Moon rising from the ocean

How I Shot the Moon

So imagine that the lovely moon is playing just for you – everything makes music if you really want it to. – Giles Andreae

I’ve always wanted to photograph the moon. I tried quite a few times without much success. The moon came out as a bright small dot on a black background. Very disappointing. Last week I noticed the bright harvest moon on a walk to the nearby beach. But of course, I was not prepared to take pictures. I didn’t have a camera with me. I tried using my iPhone but it was no surprise at all when I saw how the pictures came out. And by the way, I learned that it’s called a harvest moon because it is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox.

The next evening I went back to the beach, this time prepared. I brought my camera bag with all the lenses, camera and tripod. There was no moon when I got there and I decided to take a few shots of the sunset. As you know from one of my previous blogs, I am not a huge fan of sunsets as I find them boring. Some of these shots turned out pretty nice to my surprise. I shot the image below at  f/11, 13 sec., ISO 100.

Sunset on Cape Cod

It was really getting dark and I had lost all hope to see the moon that night. I knew that it was not going to be a full moon anymore, but an “almost full” moon would have been just as nice. All of a sudden the moon came up, right from the ocean. I immediately snapped a few shots. See the cover photo of this post, which I took at  f/11, 15 sec., ISO 320.

Here is what I learned about shooting the moon. First of all, keep in mind that the moon moves pretty fast when it’s just above the horizon; so you have to move fast as well.

1. Use a tripod

Very dark conditions, somewhat long exposure, you definitely need a tripod to prevent any camera shake.

2. Use the camera timer or a remote

For the same reasons mentioned above, I suggest you use your camera’s timer if you don’t have a remote. I used a 2 sec. delay.

3. Use manual mode

I played with both shutter speed and aperture. I had no idea what settings were best. I started with a small aperture and a speed of around 10 sec. This was a trial and error exercise. I took the shot below at  f/11, 1/4 sec., ISO 320.

Moon over the ocean

4.Use a higher ISO

I was really afraid to use a very high ISO because I didn’t want too much digital noise in my pictures. I found that ISOs between 100 and 500 work pretty well. You can find more info about ISO here.

5. Do not try to use autofocus

Autofocus will not work, no matter what. It’s way too dark; therefore, you have to use manual focus. This could be challenging since it’s also hard for you to see, not just for the camera.

6. Use a zoom lens

Yes, zoom in; use the longest zoom you have. I used my Canon EF 70-200mm lens and I wished I had a 400 lens. The quality of this lens is so good and I was  able to crop the shot quite a bit to make the moon look bigger.

7. Shoot raw

I’ve said it many times. The prime advantage of shooting the raw is that you can record much higher levels of brightness. What are levels of brightness? They are the number of steps from black to white in a photo. The more steps you have, the smoother the transitions of tones. You can learn more about raw shooting here and how to convert your raw images to JPEG here.

While I was not overly impressed with the results, I have to admit I had a great time shooting the moon. I learned a lot and I will do it again. I encourage you to give it a try. It’s definitely a fun experience if nothing else.

Happy moon shooting!

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