Since the dawn of time, humans have looked to the night sky and marveled at the moon so it is not surprising that as our technology has advanced, capturing photographs of the moon has become a common pass time for many photographers all around the world. Due to the lack of low light available at ground level and the contract of high available light direct from the moon, we often see people reaching out and asking for advice on the best settings for moon photography.
Due to this, we have decided to publish out ultimate guide to moon photography camera settings with a goal of being able to help as many of our readers as possible who are wanting to get optimal settings for their camera of choice. These settings can be used by anyone no matter your level of experience or the camera brand you use. Our settings guide will be fully applicable for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, Fuji, and Pentax camera users to help you improve your moon photography image quality.
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With that out of the way though, we know from the amount of questions relating to moon photography settings that we see, many people have a specific question that will fit into the more general moon photograph setting question. Due to this, we have out table of contents below so you can click on any of the sub sections of our article to go directly to that section without having to waste your time.
What Is The Best Moon Photography ISO Settings?
Without a doubt, one of the most common moon photography settings that people get wrong when first trying their hand at moon photography is their cameras ISO setting. This is due to the other popular night photography sub-niches needing a much higher ISO setting that moon photography. As we touched on above, the moon is reflecting the light of the sun back at the earth so there is plenty of light available for your camera sensor to capture a great photograph.
We usually recommend that our readers start their camera with an ISO of 100 and then test and adjust from there. This should offer you the best starting position to be able to capture a nice and share photograph of the moon while still capturing the contrast with the night sky. As each camera brand and each camera model will perform slightly differently, you can then adjust your initial bench mark as required to try and improve your image quality by slowly changing your cameras ISO setting.
We know that this may seem like a large amount of work but once you get the hang of it and are used to the ISO setting your camera set up required for moon photography, it will take seconds. On the flip side of this though, the improvement to your actual image quality on your photographs of the moon can be huge making it well worth doing.
Another, often overlooked reason that you should be testing and adjusting your cameras ISO setting when capturing photographs of the moon is due to the moon changing its phases. You will need a totally different ISO setting when capturing photographs of a full moon to capturing photographs of a crescent moon due to less of the moon reflecting the suns light back to the earth.
No matter the phase of the moon, starting out at ISO 100 and then slowly craning your ISO up will almost always be the best way to start and offer you the quickest path to getting better image quality. If you are planning on capturing photographs of the moon on a regular basis then it is common for photographers to note their optimal camera ISO setting for each phase of the moon in a note book to save time in the future.
What Is The Best Shutter Speed For Moon Photography?
Thankfully, when it comes to finding the best shutter speed setting for your moon photography session, it is much easier than working out the optimal ISO setting. For the vast majority of our readers, we would recommend that you set your shutter speed to either 1/125 or 1/100 and leave it at that. This will help to ensure that you are getting high-quality photographs of the moon while saving you a whole bunch of time.
That said though, although the moon is around 238,855 miles away from earth and appears to move slowly, it is actually moving at around 2,290 miles per hour. In some sub-niches of moon photograph, this will need to be factored in with your shutter speed being adjusted accordingly but this is much rarer than general moon photography.
In addition to this, the phase of the moon can also come into play as well as your own location on earth as well as the specific type of photograph that you are trying to capturing. This is where testing and adjusting your camera settings will come into play to help keep your image quality as best as possible. That said though, you should be able to set your shutter speed setting to 1/125 and leave it at that for the vast majority of the time when capturing photographs of the moon.
What Is The Best Aperture Setting For Moon Photography?
When it comes to customising your moon photography settings on your camera setup, optimising the aperture is probably the most common mistake that we see beginner photographers make time and time again. This is due to the majority of night photography niches needing an aperture of f/1.4 to around f/2.8 but moon photography is totally different.
As we touched on earlier in the article, the moon is reflecting the light of the sun directly back to earth and you are trying to make this huge light reflector the main subject of your photograph. If you use an aperture setting of f/1.4 then you are usually going to allow far too much light into your camera sensor and end up spoiling your photograph.
Most types of moon photography should be able to get away with using an aperture range of f/5.6 and f/11 without having any issues and still getting excellent quality photographs. Again though, as you may expect, there are some factors that you have to take into account for this. The main one will be cloud cover and although most photography sessions will usually be planned when there is no or at least minimal cloud cover, some people do use clouds as a way to add an additional element to their photographs of the moon.
Just like the camera settings above, the phase of the moon will come into play when it comes to the optimal setting for your camera lens too. The more light being reflected from the moon back to earth means that you can use a higher aperture and still get great photographs. This allows you to use a telephoto zoom lens and get some great detail in your photographs such as the example photograph below.
On the flipside of this though, as the phase of the moon changes and less and less of the reflecting surface of the moon is visible to earth, the less light will be reflected. If conditions for your moon photography session are ideal this may not be an issue. That said though, with less light being reflected back to you it can be optimal to use a faster aperture to ensure that you are getting as much of the light to your camera sensor as possible.
Anything within the f/5.6 and f/11 aperture setting range should be ideal and still offer you excellent contrast between the bright, white moon, and the dark night sky. If you are using a camera lens with a variable aperture that supports the f/5.6 and f/11 range then take a few test photographs when you first get on location to see the level of image quality that you can expect and then test and adjust as required.
What Is The Best Moon Photography Settings For Optimal Focus?
When it comes down to getting the best possible focus for your moon photography work, you are going to have to factor in the specific type of photograph that you want to capture. For example, if you are wanting something like a close-up photograph of the moon then a lens that can offer a zoom range of at least 300mm will be optimal. Both the 75-300mm and 100-400mm zoom range lens series are very popular for this type of moon photography.
Although these lens ranges can become extremely expensive if you are looking for a fast aperture, as we covered above, there really is no need for a super-fast aperture on your lens due to the light of the moon. This allows you to go with more budget-friendly variants of the 75-300mm or 100-400mm zoom range lenses.
That said though, there are some excellent photograph opportunities when using the moon as an additional feature for a broader photograph. For example, a landscape photograph at night with the moon above the landscape that you are trying to capture. This type of moon photography will do much better with a much wider lens such as a 14mm lens with a much faster aperture such as an f/1.4.
There are a number of other popular types of moon photography too but these usually end up falling into either of the two main focus settings covered above. If you are a beginner photographer then the price of these lenses can limit what you are able to do with your moon photography sessions but if you check sites such as eBay, you are often able to get yourself a great deal and pick up some solid camera lenses for much cheaper than in a store.
What Is The Best White Balance For Moon Photography?
As the moon is reflecting the light of the sun back at you with little to no light attenuation from the atmosphere, you are almost always fine sticking with 5500k for your white balance setting. Some cameras also have their automatic “Daylight” setting for white balance that is essentially the same thing but you may have to use your camera in auto mode to use the “Daylight” setting so we usually recommend 5500k so you can stick to manual mode.
This should be enough for the vast majority of moon photography but we know that there are some very specific situations where you may want to drop your white balance down to 4600k but this is rare. Additionally, if you are not making the moon the main subject of your photograph but are using it as an additional element, you may wish to adjust your white balance to prioritise other light sources in your image. For example, a city scape with the moon above the city with large amounts of light pollution from the city lights.
One thing that is becoming more and more popular when it comes to your white balance setting for your moon photography is to just set your white balance to 5500k and capture your photographs in RAW. This ensures that your photo file has all of the information required to allow you to easily make adjustments in post-production to tweak white balance without lowering the quality of your photograph.
Should You Use JPEG Or RAW For Moon Photography
Speaking of using RAW format for you photographs, we often see people reaching out and asking if they should be using their JPEG or RAW setting for saving their work so we just want to quickly touch on it. In all honesty, this is going to depend on your situation and needs as both file types do have their own advantages over each other.
The JPEG file type requires much less storage space allowing you to use smaller storage capacity memory cards or capture more photographs on larger memory cards. JPEG is processed in the camera too allowing you to get a better idea of your work by previewing it in the camera on the viewing screen. The negative side of JPEG is that its compression algorithm to keep its storage size so low also removes the majority of data required for high end post production editing.
On the flipside of this though, the RAW file format setting is much larger than JPEG but also holds almost all of the available data for your photograph. This additional data layer ensures that you have the best file possible for any post production work on your photograph helping to ensure that you are able to keep your image quality as high as possible when editing your photograph.
As so many people who are capturing photographs of the moon tend to like to do high amounts of post production work, we usually recommend that our readers save their work in the RAW format. On top of this, memory cards are much cheaper than they were even five years ago while also having a much larger storage capacity too. This usually means that using the RAW setting is much easier for most people with many people opting to use the JPEG + RAW setting if their camera supports it for the best of both worlds due to having so much storage space available.
Should You Use Your Manual Mode Or Auto Mode Setting For Moon Photography?
This is another very common question that we often see asked for people wanting to perfect their moon photography settings on their camera. In our opinion, although the automatic modes on the modern cameras have managed to come a long way, they are still way off being able to deliver comparable image quality to what you can get by manually setting up your camera’s settings for photographing the moon.
Due to this, at the time of writing at least, we would highly recommend that our readers just stick with their manual mode setting on their camera and use the recommended settings covered earlier in the article. That said though, we do expect the automatic mode technology to eventually get to a stage where it is better than manual mode but we feel this is many years off yet.
That brings our article going over what we feel is the best camera settings for moon photography to a close. We hope that you have found our article helpful and that you are able to improve the image quality of your photographs of the moon due to our recommendations. Remember that the key to getting excellent photographs of the moon is to test and adjust within the suggested ranges provided for each setting as each location has slightly different circumstances needing slightly different camera settings for the best photographs possible.