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How to take photos at night

I would like to know how to go about taking shots at night, especially of the moon. I have tried this many times and have had very poor results. Does one need a tripod to do this and what speed film?

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9/5/2001 9:19:23 PM

Jeff S. Kennedy   Much of night photography (as with any subject) is about experimentation and depends upon what you are trying to accomplish. A tripod helps but isn't necessary for all types of photography. In regard to moon photography, the moon is a sunlit object and as such is subject to the Sunny 16 rule. Expose for it as you would any sunlit object. BTW there are many good books out there dealing specifically with nighttime and low light photography.

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9/6/2001 12:47:10 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
I'm assuming you want to make photographs of the moon that show detail levels like this these:

Note: These were enlarged and cropped from the originals, by about 2X to 3X original size.

(a) Best clarity is on a cold clear night during the Winter with the moon high in the sky. Even so, one of the above was done in a rural area on a cool, clear Summer night (July). A harvest moon in a rural area can be cool also, but low on the horizon will distort it some (atmosphere), it will be typically a little yellowish, and you must be away from other light sources, at the very least well outside the frame. Having a small flashlight so you can see what your camera setting are helps. I use one with a red lens so it doesn't destroy my night vision.
(b) Use a relatively slow speed film for fine grain (and detail level). ISO 200 is OK. ISO 100 is better.
(c) You should use a tripod! The sturdier, the better, and a cable or remote release to trip the shutter. Poor-man's version is using the self timer. If you have mirror-lockup, use that too, even with a cable release. If not, use the self-timer. (See next item for the reason why.)
(d) Focal lengths of 600mm and longer attain much greater detail. You can use a reasonably fast 300mm prime with high end 2X teleconverter (mine has seven elements of ED glass). There is no way you can hand hold a focal length this long (see previous item for tripod recommendation). The slightest vibration will show in the viewfinder (the reason to use mirror lockup if you can). The longer the lens though, the more you must watch shutter speed to keep the combination of earth rotation and moon orbital motion from blurring the moon's details. More of a concern if you use very slow ISO 25 film for a thin crescent. With ISO 100 a proper exposure should not blur from planetary motion.
(e) Manually set exposure for a full moon using the looney-11 rule: f/11 at 1/(film speed). Add a stop of exposure for a gibbous moon (halfway between full and half). Add two stops for a half moon. Add three stops for a thin crescent. (Some will tell you to use the same as Sunny-16 rule, but the moon is a dark gray rock and there is some light absorption in the atmosphere. Bracket your exposure in half-stop or third-stop increments for a full stop or more in both directions.
(f) Manually set focus to infinity and lock it there if your camera is auto-focus.
(g) If your camera has an integral flash that likes to flip up and activate itself in low light, disable it!
(h) If you're using negative (print) film, ensure you tell whoever prints the negatives that there are moon shots on it. Otherwise they will probably underexpose the print trying to make it average 18% gray, making the sky middle gray and the moon totally washed out.

Expecting details of craters on a low moon while photographing a night landscape or cityscape is all but impossible. The exposure required for details of the landscape/cityscape is much longer and moon details will wash out. You likely won't even get much, if any, silhouette of a skyline.

-- John

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9/6/2001 1:16:15 AM

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