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How to photograph the full moon

Full moon over the St Johns
Full moon over the St Johns
Leonard Mossman

The moon had its closest orbit to the earth on March 19, 2011 than it has had for many years.

Individuals here in Jacksonville Fl., armed with their cameras were clicking away into the night capturing the moonlit event of their lifetime. Some of them got great results and others didn't. The East Coast with its Atlantic Ocean offered a very picturesque event.

It will be assumed that the camera being used by the photographers shooting the moon was an upper scale amateur camera preferably a SLR.

Here are a couple of issues involved when photographing the moon.

One - The moon is moving. It certainly is not a stationary object therefore to get sharp images of the moon the shutter speed can't be to slow or blurring will occur.

Two - You'll either get a nicely exposed shot of the moon but the landscape will be dark (underexposed), or the landscape is lit but the moon is washed out, (overexposed).

There are many factors involved when photographing the moon such as the atmosphere which can effect your exposure.

Try an ISO setting of 200. Setting your camera to manual mode use a shutter speed no lower than 1/125th of a second so you can keep the moon sharp. Try f11 as the aperture setting with a 1/125th shutter speed. A lens capable of 300mm is nice with a 400mm being even better. As you use a more powerful zoom lens the shutter speed will need to be bumped up a little to maintain sharpness.

Just a side note about ISO's, remember if the correct exposure is 1/125th of a sec with an aperture of f11 changing the ISO to 400 would result in either the shutter speed being changed to 1/250th of a sec or the aperture being changed to f16.

From that starting point you should be able to bracket your exposures and get nice shots. Try not to use an aperture lower than 5.6. If your camera has a good sensor adjusting the ISO to help get the background to show up better can help. Try not to go higher than ISO 1600 if possible as you will most likely start getting grain in your pictures.

If you want to photograph someone with the moon in the background such as in this wedding photograph, you can put them about 15 to 20 feet away and use the camera flash with the above settings. Try not to get too much flash on the foreground in the picture below your subject's feet because it may blow out (overexpose the ground). Using this technique the moon will burn out and be blurred but it'll still be a cool picture.

Even though HDR post processing is not normally used to solve nighttime exposure problems, but if you do bracket you can use HDR to balance all three light issues (subject, moon, and background) very succesfully.

Remember to bracket to get the result you want. If you are planning to use a HDR program, bracket while adjusting the shutter speed and not the aperture.

Enjoy, hope this information gets you in the ballpark in photographing the moon.


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