When it comes to night photography, the moon is one of the more challenging subjects. With a lunar eclipse coming up tomorrow (Sept. 27th), here are some tips for photographing the moon.
Bring out the big glass
Despite its large appearance, you’ll want to use as much focal length as you can for moon shots. In 2010, I used a 600mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter on a full-frame Nikon D700. If you have a crop-sensor (APS-C or similar), you can get away with a shorter lens. But even with an effective focal length of 850mm, the moon only fills a fraction of the frame.
Set your exposure manually
The full moon is normally very bright, and unless you use spot-metering, your camera’s meter will be fooled by the dark sky surrounding it. Use spot-metering and manual exposure so that you don’t over-expose the moon.
Use a fast shutter speed with telephoto lenses
The relative motion of the moon in the sky is really quite fast. This motion is amplified when you use high-magnification telephoto lenses. In fact, you will need to frequently adjust your composition when tracking the moon across the night sky. To get a sharp shot, use a tripod, remote release cord, and a reasonably fast shutter speed when possible.
During an eclipse, boost the ISO to keep shutter speed high
The moon darkens during an eclipse. During a normal full moon, I can easily shoot 1/1000s at ISO 200. But during the 2010 eclipse, I had to crank up the ISO to 8000 just to get a 1/8 second exposure. Anything slower than that and the moon would have blurred due to its apparent motion in the sky.
Set up for a time-lapse
If you have a camera with an intervalometer, you can set it up with a normal to wide focal length and capture images every few minutes. Again, use manual exposure so that you don’t overexpose the shot. You can then merge the files in Photoshop layers to create a composite image.