How to photograph the moon

ByDavid M. Conte

Jun 24, 2021

“A cold, calm night is better,” says Tim Easley, a London illustrator who recently self-published a book of his black and white photographs of the moon. “When it’s hot, the air wobbles a bit and makes things blurry,” he says. Since childhood, Easley has been obsessed with all things space. But when it comes to turning his camera to the sky, he focuses on the moon; other celestial bodies are too small and difficult to see in the middle of a light-emitting city.

Don’t try to go out and photograph the moon with your smartphone. Even though he’s plump and low on the horizon, seemingly huge to the naked eye, “you’re going to give it a try, and it just shows a little white dot,” says Easley. Instead, use a camera with manual controls and a zoom. Easley shoots with a 1200mm telephoto lens, but even a 100mm lens will do. The exact settings will depend on your camera and the phase of the moon, but a good starting point is a shutter speed of at least one two hundredth of a second; opening around F10; and light sensitivity, or ISO, at 100.

When shooting something this far away, stability is key. Set up a tripod and anchor it to the ground with something heavy, like a backpack. To not shake it, use a remote shutter cable or set up a timed shot so you can press the button and keep your body still while the camera shutter opens. “Don’t even breathe,” Easley said.

A full moon is bright and lit straight up, making it difficult to photograph the dimensionality of its cratered surface. Instead, try photographing a crescent, waxing or waning moon so that you can see its spherical shape under some shadow of the earth. You can shoot the moon day or night. Use photo apps to track moonrise and set times and stargazing apps to forecast visibility. Sometimes Easley sets off an alarm so he can catch a moonrise or the moon passing through his burst of urban sky.

During the pandemic, much of Easley’s commercial work was lost. He ended up spending more time on his apartment balcony trying to photograph the moon orbiting him some 238,800 miles away. In uncertain times on Earth, he took comfort in focusing on space, often trying to capture other objects passing momentarily between himself and the moon – a trailing cloud, an airplane – crossing its luminous surface.


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