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How to Photograph the Moon With a DSLR Camera

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 3/22/2011

Here are a few tips on how to effectively take photos of the moon with your DSLR camera.

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    Professional Digital Photography

    Full Moon by Luc Viatour www.lucnix.be (Creative Commons) Point and shoot cameras have often been the standard place for consumers to go when they need a digital camera, but this is not going to give them anything close to a professional image quality. A DSLR camera is the place for professional digital photography and is more than necessary for complicated images that capture various light levels that are publish quality. Photographing the moon is one of these more difficult types of photographic scenarios, and even with a DSLR camera you are going to follow some technical pointers. Here are a few tips on how to photograph the moon with a DSLR.

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    Exposure

    When you are trying to learn how to photograph the moon with a DSLR you are going to find that the biggest problem is getting the proper exposure. The moon, reflecting the Sun, acts as a direct light source while also being a detail oriented subject. Photographing a light source is always an issue, but often a main part of this is because you can not set the proper exposure to capture both the light source and the surrounding objects. Luckily, you will likely not have to capture anything else as the moon usually hangs in a sea of blackness. This means that you really just need to alter the aperture settings, opening up the iris as much as possible. This will affect your depth of field, but as long as you do a few focus tests you should be fine to get a proper image.

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    Stability

    The moon may be one of the most stationary subjects that you will ever be able to photograph, which gives you a number of options. First, this means that you can assist your subject framing by using a tripod. You do not have to just frame the image by using an ad hoc hand held approach, and can instead really take the time to set up your image. This also means that you can bring down the shutter speed quite a bit if you are having trouble getting the exposure that you needed with the aperture alone. You will likely not want to change the ISO because you will not need to and this will add image noise.

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    Foreground Objects

    You may like to get objects in the frame besides just the moon, and the kind of problems that this presents is going to be different in different situations. One of the problems that can occur is that the brightness of the moon will affect the exposure so dramatically that all the other objects will be too dark with the proper exposure for the moon, and if this is the case then artificial lighting on the foreground objects is going to solve this. Usually the moon will not be giving off this much light and it may end up appearing to have the same level of luminance of the foreground objects, and you may be able to check a light meter reading against a spot meter reading to get a relative comparison between the moon and the object lights. What is nice about learning how to photograph the moon with a DSLR camera is that you can try several situations out, and you may want to try several exposures depending on the light of the moon.

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    Planning

    Since the moon is not a finite object with a set amount of light, then you need to know what appearance of the moon is going to be for your specific shoot. This is a negotiation of both the weather and the phase of the moon, and this is going to change your image fundamentally. If the moon is being blocked by clouds or fog then you are going to have to accommodate by shooting from a darker location where there is less ambient city light to reflect off the clouds. If you are only going to get a small sliver then this may not meet your expectations and you may have to replan your shoot. One of the main elements of professional photography is scouting your precise date and subject, and in this case it means checking the lunar calendar.

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    Photo Editing

    Photo editing is almost always required in professional photography, but in the case of variable light sources and competing objects it cannot be forgone. Make sure to utilize a program like Adobe Photoshop to bring out the elements you want, especially to brighten the moon against the foreground or background objects. This is also a great way to add contrast to the image, which may have problems because it is shot at night.

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    References

    Source: Author's own experience.