Today's Photo Minute

Behind the camera photographing the moon

The Concept:

Today’s Photo Minute becomes Tonight’s Photo Minute as Brian Osborne shows us his setup and process of actually photographing the moon. Starting with the camera settings we shared online, we discuss how you can adjust the exposure and white balance of your shots if you need too.

While working in manual mode might be a little different for many of us, it is important when photographing the moon. The camera’s light meter sees everything as middle brightness often called, 18% gray. If you use Aperture priority or another semi-program mode, the camera will way overexpose the moon because the meter only really sees the dark sky and wants to make the whole photo brighter. Often, there is not enough minus exposure compensation on the camera to correct this. Therefore, we shoot in manual mode in this situation so we can get the camera to give us the correct results without the light meter being fooled by the dark sky.

The Assignment:

In manual mode, exposure compensation does not work because you are in charge of all the parts of the exposure triangle (shutter speed, aperture and ISO). Therefore, if you need to lighten or darken the brightness of the shot, you need to be clear on which one of these to adjust and which way to go. In the samples below, the first image was done at the settings we suggested: 1/250th at F11 at ISO 400. I think it was a little underexposed. So if I decide to increase the exposure, I need to adjust the shutter speed, aperture or ISO. I feel like since I am on a tripod and not moving, the shutter speed is the right choice. To make the photo brighter, you would go slower on your shutter speed and if for a darker shot, you would go faster. So, I went down to 1/160th and got a brighter shot. Now be careful to not overexpose the detail in the moon. Because of this, I checked the flashing highlights warning on my screen and to make sure that either there is nothing blinking or just a tiny little bit at the most. This tells me that I have a good exposure of the moon but am not losing any detail.

Finally, you can adjust any color cast in the moon with your white balance (WB for short). You might have started at Daylight or 5200 Kelvin. When I did this, I thought there was a little yellow in the moon so I reduced the Kelvin value to about 5000 K. In the example below I show you 5500 K and 5000 K so you can see the color difference between the two. This might be personal preference and is easily adjustable later in editing but may be helpful. Even Auto WB should work for this situation if it is easier.

While we had lights on for the recording of the video, you ideally do not want much light around the back of the camera when doing astrophotography. Therefore, knowing your camera controls well before you start trying to make adjustments, makes it easier and more efficient to work in the dark to get the results you are going for. Give it a try.

Photos of the moon to demonstrate changing the exposure
I lightened up the exposure in Manual mode of the second image by lowering my shutter speed from 1/250th to 1/160th
Photos of the moon with slightly different color
To shift the moon’s color from the slightly yellow to more neutral, I took my Kelvin WB setting from 5500 to 5000
Photo of moon with leaves in front of it
While at first I thought it was not ideal that the moon was blocked by the trees in my backyard, it made for an interesting image which I like

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