The magnificent moon
Get started with your night photography by capturing frame-filling shots of our nearest neighbour in all its glory
As the brightest and largest object in the night sky, the moon is a great subject to use as an introduction to astrophotography. It’s so large that you can easily shoot it with a normal telephoto lens, and it is bright enough that you can use a shutter speed fast enough to avoid needing a tracking mount. But even though the moon is relatively easy to shoot, you still need to use the right techniques to get a good shot. Here are our four suggestions…
1 FIND A date
Start by finding out when and where the moon will be visible in the night sky, and also how much of it will be lit by the sun (the area known as the phase). You can readily find plenty of information about the times and positions of the moon’s ascension and descent, along with its phases, on many meteorological websites, or use an app such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris or PhotoPills.
2 Stay Sharp
Once you’ve decided on a suitable time to shoot the moon, the technique is actually pretty straightforward. You’ll need a lens of 300mm or longer to get it at a reasonable size in the frame. Fix the camera to a solid tripod, use a remote release and also select mirror lock-up mode, if your camera has this facility. The best way to focus is to use Live View, zoom in and carefully manually focus.
3 EXPERIMENT WITH EXPOSURE
Your exact exposure will vary according to the conditions, but in Manual exposure mode start with ISO800, a shutter speed of 1/250 sec and an aperture of f/5.6. Adjust the ISO or aperture until you can see detail clearly in the surface of the moon. Avoid reducing the shutter speed as you tweak the settings: this will result in the moon becoming blurred.
4 FILL THE FRAME
When you’re deciding when to shoot the moon, it’s also worth remembering that it isn’t always the same distance from the earth. Its orbit is elliptical, so its distance varies at different times. When there’s a full moon that’s closer than around 220,000 miles (360,000km) from the earth, this is known as a super moon. The difference in size and brightness between a super and a micro moon isn’t huge, but even a small change can make a difference to your shots.
For detailed information about the moon in your area visit www.timeanddate.com/moon. Once you’ve filled in your location, you’ll be able to discover all sorts of useful information to help plan your shoot. You can also find out about a much rarer event: lunar eclipses. These can be a stunning sight, as during a full lunar eclipse the moon takes on a reddish hue. It won’t be as bright as when it’s illuminated by the sun, though, so you’ll need to set a higher ISO or wider aperture – or both – to ensure a correct exposure.
You’ll need a long lens, such as this Sigma 500mm f/4.5