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Capturing the Moon

Taking on many shapes, forms and colours, the moon can be a challenging subject to photograph. Its size, ability to reflect light, and influence on gravitational changes, has made it the subject of human interest since the very beginning. This fascinating satellite goes through many phases during the month, making it an intriguing subject to capture all year round, due to its changeable nature.

Wax On, Wax Off

The moon does not emit any light on its own, instead, it reflects light from the sun. The moon’s continual orbit and trajectory around the earth is responsible for its transformation between different lunar phases. This ranges from a full moon to varying degrees of a crescent moon. The moon’s direction of orbit means that the waxing of the moon always begins from the right edge, which then leads to a full moon, then a waning moon, as the light source moves to the left. Understanding the lunar phases will help you plan your shoot so you can capture your desired shot during your favoured lunar phase.

Getting the Right Set Up

Using the right equipment will help maximise the success of your moon photography. Firstly, use a telephoto lens that has a focal length of at least 200mm, such as the AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR. A standard wide-angle lens can make far away subjects appear smaller, whereas a telephoto lens will result in greater magnification and detail when capturing close-ups of the moon. Secondly, mount your camera on a tripod to avoid image blur under low light conditions. With a greater magnification of the subject through a telephoto lens, even the slightest movements can be exaggerated on camera. Thirdly, to further eliminate camera shake, try using a wireless remote or cable release to initiate your shot without having to manually press the shutter release. Using your camera’s self-timer can also achieve the same effect.

Achieving a Good Exposure

The moon is dotted with craters, channels, and mountains on its surface, becoming more visible during different lunar phases. However, the moon can appear as a bright white circle due to overexposure, caused by the light metering not working well due to the surrounding darkness. To alleviate this problem, it is important to experiment with bracket exposures. One way is to manually change the exposure by adjusting the exposure compensation (+/-). Take one shot with the automatic setting, then take the same shot at +/-0.5EV, then at +/-1EV, and continue to +/-1.5EV or beyond. Another way is to use the camera’s spot metering mode on the moon, which will most likely be the brightest part of your image. You can also try using a shutter speed that is slower than 1 second, set the focus to infinity and the aperture to f/11 or f/16 to get the shot. Consider photographing during blue hour, so that there is less contrast between the sky and a fully-lit moon.

Setting the Scene

Apart from getting an excellent close-up shot of the moon alone, get creative by positioning the moon in other surroundings to create a more complex and interesting composition. Frame it behind trees or have it reflect off the surface of a still lake. Including other objects in the foreground helps give context to the scale and size of the moon. Experiment with another technique known as multiple exposure. Selected Nikon cameras, such as the D850 and D7500, have a built-in function that allows you to combine multiple images. Using this, you can create incredible and unique compositions with multiple moons in a single image.

Go out there, enjoy the moonlight and capture some incredible shot of this natural satellite.