How To Shoot Moon Astrophotography

Writer: Dylan Mackenzie

Have you ever had an interest in photographing the moon in the sky? You may of seen images online of the moon with its craters in great detail and wonder how you can capture an image like that yourself? You may have tried this before with your phone or your digital camera only to get a sea of black with an overexposed white dot in the center before asking yourself what did I do wrong? With the right equipment and techniques, anybody can capture clear images of the moon to share with their friends and family.

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People have been interested in photographing the moon as long as photography has been around. The first attempt at photographing the moon was made in 1839 by Louis Daguerre using the daguerreotype process which ended in failure due to an error in tracking the moon in order to account for the slow shutter speed required by the process in order to render a  usable image. The first successful photograph of the moon wasn’t captured until a year later when New York University Professor of Chemistry Dr. John William Draper captured the first image of the moon in 1840 over 20 minutes using a 5-inch (13cm) reflecting telescope. Over the next 150 years, technology has improved greatly to allow us to take shorter exposure photographs of the moon in greater detail as well as travel to the moon to take pictures on location.

While you may not have the budget to photograph the moon on location, it doesn’t take an astronomical budget in order to successfully photograph the moon from here on earth. You can achieve this using either a phone or DSLR aimed through or mounted to a telescope or a DSLR mounted on a sturdy tripod with a long telephoto lens.

draper-moon-daguerreotype.jpgThe easiest and probably least expensive way to photograph the moon involves aiming your camera through the eyepiece of a telescope with the moon filling the frame of your camera. You must fill the frame in order to focus and expose the moon correctly with automatic settings.

The other method you can use the photograph the moon with more consistent results is to use a DSLR with a long lens mounted to a tripod where you can manually control the focus, focal length, and exposure of the image you capture.

The first thing you need to do is get a lens that can magnify the moon great enough for its craters to be visible in the image. The longer the focal length, the better but you can get away with a 300mm lens on an APS-C which gives you a 35mm full frame equivalent of using a 480mm lens (one advantage of a crop sensor!). In order to fill the frame on an APS-C you need at least a 750mm lens (1200mm on a full-frame), which can be very expensive so I recommend a combination of teleconverters and lower focal length lenses if you can factor in the light loss with each teleconverter.IMG_4079.JPG

You must then focus the lens to infinity in order to ensure the moon is in sharp focus. After you’ve done those two things you need to set the aperture to F/11 and match the ISO to your shutter speed. The correct exposure should be somewhere around here. Once you get a proper exposure down you can combine the moon with foreground objects on the horizon to make the photograph more interesting and make up for the focal lengths you don’t have.

 

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