Quick Tips for Photographing the Full Moon or Supermoon

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The great thing about photographing the moon is that you have many chances each month to photograph it in its various phases.

That means that if you don't quite get the shot you want the first time you try, just give it another shot the next day.

Even the full moon gives you an opportunity each month to capture its beauty. On more rare occasions, you can even photograph a supermoon!

The question is, how do you go about photographing the moon?

In this tutorial, I offer up a few tips to help you do just that.

berlebach tilt head

Editor's Tip: To photograph the moon, you can use a regular DSLR or mirrorless body and a zoom lens like a 70-300mm. That will give you a wide range of focal lengths for getting shots that include interesting foreground elements as well as tighter shots of the moon on its own. You'll need a sturdy tripod to give your camera and lens a stable base for capturing the sharpest images, and a tripod head for smooth movement. We recommend the Berlebach Two-Way Tilt Head (shown above) because it has a high load capacity as well as the ability to swivel in the vertical direction by 90-degrees on both sides. Friction is adjusted using a wheel opposite the clamping element, and the guide handle is mountable for both right-handed and left-handed shooters. It's versatile, too, so you can use it with a spotting scope or binoculars, in addition to your camera

Scout a Location

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When photographing a full moon or supermoon, think about the type of image you want to create.

Naturally, if you want to fill the frame with the moon, you'll need a vantage point that offers an unobstructed view, as seen in the image above.

Close-ups of the moon offer the best view of its features and are perhaps the easiest to compose. Likewise, when adjusting your exposure settings, you have just one feature in the image to be concerned about, making it an easier shot from an exposure standpoint as well.

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If you want to incorporate foreground elements into the shot, look for vantage points that allow you to include things like mountain peaks, trees, or other landscape features.

A wider shot like this requires that you work a little harder to get a well-exposed image.

That's because you'll have a wider dynamic range in the shot - from the very bright moon to darker foreground elements. If you expose for the moon, the foreground might be way too dark. Conversely, if you expose for the foreground, the moon might be far too bright.

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An effective solution for this problem is to take multiple exposures - one exposed for the moon and one exposed for the foreground - and blend them together in a program like Photoshop or Lightroom.

When creating a composite, it is absolutely imperative that you do not move the camera. Otherwise, the two images won't line up perfectly.

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Something else to think about when scouting a location is if you want to create a composite by taking two completely different images.

For example, perhaps you take a shot of the moon on its own and then go to another location to photograph a night landscape.

Then, in post-processing, you can combine the two images together. This helps get around the issues of dynamic range discussed above, and also allows you to highlight both the moon and the landscape in a single image.

If you choose to utilize this method, just be sure you shoot both images with the same focal length to make the process of compositing the images easier. It also generates a more realistic result.

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Set the Exposure

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When photographing the full moon or a supermoon, it's advisable to dial in the exposure settings manually. You don't necessarily have to use manual mode, either, as aperture priority mode, shutter priority mode, or program mode can be used as well.

When dialing in the settings, err on the side of underexposing the image, that way you can retain the detail of the moon's surface without blowing out the highlights.

To determine the best settings, use spot metering to get a reading off of the moon and take a few test shots with bracketed exposures to find which one best aligns with your vision for the shot. Granted, if you're going to create a composite image, meter off the moon for one shot and for the other shot, meter off the landscape.

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When choosing a shutter speed, start with 1/15 seconds, choosing faster shutter speeds if necessary as the movement of the moon is quite fast.

Next, select an aperture, probably in the range of f/8 or f/11, and set the focus to infinity. Adjust the ISO as needed to fine-tune the exposure.

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From there, it's a matter of taking the photo or multiple photos if you want to create a composite as described earlier.

To avoid camera shake, use a camera remote or the camera's built-in timer to take exposures without causing vibrations to the camera.

Remember, you'll need to do some experimentation with the camera settings to get the exposure just right, but if you follow these steps, you can get great shots of the full moon, supermoon, or its various phases.

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