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Lunar Photography – 10 Essential tips to these tricky shots!

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The moon is a very popular subject for wildlife photographers to shoot. But if you’ve ever tried lunar photography, you’ve probably discovered that it’s not that easy to accomplish. In this article, let’s look at some dos and don’ts to take your moon shots from snapshot to artwork. To begin, the first and most important DON’T is: don’t assume that photographing the moon is easy.

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#1 Do use a tripod for lunar photography

One of the most important pieces of equipment for any low light photography is a good tripod. Since the moon is so far away, it is very important to have a sturdy base as even the smallest movement of the camera will cause your image to blur. You might be tempted to think that if you use a fast enough shutter speed you can hand-hold the camera, but you need to realize that your subject is 238,900 miles away and even the slightest movement will be exaggerated.

#2 Don’t use a slow shutter speed

The moon is actually moving very quickly around the earth at a speed of 2,288 miles per hour (3,683 kilometres per hour). The moon is so distant, it does not appear to be traveling very quickly to the naked eye. Because of the moon’s speed and the long focal length necessary to capture an image of the moon, you need to use the fastest shutter speed possible. A good rule of thumb for tack sharp moon photos is nothing slower than 1/125th of a second.

#3 Do use a telephoto lens

To successfully shoot any kind of detail of the moon in your image, you need at least a 300mm telephoto. For a full frame image, you will need around an 800mm lens.

#4 Don’t use any filters on your lens

Remove ALL filters from your lens! To prevent any chance of distortion, don’t use any filters. Yes, even remove the UV filter. This may sound scary if you never remove the UV filter from your lens, but it’s best to remove it in this case. Some may suggest using a neutral density (ND) filter for lunar photography to cut back the bright light of the moon. But, all this will do is require you to use a slower shutter speed, and you want to use the fastest shutter speed possible to get that crisp, tack sharp, image.

#5 Do try the Looney 11 rule

The Looney 11 rule is similar to the Sunny 16 rule. Set your f-stop to f/11, then match the shutter speed to your ISO. For example, if your ISO is set at 100, set your shutter speed to 1/125 of a second. (This is not an exact science but will give you a good starting point.)

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#6 Don’t touch the camera to start your exposure

Do not manually press the shutter release or even touch your tripod when initiating your moon shot. Remember that even the slightest touch could add enough vibration motion to blur the image. Using a cable release or remote trigger is the best way to start your exposure. If you don’t have either of these gadgets, use the self-timer feature on your camera to begin your shot.

#7 Do use Mirror Lock-up

If your camera gives you the option to lock up your mirror this can greatly increase your chances of getting a tack sharp image. Even the slightest shake of your camera’s mirror can be enough to blur your image. If your camera has this option, use it! Lock the mirror up and wait a few seconds to allow any vibration to settle before beginning your exposure.

#8 Don’t use Image Stabilization

Canon’s IS (Image Stabilization) or Nikon’s VR (Vibration Reduction) must be turned off anytime your camera is on a tripod. Turning on any vibration reduction feature with your camera mounted on a tripod will actually create blur in your image.

#9 Do know the cycles of the moon

There are 29.5 days between full moons. There are many online and smart phone applications that can help you track the phases of the moon. One must-have app is The Photographer’s Ephemeris which will not only give you the phases of the moon, but also show you when and where the moon will appear in the sky. This is especially useful when planning your lunar photography sessions in advance. By far the most photographed stage is the full moon, which is also the brightest and the most difficult to expose correctly. The side lighting of the Gibbous stage produces some interesting shadows which may allow you to capture craters and mountains. The crescent moon is, of course, the darkest stage, but one which may create some interesting effects when added to a night time landscape.

#10 Don’t always place the moon in the center

While you can use all the usual rules of composition for your lunar photography, don’t be afraid to break the rules if the shot calls for it. Don’t just put the moon in the center of your image with nothing else – it’s been done a million times before and there is nothing exciting about this. Try to include other objects in the frame with the moon.

# Bonus Do: Practice, Practice, Practice

Now get out there and shoot the moon! Remember it is not as easy as it looks, so keep trying if your first results are not as dramatic as you expected.

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FIONA AYERST - COFOUNDER - PHOTOGRAPHER - JOURNALIST. With over fifteen years collective experience in photography and wildlife interaction, Fiona Ayerst is a multi-award winning photographer and environmental journalist whose renowned work offers a unique glimpse into the history and wildlife of the world’s oceans. As co-founder of Africa Media, Fiona's goal is to shed light on the current plight of our oceans and to highlight the damage we are doing through our habits of over-use and over-spend. Many people never get to see what Fiona does when she shoots under the waves and so we have tried to give you a glimpse of the beauty and wonder that is Fiona's favourite haven.

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Fiona is a renowned underwater and environmental photo journalist based in South Africa. Her work is featured extensively in local and international magazines and publications. In 2012, Fiona developed the wildlife and travel photography internship and the underwater photographic internship at Africa Media

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