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Moonrise and Moonset Photography Tips and Tricks

Full moon setting over Jobs Peak, Carson Valley, Nevada.
The full moon setting over Jobs Peak, Carson Valley, Nevada.
©iStockphoto.com/Jason Woodcock

Photographing moonrises and moonsets can be tricky, but with a little bit of help, most people can learn how to take effective moon photos. timeanddate.com has outlined a few tips and tricks to help people get started with moon photography. There are a few issues to consider when taking photographs of moonrises and moonsets. They include timing and moon phases, location and creativity, photographic equipment, and exposure.

Timing and Moon Phases

Some photographers prefer to take a photo of the moon around the time of the moonset when the colors of the sky are rich and it is easier to see the details of the environmental surroundings (although this depends on the time of the year and the location). It is important to research the times of the moonrise and moonset in advance. timeanddate.com’s moon rise and moon set calculator allows people to find where the moon rises and sets in many locations.

The moon’s phase is also an important factor in moon photography. Many photographers do not photograph the full moon. Full moon photos can appear to be flat and the moon can be very bright. During the time of the new moon, the moon is invisible from Earth. Many photographers recommend taking a photo of the quarter moon or crescent moon so people can see the shadows and highlights of the moon’s features. When the moon is between the new moon phase and the half-moon phase, people may notice that the moon’s dark side is not fully dark so they can see some of the moon’s details. The sun's light reflects the Earth's clouds and water and this is called earthshine, or ashen glow. This ashen glow slightly illuminates the rest of the moon, particularly features such as the craters. timeanddate.com’s moon phase calculator can assist people in finding out about the moon’s phases.

Location and Creativity

Some photographers recommend taking a photo of the moon with a scene to make the photo more interesting, such as the moon over a city. Many buildings are best photographed at night, where there is some detail in the sky. Other photographers recommend swapping the city for a more natural environment to avoid pollution and scattered city lights. One popular theme is the moonrise above some mountains.

Regardless of where the location will be, it is wise to check the location on the evening before the photographic shooting and become familiar with the location and its surroundings. Like sunrise and sunset photography, people can use objects in the photo, such as mountains, ocean rocks, trees or city buildings, to create a more interesting photo. With regard to personal safety, it is best to be visible and preferably not alone when taking photos at night. It is also important to stay away from restricted areas and seek permission, if required at certain locations, before taking photos.

Equipment

The basic equipment for photographing the moon includes a camera, a tripod (to help keep photo still), a remote shutter release, a mirror lock-up and plenty of film for those who do not use a digital camera. A remote shutter release can be corded or infrared. Many types of cameras can be used as long as they have a lens of a focal length large enough to provide sufficient magnification. While 200 millimeters seems to be the minimum, some photographers say the bigger the better. However, other photographers say that the shorter the lens, the more dramatic the effect, and most people use wide angle lenses to shoot landscapes. They also say that a telephoto lens that is too long tends to compress things close together.

A mirror lock-up (or MLU) eliminates vibrations – it locks up the mirror, waits for a few seconds, then opens and closes the shutter. At high magnifications with a zoom lens, vibrations can cause a photograph to blur and lose sharpness. For those who do not use a digital camera, it is important to check that the type of film that they buy must work well for photographing moonrises and moonsets. Autofocus may not be able to focus on the moon so manual focus should be considered in a similar manner as manual focus is considered when photographing sunsets and sunrises.

Exposure

Many photographers recommend using manual and longer exposure instead of autoexposure. With the moon at its brightest, the “sunny f/16 rule” could be a good start, meaning that it is fine to use an f/16 aperture with the same shutter speed as the ISO (eg. ISO 100, 1/100 s). Many photographers recommend going up to f/11. They also recommend for people play a little with their exposures and that there may be a need to underexpose the photo. The moon’s position in the sky is moving rapidly, so it is not recommended to use long exposures without the right type of tripod (one that can follow the movement).

Moreover, many cameras support a feature called bracketing, which is the general technique of taking several shots of the same subject using different or the same camera settings. Bracketing is useful and often recommended in situations that make it difficult to obtain a satisfactory image with a single shot, especially when a small variation in exposure parameters has a comparatively large effect on the resulting image. Exposure bracketing is when the photographer chooses to take one picture at a given exposure, one or two brighter, and one or two darker, in order to select the most satisfactory image.

Disclaimer: This article provides basic information for beginners and is not professional advice so people are responsible for the outcome of their own photos and photographic equipment. Those who want to learn more about moon photography can discuss it with a professional photographer or a school that offers photography tuition.

Topics: Astronomy, Moon

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