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08-26-2018, 11:55 AM - 7 Likes   #1
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Beginners guide to shooting the moon

Since I see the question come up frequently on the front Page I thought I would write up a basic tutorial on shooting the moon. Frequently the questions are general questions on is this a good shot how is this focused, is it possible to get a good shot with a 135mm or 200mm lens. So hopefully other can benefit from this and everyone can get some nice moon pictures. Of all the objects in the night sky to take pictures of the moon is the easiest and is always a good starting point. I will use the phases of the moon so if you don't know them you can find them here, there is also a nice animation showing them and how the moon moves. One thing I don't know how to do is to get a good shot of an eclipsed moon as it is so much darker but if someone knows how many stops an eclipsed one is than a regular full one that information would be welcomed.

Getting the exposure right:
The first thing people seem to find out when trying to take a picture of the moon is that it is actually very bright. Because of this there are lots of moon pictures that were over exposed and then they tried to work around the blown highlights because the moon is a bright white disk in the sky. The general rule for getting the moon properly exposed is the Looney 11 rule which basically says set your shutter to 1/ISO and and the f-stop to 11. This will usually get you in the general ballpark for any moon image that isn't a thin sliver. You may need to adjust from there but this is meant to get you into the ballpark and more often than not is correct. Also slightly underexposing the moon is easier to recover from than over exposing it.

The moon moves fast but not as fast as some claim:
I've heard people state that the moon moves too fast to get a good picture at anything slower than 1/100s. The moon like everything in the night sky rotates around. The majority of the movement of the moon is from the rotation of the earth. There is some additional rotation from the moon's orbit but that only changes it's speed through the sky by about 4%. If we were to use the astrophotograpphy rule of 500 that would mean that even using a 1000mm lens one could get good results from a 0.5s exposure. Since the moon is bright we aren't lacking for photons so we can go down to the rule of 200 which should be pretty close to keeping it from moving 1 pixel so even using a 1000mm lens that would still mean that a 0.2s exposure wouldn't show motion blur. To be safe lets just cut that in half to 1/10s. At this speed we are still 10x slower than what the Looney 11 rule tells us we should be using so don't worry about shutter speed unless you are doing hand held shots.

Now unless you are stacking moon images I suggest keeping your shutter speed up in the 1/100s range or higher. This is because there is a fair bit of distortion that show up from turbulence in the atmosphere that cause blurring in some spots. By having a shorter exposure you are attempting to minimize these. In addition to this I suggest putting the camera in burst mode and capture a ton of shots and go for the lucky shot with very little distortion for turbulence.

Basics of taking the shot:
The moon, like all astrophotography shots, is best shot off of a tripod. I also highly recommend using a release cable as well as using the 2 second mirror up delay to minimize any camera shake. This also ensures that the shake reduction is also off. Focus with the moon is critical as being off a little can make the difference between a great shot and one where you have a round shaded disk in the sky. Sharpness is key but thankfully the moon is bright so you can stick a few f-stops into getting that extra sharpness, remember the Looney 11 rule.


Framing the moon:
The nice thing about the moon is it is fairly large. Unfortunately it isn't huge in the viewfinder. When using smaller lenses the moon isn't very large at all in the scene. As such even a tight crop isn't going to be all that interesting so put the moon next to something or have it partially obscured but something to make it more interesting. Even with a larger lens like the 300mm I use with a K-3 a full moon is only about 750 pixels across so it still isn't big. The usual recommendation for getting a nice shot of the moon is to be around 1000mm on APS-C or 1200mm on full frame. This is accomplished mostly with teleconverters but that does make for a nice large moon in the frame. This isn't to say that a tight crop of the moon with a 135mm lens on APS-C can't shot some nice detail but the bigger lens you have the nicer it will look. I have gotten some nice shots with a tight crop from a 200mm lens but having a nice 300mm I get better ones.

One thing everyone wants is that 3D look when shooting the moon. So they go out during the full moon or the night on either side an take a picture and end up with the moon that looks flat. The reason for this is that the sun is basically shining straight on the moon so you don't get the shadows in the craters showing off the texture. Instead if you take pictures of it when it is close to 1st quarter and 2rd quarter (the half moon phases) the light is coming in at a nice angle that shows off the craters and produces the 3D look everyone is after. If you want that 3D look with a full moon take a picture of the moon a few days after the moon enters the waxing gibbous phase (just past half but growing) and then another one a couple days before it enter the waning crescent phase (just before the half moon when shrinking) Then combine the 2 pictures in photoshop or some other image stitching program to get a full moon that has the 3d effect.

No what would an article like this be without some pictures showing off what can be done when shooting the moon so I included some of mine that I have taken over time.

Here is a shot of the moon I did using a M42 mount Vivitar 200mm F/3.5 lens. The settings were F/8, ISO 200, 1/400s. I did stack some images to drive down the noise and put in an S curve using the curves tool to up the contrast. Note that this follows the Looney 11 rule and that this was with a 200mm lens from the early 80s with no exotic glass that was manually focused. This was during the waning gibbous phase when it was still mostly full this shows off some of the craters on the right side of the moon but not much elsewhere.


Here is a shot I took last night using a 300mm lens. It was after I had been out trying to shoot a deep sky object and I didn't notice that the lens had fogged up. It was a very humid night and there was smoke blowing in from the wildfires out west and from Canada. As such I there was a good loss of light and the fogged lens didn't help matters. The settings uses here were ISO 100, F/8, 1/50s so a loss of 2 stops from the looney 11 rule. A test shot was taken using that and adjusted from there. The color is from the smoke in the air. Note the lack of shadow during the full moon so it lacks the 3d effect.


Here is one of my first moon shots, just after I finally got my M42 to K adapter. I forget the settings but they would have been fairly close to the Looney 11 rule. This was shot in the waxing gibbous phase near the full moon. This was also done with my K-2000 with my Vivitar 200mm f/3.5 M42 mount. I missed the focus a bit but even then the 3D effect is starting to show:


08-26-2018, 01:27 PM   #2
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Great article thanks for sharing your knowledge
08-26-2018, 01:30 PM   #3
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Very nice!
I use a method that get's around the effects of "seeing" to some extent called "lucky" imaging.
To do it, instead of taking frames, you take a short video(you can use frames) and then select the best quality fames from it using a freeware app called Autostakkert!3 and combine them to make a clean image. There is also a free software called registax that you might want to check out but it doesn't handle video stacking or lucky imaging quite as well as AS!3 It has one of the best combined wavelet sharpen/denoise modules I've found in windows.
I try to use Linux for everything and the Linux app I use for this, and most ap/pp is called Siril, with the wavelet sharpening and noise reduction in Gimp.
08-26-2018, 01:48 PM - 1 Like   #4
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thanks very much for the well informed article, i enjoy seeing the moon and snapping away but maybe now i will get a few better shots, thanks again, ian

08-26-2018, 02:32 PM   #5
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My rule of thumb is f8 rather than f11 but otherwise similar.
08-26-2018, 02:35 PM - 1 Like   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by blues_hawk Quote
Very nice!
I use a method that get's around the effects of "seeing" to some extent called "lucky" imaging.
To do it, instead of taking frames, you take a short video(you can use frames) and then select the best quality fames from it using a freeware app called Autostakkert!3 and combine them to make a clean image. There is also a free software called registax that you might want to check out but it doesn't handle video stacking or lucky imaging quite as well as AS!3 It has one of the best combined wavelet sharpen/denoise modules I've found in windows.
I try to use Linux for everything and the Linux app I use for this, and most ap/pp is called Siril, with the wavelet sharpening and noise reduction in Gimp.
Those are some great tips, especially if you have to deal with bad seeing. Thanks for these. And thanks for the article!
08-26-2018, 03:25 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by blues_hawk Quote
Very nice!
I use a method that get's around the effects of "seeing" to some extent called "lucky" imaging.
To do it, instead of taking frames, you take a short video(you can use frames) and then select the best quality fames from it using a freeware app called Autostakkert!3 and combine them to make a clean image. There is also a free software called registax that you might want to check out but it doesn't handle video stacking or lucky imaging quite as well as AS!3 It has one of the best combined wavelet sharpen/denoise modules I've found in windows.
I try to use Linux for everything and the Linux app I use for this, and most ap/pp is called Siril, with the wavelet sharpening and noise reduction in Gimp.
QuoteOriginally posted by blues_hawk Quote
I use a method that get's around the effects of "seeing" to some extent called "lucky" imaging.
To do it, instead of taking frames, you take a short video(you can use frames) and then select the best quality fames from it using a freeware app called Autostakkert!3 and combine them to make a clean image. There is also a free software called registax that you might want to check out but it doesn't handle video stacking or lucky imaging quite as well as AS!3 It has one of the best combined wavelet sharpen/denoise modules I've found in windows.

I was going to go into more advanced things in a later article but so often I see someone looking for the basics on shooting the moon so I figured that having a single place covering the basics would be good. I am familiar with most of those other programs and have played around with them. Specifically I was going to do a writeup on stacking and how to do that but after I did another beginners guide to taking astrophotography photos as that is one where I frequently see people ask questions on how to get started with it.
08-26-2018, 04:25 PM   #8
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Great write-up, looking forward to the next episode.

Minor point, I feel that photos of the Moon and photos including the Moon should be treated as two different things requiring different techniques.

Two crops from my best shot using a K-x and a Tasco 6" telescope:



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Size:  253.4 KB

I still haven't matched this shot in the 2+ years since I got my K3.

08-26-2018, 04:37 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by UncleVanya Quote
My rule of thumb is f8 rather than f11 but otherwise similar.
Nice info, but I like UncleVanya's f8 a bit better. The moon is fairly dark, especially compared to the earth (for which "sunny 16" was formulated).

A bit more on focusing on the moon: if you are lucky/careful, and depending on your focal length, you may be able to focus directly on the center of the moon or wherever it is lit up (using center spot focus, of course!). If that doesn't work, try the illuminated edge - that's about as contrasty as you can get, which the autofocus system likes.

I prefer using magnified live view for the final touch up, with manual focus selected.

As noted, use a tripod if at all possible.
08-26-2018, 04:40 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by AstroDave Quote
Nice info, but I like UncleVanya's f8 a bit better. The moon is fairly dark, especially compared to the earth (for which "sunny 16" was formulated).

A bit more on focusing on the moon: if you are lucky/careful, and depending on your focal length, you may be able to focus directly on the center of the moon or wherever it is lit up (using center spot focus, of course!). If that doesn't work, try the illuminated edge - that's about as contrasty as you can get, which the autofocus system likes.

I prefer using magnified live view for the final touch up, with manual focus selected.

As noted, use a tripod if at all possible.
I'm a fan of magnified live view for my moon focus also.
08-26-2018, 05:15 PM - 1 Like   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by UncleVanya Quote
My rule of thumb is f8 rather than f11 but otherwise similar.
Like I said the Looney 11 rule is to get you in the general ballpark for the correct exposure. It is what I start at and adjust from there but your settings would be close as well. I In general I have pretty clear clean air up here so that may be the reason for the difference between where you start and I start.

---------- Post added 08-26-18 at 05:22 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by AstroDave Quote
Nice info, but I like UncleVanya's f8 a bit better. The moon is fairly dark, especially compared to the earth (for which "sunny 16" was formulated).

A bit more on focusing on the moon: if you are lucky/careful, and depending on your focal length, you may be able to focus directly on the center of the moon or wherever it is lit up (using center spot focus, of course!). If that doesn't work, try the illuminated edge - that's about as contrasty as you can get, which the autofocus system likes.

I prefer using magnified live view for the final touch up, with manual focus selected.

As noted, use a tripod if at all possible.
My prefered method of focusing is to use a Bahtinov mask and get the exact focus on a bright star but then I am mostly out shooting some DSO. I will shoot the moon while waiting for the sky to get dark enough for the other astro shooting I am doing.

---------- Post added 08-26-18 at 05:26 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by alfa75ts Quote
Two crops from my best shot using a K-x and a Tasco 6" telescope:
Nice. More images that make me want to go and get a nice telescope.
QuoteOriginally posted by alfa75ts Quote
Minor point, I feel that photos of the Moon and photos including the Moon should be treated as two different things requiring different techniques.
I don't disagree but I wanted to write this up for those just starting out and get them pointed in the right direction so they can get better results sooner.
08-26-2018, 05:41 PM   #12
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Thanks for the tutorial. I enjoy moon shots, but can't seem to take good ones. I will now try again.
08-26-2018, 05:41 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by MossyRocks Quote
I was going to go into more advanced things in a later article but so often I see someone looking for the basics on shooting the moon so I figured that having a single place covering the basics would be good. I am familiar with most of those other programs and have played around with them. Specifically I was going to do a writeup on stacking and how to do that but after I did another beginners guide to taking astrophotography photos as that is one where I frequently see people ask questions on how to get started with it.

Ah I see, and I let the cat out early on you. I'll follow on from here then. Cheers.
08-26-2018, 05:58 PM - 1 Like   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by blues_hawk Quote
Ah I see, and I let the cat out early on you. I'll follow on from here then. Cheers.
No problem. These are things I have mentioned thought that I should write up for others for a while but never got around to doing. So in an effort to contribute to making this month's goal of posts I figured why not now. I've learned a lot from others here and have given back when I can but some things I keep seeing crop up so I figured maybe create something to point beginners at so that they can get some better results sooner on specific topics.
08-26-2018, 06:08 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by alfa75ts Quote
Great write-up, looking forward to the next episode.

Minor point, I feel that photos of the Moon and photos including the Moon should be treated as two different things requiring different techniques.

Two crops from my best shot using a K-x and a Tasco 6" telescope:



Attachment 420094

I still haven't matched this shot in the 2+ years since I got my K3.
Wow! Great shot.
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