angles you can get away with longer exposures.
Use exposure bracketing – As an extra backup it’s a good idea to bracket your exposures. This means that even if your camera settings aren’t spot on, you’ll hopefully have at least 1 reasonable photo that can be salvaged in your editing software.