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Category: All About Photography : Photographic Field Techniques : Exposure Settings

Photography Question 
Mike Turner

Moon Photography

I want to take a good picture of the moon. I have two questions.

1.) Previously, I have taken pictures using 400 speed film, 75-300mm telephoto lense, and Canon Rebel 2000. The pictures have come out grainy (not enough light) even though I have the lowest aperture (5.6). Some come out OK but are still grainy. I have also went +/- 1 f-stop, still grainy. I also receive a moon-spot (like a sun spots). What would cause this? How would I prevent against it? I am going to go to 800 or higher speed film next. I think that will help a lot.

2.) Also, even the pictures that are real good still have the moon over-exposed. How would I capture the moon's craters and indentations, being so bright, when it's framed against the dark night sky? Does that make sense?

Thanks in advance,
P.S. I don't have a scanner, but will send them once I can get them scanned.

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8/6/2001 4:44:22 PM

Jeff S. Kennedy   The tricky part of photographing the moon is that, generally speaking, your surroundings are dark and the moon is a sunlit object. There isn't a film made that can handle that contrast. Since the moon is a sunlit object, to expose it correctly you must follow the Sunny 16 rule. In other words, use a shutter speed that is equivalent to the film ISO (ISO400 film = 1/500th ; ISO800 = 1/750th or 1/1000th if your camera doesn't have 1/750th) and an aperture of f16. Some prefer to open a stop (f11) so experiment and see what you like.

There are a few of ways to have a properly exposed moon within the context of a properly exposed landscape. One is to make a double exposure. You shoot the moon on a frame and then shoot the landscape (or sky) on that same frame exposing for each seperately. Another method that works when the sky isn't completely dark is to use a graduated neutral density filter to bring the exposure of the moon down a few stops. And of course the modern way is to digitally add the moon to whatever shot you want.

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8/6/2001 7:42:59 PM

Mike Turner   Jeff,

First, what are you doing there at almost 8:00pm. Go home - enjoy life. Just kidding, I didn't mean to keep you there at work. Thanks for the tips. I think I will try the double exposure. I have been wanting a reason to mess around with that function. I probably need to learn more about filters too. I guess what I am saying is thanks for the ideas (except for the digital option - that's cheating) and for staying late to answer my question.

Take care & blessings,


Proverbs 3:1-2
(1) My son, forget not my law; but let your heart keep my commandments;
(2) for they shall add length of days, and long life, and peace to you.

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8/6/2001 10:09:54 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Crescent Moon
Crescent Moon
Many shoot a full moon. A crescent can bring out the dimensions of the mountains and craters even though it's only a sliver.
© John A. Lind
A couple of tips and some information in addition to what Jeff has provided:

a. It takes about a 1200mm lens to fill a 35mm film frame with the moon. You can use this to gauge how big the moon will be in the photograph based on the focal length you use.

b. Be cautious about using long shutter speeds. The moon is orbiting and the earth rotating under it. The combined motion will blur the moon if your shutter speed is too long. The longer the focal length used, the more pronounced the effect. At 600mm I was continuously having to reposition the camera between frames made about a minute apart. Note its direction of motion in the viewfinder and frame slightly ahead of where it will be, then wait until it's in position. I try to keep shutter speed at 1/30th with 600mm. Slower risks blurring.

c. If it's a half-moon or crescent moon, you will need slightly more exposure, as the moon is sidelighted by the sun. However, you shouldn't need much more than about one stop more even with a crescent.

d. A crescent, although only a sliver, shows the dimensional quality of the mountains and craters that are illuminated, because of the sidelighting. Don't discount shooting a crescent moon some time. I've uploaded one I made about a year or so ago using a 600mm lens. Image is cropped to make it about twice the size of the full frame.

BTW, I'm writing this from home. :-)

-- John

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8/7/2001 1:30:49 AM

Jeff S. Kennedy   If you follow the Sunny 16 rule you shouldn't have a significant problem with the moon blurring since your shutter speed will be matching your ISO (unless you are shooting 25 or 50 speed film).

BTW my studio's in my home so I'm never (or always I guess) late at the office. ;-)))

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8/7/2001 11:10:38 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Yes, should have realized that (was thinking about the slow ISO 64 film I use with apertures that put shutter speeds near the edge of blur).

Here's some additional recommendations from Kodak for exposure settings for other than full moons (just found these this evening on Kodak's site):

a. Full: same exposure as any fully sunlit subject ("sunny 16" as Jeff mentioned).
b. Gibbous (halfway between full and half): requires 1 stop more exposure than a full moon.
c. Half: requires 2 stops more exposure than a full moon.
d. Crescent (halfway between half and new): requires 3-1/2 stops more exposure than a full moon.

I do recall having to make exposures longer for other than full moons, but don't recall having to correct by quite this much, especially for a crescent. For other than full, I recommend bracketing exposure with several shots. My first attempt at a crescent moon used the same exposure as for a full one and was very underexposed.

-- John

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8/7/2001 11:07:06 PM

Jeff S. Kennedy   It did occur to me that if you were to use the GNDF method you would run into longer exposure times. So it is something to consider.

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8/8/2001 12:13:11 AM

Mike Turner   You guys are a wealth of information. Thank you very much. John your picture of the cresent moon made me appreciate them very much. Before I was only interested in full moons but now they all capture my attention. Thanks again to you both Jeff and John.

P.S. Do you have any tips on how I could avoid getting moon spots?

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8/8/2001 10:53:03 AM

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