Composite photograph showing different degrees of the Moon

© PTDZ/Shutterstock.com

Astrophotography tips for shooting the Moon

Discover how to photograph the Moon to get the best shots that capture brilliant detail.

Taking a good photo of the Moon can be tricky. Even on a clear night, your camera's default settings will make the most dramatic supermoon look like a small, white blur.

Luckily, you don't need a telescope to take a good picture of the Moon, just patience, good timing and a few simple tweaks to your camera's settings.

Why is the Moon just a white circle in my photo?

Although the Moon doesn't emit its own light, it does reflect the Sun. Like a camera flash, too much moonlight entering your camera lens can wash out all the detail of the Moon's surface.

Default settings on most cameras will give you a 'mid-brightness' photo. Shooting at night, your camera will interpret the scene as 'dark' and compensate by bumping up the brightness. The result is an overexposed, bright-white Moon.

Overexposed bright Moon through some trees at night

To reveal the details of the lunar surface with an automatic camera, try dialling down your exposure compensation © Charl W Folscher/Shutterstock.com

Go for gibbous

Budding astrophotographers often begin by trying to photograph a full Moon. While it seems like an ideal time as the Moon appears large and clear to the naked eye, details of the lunar surface are actually easier to capture when the Moon is not entirely full.

Just like in most photography, shadows are important to reveal the beautiful textures on the lunar surface. When the Moon is full, it has no border where it transitions from light to shadow. Known as a 'terminator', this border is most clearly visible during a gibbous Moon, which occurs a couple of days before and after a full Moon.

Gibbous Moon

A gibbous Moon will reveal more details of the lunar surface © Seth Passfield/Shutterstock.com

Choose a clear, dark night

Both bad weather and too much ambient light can interfere with the quality of your photos. Making sure you are well away from light pollution will help with the clarity and detail of your image. While a little bit of cloud can provide interest and atmosphere, there is sadly no good Photoshop fix for rain or fog.

What you'll need

To get started, all you need is a digital camera of your choice. Mobile phone cameras aren't ideal, but any DSLR or compact camera can produce an amazing shot.

A tripod and cable release (or timer delay setting) can help reduce camera shake and keep your photos looking sharp. If you're lucky enough to have access to different lenses, pack the longest one you have.

Get into Moon mode

1. Locate the manual mode so that you have full control over control aperture, ISO, shutter speed and focus. You can then experiment with these features independently.

2. Use a narrow aperture to keep the depth of field deep and limit the amount of light funnelling through to the sensor. An aperture of f/11 is known for being especially good for photographing the Moon.

3. Start with a low ISO setting such as 50 or 100 to make the sensor less sensitive to light. If your photo is blurry, try increasing your ISO.

4. Play around with different shutter speeds but keep in mind that the Moon moves surprisingly quickly in the sky so long exposure photos will usually be less sharp.

5. Use manual focus to get the clearest image possible.

6. Experiment with multiple-frame settings if your camera has them.

7. Take loads of photos - out in the field it is difficult to tell which combination of settings will give you the best image. The best shots won't reveal themselves until you have time to sort through them on a larger screen, so don't hold back.

Want to photograph the stars? Try Shooting stars: How to photograph the night sky

Composite image of the Moon and the Orion nebula

Don't be fooled by pictures of the Moon where surrounding stars or landscapes appear to be perfectly focused. They are usually composite images achieved by editing multiple images together or stacking photos of the same image to achieve greater-than-life detail.

Post-production

While nothing beats a great raw photo, there are a few simple tricks you can apply in any photo-editing software to bring out the best in your subject.

For example, try a noise-reduction feature to mitigate blur and sharpen your image or play with colour saturation to highlight the textures on the Moon's surface.

Share your astrophotography with us on Twitter @NHM_London using the #MuseumOfTheMoon tag.

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Museum of the Moon is a touring artwork by UK artist Luke Jerram. His photogenic installation features detailed NASA imagery of the lunar surface.

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