Shooting the Moon

How could something so simple be so difficult to shoot? If anything, the photos I will be posting here are examples of my failure to get a moon shot that I’m happy with. Let this be a lesson of how NOT to shoot the moon LOL!

I mean if all you ever want to do is shoot the moon directly then it’s easy: Get your longest lens then use the sunny f/16 rule and overexpose by a stop. But that’s boring. Every photo of the moon that was captured in this manner looks exactly the same so what’s the point other than showing off your long lens? Let’s consider then something more challenging and exciting…

How about adding an interesting foreground? If this is what you want then timing is everything. You would want to shoot when the moon is rising while it’s not yet completely dark. Why is this? Remember that the moon is directly lit by the sun so the sunny f/16 rule applies. Depending on atmospheric conditions, you’d probably want to overexpose it by a stop or two so a good approximation is ISO 100, f/11, 1/125s. With these settings, your foreground will be severely underexposed when the sun is well below the horizon. If you expose for the foreground, you will overexpose the moon. This is what happens:

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One way of approaching this problem is by making two separate shots: one to expose for the foreground and another to expose for the moon. Careful though because you don’t want the sky to look too different. Since you’re doing composites anyway, you might as well zoom in at the moon. I think I shot the foreground too wide in this one so the moon looks unusually large. Note that the moon is also a bit overexposed because the correct exposure would have resulted in a darker sky and caused halos when superimposed over the foreground shot.

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Another thing you would have to consider is that when you include a foreground it will need to be very far otherwise it would fall outside the depth of field and look blurry. You can’t just use a small aperture because you will end up in a longer exposure and result in a blurry moon due to subject movement. The moon moves quite fast especially when using long lenses. A far foreground also means that it will have to be tall enough to cover your framing angle. So here’s what happens when your foreground isn’t far and tall enough:

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Note the grainy shots. This is what happens when it’s too dark. I had to push the ISO to freeze the blood moon and to expose the foreground properly.

Lastly, here’s my most recent attempt to shoot the August 10 supermoon:

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I made a stupid rookie mistake. I didn’t realise that my camera was set to auto ISO until much later. That’s ISO 800 with my Olympus E-M5. I do have low ISO shots but they were shot much later when it was already too dark and the magenta tint in the sky was already gone. They weren’t worth processing at all. It would have been the ideal time for a shoot because moonrise was just ten minutes after sunset. There was enough ambient light for my foreground rocks to balance the luminance of the moon. It was so frustrating.

Shooting the moon is my nemesis. If you guys have better tips then please share them below.

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