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Photographing the Moon

Lesson 10 from: Beginner's Guide to Astro Landscape Photography

Peter Baumgarten

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Lesson Info

10. Photographing the Moon

Lesson Info

Photographing the Moon

Even if you don't live in a dark sky area or you can't travel to one, there's a certain time every month where you can do some great night sky shooting because of one celestial body that we see all the time and that's our neighbor the moon. Shooting the full moon is probably the most popular thing to do but it can be a real challenge to get the exposure right and that's because your camera is having difficulty determining what the proper exposure is in a high contrast situation like this. You've got this really bright object against a sea of inky blackness and so to compensate for all of that blackness it actually overexposes the image and your moon loses all of it's detail and you've just got this white circle and so there are a couple of ways you can go about tricking that meter. One of the easiest ways is to use spot metering. So, change your metering from matrix metering to spot metering. With many cameras you have to put your subject in the center and then you should get a proper ...

exposure for the moon. Although that seems like the easiest way it's actually not the way that I do it. I'm using the exposure compensation. So on this camera, the front dial, I'm shooting, with the moon, I actually move from manual mode usually and I'm just shooting in aperture priority. That seems to work quite well. And so I'm gonna set a wide aperture because the moon may be far away but there isn't a great deal of distance, I don't need a lot of depth of field there so with a long lens I might be at 5.6 or 6.3, and now it's all about the exposure. So I'll dial down the exposure compensation several stops. It might be minus 3, I've gone all the way down to minus in order to get a nice, properly exposed moon so that you can see all of that great detail in there. And once you've got that set you press the shutter and you're good to go. And you can do this handheld. Normally, with anything at night you'd have to use a tripod but because the moon is so bright, especially if it's a full moon, even at a lower iso of let's say 400, or 640, you can get shutter speeds that are well over one one thousandth of a second and anyone can handhold that. However, I find that the best time to shoot the moon and to get the most interesting compositions is actually when it's just rising or when it's just setting. And in that case you don't really have to trick the meter. The moon, if you're shooting a full moon, the full moon always rises just a few minutes after the sun has set so you're entering into the blue hour phase, you can still see some nice detail in your landscape, the moon is coming over the horizon, it's got a lot of atmosphere to cut through so you get a more orangy glow to it, and you can create a much more interesting composition. One of the challenges when you're out in the field is trying to find where the moon is gonna rise. So you can't really see any of that glow before it actually begins to crest over the horizon so sometimes it's guesswork. However, that app PhotoPills is a great one that will allow you to identify exactly where the moon is going to be rising so you can figure out what your foreground is going to be. There's a shot that I did a couple of years ago where the moon was rising right by a lighthouse. Of course, most people think of shooting the full moon when it's rising, it's actually easier to photograph it when it's setting, so you go out early in the morning and now you can see exactly where the moon's going to be and you can line up foreground objects with it. There's another lighthouse shot that I took and I just happened to catch a seagull flying right into the moon. In this case I certainly didn't need an app to locate the moon, it was right there. Of course, if you are shooting at night then you do have to trick the meter because now there's just way too much contrast between the bright moon and the dark sky. So when you're shooting the full moon and it's way up in the sky, your composition options are pretty limited. Why not use multiple exposure to create a more interesting composition? You can set multiple exposure on the Olympus camera, take your first shot, that's now recorded on the card, enter into the multiple exposure feature on the menu, and now choose the raw overlay, and now that moon shows up in your viewfinder as a ghost image and I can put that moon wherever I would like. In this case I've got my first shot of the moon, found some trees, some white pine that I really wanted to place that moon into, so I used my superpowers, grabbed it out of the sky with my camera, and then placed it right in this little natural frame in the branches. I saw the ghost image so I knew exactly where that moon was going to go, pressed the shutter release, and the final shot now is a multiple exposure of that moon. So that's an easy way of improving your composition, shooting the full moon.

Ratings and Reviews

Lana Froemming

I purchased the Creative Live + Olympus Step Outside Conference Bundle some time ago, and it has taken me this long (too long) to view the astrophotography class. Although not a beginner, I have been using Olympus gear (EPL5 & EM1) for about 7 years now, I have only dabbled in astrophotography – and as a result, blown my fair share of what should have been killer shots. When I did give it a go, I obtained most of my settings’ tips by combing through Peter’s blog posts and then racing out the door. Although I feel that I know my camera pretty well I still learned so much from this course. I appreciate that he walked the viewer through multiple night time photography events including shooting the milky way, the moon, aurora, meteor showers & star trails as well as talked about the different camera features including night sky panoramas, in-camera multiple exposures, live comp & time lapse and presented a variety of lens choices and why (plus so much more). What I love about Creative Live is that once you purchase a “class” you own it and can return to your classroom over, and over again. I also appreciate that they work with experts who are also amazing teachers. Peter is one of those.

Doug Marshall

Some classes are just fantastic and this is one of them! Peter Baumgarten is a wonderful presenter of his extensive knowledge, experience and passion for the subject. This is a course I will return to watch again and again. Highly recommended if you are like me and are interested in getting into astrophotography and landscape.

elizabeth chambers

To my way of thinking this was the best photographic genre instructor featured during the Olympus Step Outside series. He may be a more seasoned instructor than the photographers demonstrating landscape and bird photography. Whatever the reason, I thought he seemed to understand his audience particularly well. Great advice and the post processing was interesting. Likely because of my familiarity with Lightroom, I found the post production done by the bird and landscape photographers rather mundane whereas the astro photography post production was new and interesting to me.

Student Work