How to Shoot the Moon Using a DSLR: Step-by-Step Tutorial (Including Editing)

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Moon photography is one of the most thrilling forms of photography as it is capable of immediately giving you a view which is unimaginable.

However, you’ve got to have the right equipment in order to get that perfect shot.

What you need

A DSLR camera (even budget ones will do).

The most important thing however is the lens. Lot of people say that any lens with a focal length of at least 200mm is fine. But that’s not true.

From my own experience, you need to use a lens with a minimum focal length of 400mm. The more the better. Because getting close to the moon is very essential if you want to get out all those craters from its surface. Otherwise it just comes out flat.

So either you need to get your hands on a super telephoto lens or use a tele-converter with a regular zoom lens. Bottom-line is that you need to get to 400mm.

The image above has been taken with a Tamron 150-600 at 600mm.

These lenses are expensive so you might want to rent one instead of buying it.

A cheaper option is to use a tele-converter which can multiply your zoom lens’ focal length. FOr example, using a 2X telelconverter will multiply the focal length by two times. So using it with a 200mm lens will give you a focal length of 400mm.

You will also need a tripod. And a sturdy one at that if you are using a big telephoto lens. A good mid-range tripod is the Vanguard Alta CA 203AGH.

A tripod is very essential because whether you use a telephoto lens or a teleconverter enabled one, it’s bound to wobble at the slightlest of touch. And you don’t want to use a veyr high shutter speed just to counter your movement as that would mean bumping up the ISO which will mean more noise.

How to Shoot

Now once you’re all set-up, here’s what you do.

Dial up the following settings:

Shutter speed: 1/125

Aperture: From f8 to f11. A higher aperture like this makes sure you get all the parts of the moon in focus from back to front.

ISO: Around 250

A lot of people will tell you to use spot metering as the moon’s surroundings are not important. But again, all this sounds good but has little impact. The settings above do a great job so don’t worry about all these techincalities. Keep photography simple 😉

Zoom in to the maximum focal length that your lens offers.

Next comes focusing.

First of all trying to auto-focus. Mostly your camera will be able to do this as the moon is very bright. If not, shift to manual focus and focus to infinity.

Dpeending upon the sturdiness of your tripod, you’ll find that pressing the shutter button moves the lens and it starts to wobble a bit. So here’s what you should do.

Before half pressing the shutter button, select the 10 second self-timer shooting mode.

Then half press the shutter button to lock focus and once the focus is locked, press the shutter button all the way down. Same procedure to be followed if you are using manual focus.

The ten seconds your camera will take to take the shot is enough time to stabilise the camera and make sure the wobbling does not interfere when the shot is taken.

The alternative is to use a remote shutter release.

Preview the shot.

You want the craters and the textures on the moon to be very sharp so zoom in and make sure of that.

You also don’t want the moon too bright or too dark. In case you find that to be the case, change your ISO accordingly. If the ISO is 100 and it’s still overexposed, raise the shutter speed and take the shot again.

Editing

Editing is a must for moon shots.

There are five steps you should follow in Photoshop:

The first thing to do is to crop the image so that the moon fills the frame just like the image on top.

The second thing to do is to go to Image>Adjustments>Curves>Presets>Medium Contrast

The third thing to do is to open up the adjustments box Window> Adjustments and then play around with Birghtness and contrast. Increasing the contrast and the playing with the brightness works very well. This is subjective as everyone has a different perspective of what looks good. So play around a bit. I personally like more contrast so more of the details are visible.

The fourth thing is to do is to go to Image> Adjustments> Shadows/Highlights and then play with the highlights slider to make sure most details come out from the surface of the moon.

The last thing to do is to go to Filter>Smart Sharpen and then play around with the sliders to make sure the texture and craters are sharpened so they begin to pop out a bit more. Increasing the shaprness may make the image noisy so make sure you sharpen it on a duplicate layer and then erase the effects from the areas you don’t want by using an eraser. For advacned editors, you can use layer masking to achieve the same more effectively.

All this will make sure you end up with a very superior moon shot. Good luck!

I hope this article helped you. In case you are learning digital photography, you can use our free e-book – Photography for Beginners (E-book With Videos): The Easiest Way to Learn DSLR Photography From the Comfort of Your Home which is a comprehensive and step-by-step guide that teaches you the basics of photography. It’s great for beginners as well as semi-advanced photographers. And if you happen to live in the city of Pune, then do check out our photography workshops that take place almost every weekend.

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