January 2013
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How to take great photos of the moon – Part 1

Some of the greatest photos of the moon were those taken during the Apollo missions, but since those were taken on the surface of the moon, and it is not likely in the near future that man will set foot on the moon, let us focus on how we can take some great photos of the moon from the earth.

Tip 1081 (Why do shots of the moon appear over-exposed): In most photos, you will observe that when you shoot the moon and then observe the photo, the moon comes out brighter than it actually is. This is because, when you observer the moon in the night sky (this tip is relevant when we are shooting the moon in the night, not during early morning or late evening when there is much more light in the sky), the moon shines when compared to the night sky, and as a result, the camera will compensate slightly for the much darker part of the sky. As a result, since the moon is much brighter than the camera metered level (due to the compensation done for the darker sky as mentioned above), the moon comes out over-exposed in the photos. This seems very confusing to us, since our eyes can properly see the night sky as well as the moon, while the camera is unable to do so. This is because our eyes are more powerful than a camera in terms of something called the dynamic range – this is where the eye (along with the brain) are able to see a broader range of light than the camera lens.

Tip 1082 (Need telephoto lens): You can shoot with your smaller lens (heck, you can even shoot with your 50mm prime), but in these photos, you will see the moon as more of a small white blob rather than the size where you can make out details of the moon. There are no easy ways to get around this; you need a telephoto lens that has 300mm or more (or you can use a tele-converter that increases the range of your lens to get it into the telephoto lens category), or you could do this with a point and shoot camera that has a good lens zoom factor (some of the newer ultra zooms can reach pretty good amount of magnification).

Tip 1083 (You will need a tripod): Why do you need a tripod when shooting the moon ? The moon can get pretty bright at night. Well, the moon will require a certain amount of exposure and having a tripod in place will be very useful. Furthermore, if you have shot at high zooms, you will understand that because of the large zoom, small shakes or movement of the cameras can cause much higher change in the actual image of the subject; getting a tripod will alleviate some of these risks. Furthermore, telephoto lens can be heavy, and it is safer for your health and your hands if you don’t carry around these lenses all the time. When buying a tripod, make sure that the tripod can withstand the heavy load of your DSLR; I once found that an aluminium light tripod I was using was introducing some shakes in my photos when there was a light wind blowing.

Tip 1084 (Read the weather forecasts): You need to be able to see the moon to take shots of it. If you find out that that there is a chance of cloudy weather or conditions being overcast, be prepared that your entire effort to shoot the moon were waster; although like many other rules, there are exceptions. There can be some great movies where the cloud interacts with the moon and the moonlight and produces some great photos. In the end, it is your call on the amount of risk you want to take.

Tip 1085 (Stay away from places with a lot of lights): For shooting the moon, keep in mind that there is a large amount of atmosphere in the way, and all that gas can impact your photos, depending on the amount of smoke and other chemicals in the air at that point of time. Places further away from civilization centers will be more likely to have a clearer atmosphere and a much reduced level of pollution, thus ensuring that you get clearer photos.

Some great books and a filter (from Amazon):

The Digital Photography Book Night and Low-Light Photography Photo Workshop 1.25″ Orion 13% Transmission Moon Filter

Videos from Youtube on shooting the moon:

Shooting the moon Part 1

Shooting the moon part 2

How to Photograph the Moon, tutorial for video and still images

How to photograph the moon?

Read the next part in this series (Getting some great moon shots – Part 2)

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