Photographing the Super Moon
July 11, 2014 11:59 PM   Subscribe

Assume I know very very little about photography, but I have a small tripod, a Canon Rebel Xti DLSR and a 400 zoom lens. How do I photograph the Super Moon tomorrow over Lake Tahoe?

I have access to this nice little camera, but don't really know how to use it. I want to get a cool shot of the moon over the lake tomorrow. Talk me through photographing it like I'm an idiot.
posted by HeyAllie to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Bring the biggest memory card[s] you have, and a spare battery if you have one. As the moon rises, take as many pictures you can, running through as many settings (auto and manual) as you have at your disposal. More than likely you'll get a few great shots.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 1:06 AM on July 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you are trying to capture surface detail of the moon, randomly trying settings isn't a good strategy. The moon is very small relative to the overall field of view. It is very bright, and usually shot in relative darkness. It is also in motion. Pretty much every auto setting will render the moon as a featureless white blob. You probably want to use the Looney 11 rule.
  1. Set mode to manual (the M on the dial). You might be able to use aperture priority (A) if you set metering to spot metering, but you'll likely need the moon dead center when you meter, which is a pain. It moves pretty quick, especially when zoomed. You'll see...
  2. Set ISO to 100. This will help reduce graininess.
  3. Set aperture to f/11.
  4. Set exposure to 1/125 seconds.
  5. Turn off auto-focus. You'll probably do this on the lens itself. Look for a little switch that says AF/MF. Flip it to MF for Manual Focus.
  6. Focus. You may find that it is easier to use Live View rather than the view finder. The moon is small.
  7. Use a cable release if you have one to reduce shake. You're zoomed way in... movement gets amplified.
  8. Check your result. If it is over or under exposed, adjust the exposure time.
That should give you a pretty good result, I think. If you're going to try to properly expose stuff in the foreground as well (mountains or whatever), you're on your own. You're probably best off getting some good shots of the moon, and then using an auto mode for the foreground, and compositing in Photoshop.

Before heading out, mess around with the tripod. I don't know how high the moon will be when you're shooting, but you may find that the tripod doesn't tilt up enough. If this is the case, see if you can tilt it 90 degrees to the side, and "pan" up.

Also, a 400mm lens is probably pretty heavy, and it sounds like your tripod is one of those very light ones. Don't let your camera do a face plant.
posted by pheide at 3:19 AM on July 12, 2014 [16 favorites]

If your tripod isn't up to the task of steadying a large lense a bean/sand bag may be a better option if you have anything (even the hood of a car or a fence post) to set it on.
posted by Mitheral at 3:53 AM on July 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Use a cable release if you have one to reduce shake.

If you don't, you can try using the timer.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:38 AM on July 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

pheide's advice is spot-on. In summary, all of your camera's automatic features begin to work against you when shooting the Moon.

If you're accustomed to normal indoor and outdoor photography, you might be amazed at how bright the Moon is. Think about shooting outdoors on a clear day in direct sunlight. It's bright, so you need a small aperture and a fast shutter. Now realize that a full Moon is a place where it's a clear day in direct sunlight everywhere. Plan your exposures accordingly.

That's a 1.6x crop-sensor camera, so your 400mm lens will have an effective focal length of 640mm. It'll be a tight shot. You will be chasing the Moon across the sky.
posted by rlk at 6:58 AM on July 12, 2014

If the tripod allows it, spread the legs to the setting slightly wider than the normal setting. And if it's got a hook or loop at the bottom end of the center post, hang something heavy from it. If the lens has image stabilization, try both with and with IS.
posted by notsnot at 7:22 AM on July 12, 2014

While there's nothing wrong with taking a picture of the moon, a "super moon" is not really that much easier to shoot or more interesting than the moon under normal circumstances. It'll just be a small fraction larger.

Most of the really good shots you've seen of the moon hanging over some location are probably composites - 2 seperate shots combined together. One exposed properly for the moon, the other for the main subject.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:23 AM on July 12, 2014

FWIW, on my Nikon I use a cheap infrared remote in lieu of a cable or timer.
posted by Poldo at 8:16 AM on July 12, 2014

As pheide notes, the moon is very, very bright compared to the rest of a night scene. If you want to get creative try taking two shots. One exposed for the moon so you can see some detail in the moon's disc, everything else will be black. Then a second shot exposed for the scene, the moon will be searingly overexposed. Then composite them in photoshop and it'll be pretty.

If your camera is relatively new it may have an "HDR mode"; that will do something like the multiple exposures automatically.

A "super moon" is not really any different from any other full moon. Consider taking shots with your back to the moon, capturing just the subtle illumination of the landscape by the moon. It can be quite beautiful.
posted by Nelson at 8:31 AM on July 12, 2014

« Older Help me identify this image from a shirt   |   Where should we watch the World Cup finals in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.