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How to photograph the moon using digital capture and enhancement

How to photograph the moon using digital capture and enhancement



Tips on photographing the moon

Shooting the moon is not easy, but once you've mastered the technique you can improve or transform all kinds of shots using the moon as an element. You'll need a zoom lens, the more powerful the better.



How to photograph the moon: First attempts
I took some shots of the moon with the Nikon D100 and 300mm (effective 450mm) zoom lens placed on the window ledge. I used the self timer to avoid camera shake. The first image (top left) is what you get if you just point and shoot. The 'ghost' moon was caused by reflection inside the lens barrel The out of focus disk on the right came about because the autofocus was unable to 'lock on' to the moon properly.

How to photograph the moon using digital image capture and enhancement

How to photograph the moon using digital image capture and enhancement
Photograph the moon: Find the right exposure through bracketing
For best results use manual focus set to infinity. Next you need to find the right exposure level through bracketing, ranging here from two thousandth of a second, 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125 to 1/60, all at an aperture of f5.6. Numbers 4 and 5 are best. They're faster than you'd expect for a night shot, but the moon is surprisingly bright. You can use the standard ISO rating of 200.

How to photograph the moon using digital image capture and enhancement: Blackpool Tower and moon

Use digital imaging to move and enlarge the moon
The moon next to Blackpool tower was easy to photograph as there was light in the sky. I wanted to place it next to the top of the tower. When copying and pasting the moon the trick is to cut it out of the sky with clean edges. I did this by selecting the background sky with the Magic Wand, then inverting the selection to include the moon. There was a jagged edge on the shadow side. I went into Quick Mask mode and added to the selection using the airbrush tool set to wide. I returned to normal mode and transferred the selection into the image of the tower, which I moved left . I enlarged the moon using 'Transform>Scale'. To make the sky edges match the new background I fine tuned the levels using the Levels control.

How to photograph the moon using digital image capture and enhancement


Enlarge the moon and paste it into another image
For the nighttime photo of Manchester's Palace Hotel and full moon, I made a series of bracketed exposures and combined the best for the building and the moon. Then I enlarged the moon using Transform>Scale. Enlarging the moon arguably makes it look more realistic, as our eyes zoom in on the moon when looking at a real life scene.

See the related article How to photograph the lunar eclipse






Dear Aidan,  

I would be very grateful for some advice please regarding taking photos of the moon. I don't currently own a digital camera and so am using a canon EOS 33 film camera. I have tried to take some shots of the moon in the past and have found that they are not as clear or as 'bright' looking as those spectacular shots you have on your website.

 

I know that I could use a greater ISO film but those films are likely to give a grainier picture. Is there an chance you may be able to offer a little advice as to where I may be going wrong. The pictures you took look very clear and the detail in the moon is amazing. Could I be going wrong in terms of the shutter speed? Should I try a much slower shutter speed?

Obviously, as I am using a film camera, I am unable to view each picture until the whole film is developed; therefore, is there a method or strategy I could use to take a series of shots so that hopefully at least one or two would come out clear, crisp and bright with 'fingers crossed,' some detail? 

One final thing - how do you know if you have taken a good moon shot when you see the photos? For example, how bright is too bright for a moon shot to look 'wrong'?

 

Thank you in advance for your time

 

Regards

 

Gary

 

No problem, that's what I am here for, to provide information!

The optimum brightness of a photo depends on how much detail you can see. If patches of the moon start to turn to a pure white and you can't see any features, then the photo is too bright. If the darker areas are so dark that the details are becoming invisible, then it is too dark. The moon should look the same as when you look at it with your eyes. Your eyes readjust whenever you focus on the moon so that the details appear. That should be the same with a photograph.

The optimum exposure is not what you might think! The confusing thing is that because it is night time you would assume that principles of night photography apply, such as using a very long exposure, a wide aperture and/or fast film.

But the surface of the moon at night is as bright as any object lit by daylight. What we are seeing is the sun reflecting off the moon's surface, the same as the light reflected off a rock on the ground in bright sunshine.

So when I set the camera to photograph the full disk of the moon, I found use a shutter speed was like 1/4 of a second and the f stop was 32. That was at ISO 200. That would be equivalent to 1/60 at 5.6, similar to shooting in daylight.

So that is the optimum exposure, but you must bracket, ideally up to two stops darker and two stops lighter, five photos for each shot.

I would recommend shooting a test roll of film first, carefully noting the exposures and which one is best. Examine the negative under a lupe and select which exposure is best, i.e. so that the surface of the moon is not quite dark, but there is some detail visible.

As with all matters to do with photography, the best way to achieve success is through a process of trial and error and testing, noting down values as you go along, evaluating what works best, then shooting again using the informaiton you have gained.

The best person to help you discover the secrets of photography is yourself!

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
2005-06-22

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