How to Photograph the Moon

“A cold, calm night is best,” says Tim Easley, an illustrator in London who recently self-published a book of his black-and-white photographs of the moon. “When it’s hot, the air kind of wobbles a bit and makes things blurry,” he says. Ever since childhood, Easley has been obsessed with all things space. But when it comes to turning his camera skyward, he concentrates on the moon; other celestial bodies are too small and hard to see in the middle of a light-emitting city.

Don’t try to go out and photograph the moon with your smartphone. Even if it’s plump and low on the horizon, seemingly enormous to the naked eye, “you’ll try, and it just comes out a tiny white dot,” Easley says. Instead, use a camera with manual controls and a zoom lens. Easley shoots with a 1,200-millimeter telephoto lens, but even a 100-millimeter lens will do. Exact settings will depend on your camera and the moon’s phase, but a good starting place is a shutter speed of at least one two-hundredth of a second; aperture around F10; and light sensitivity, or ISO, at 100.

When photographing something so far away, stability is essential. Set up a tripod and anchor it to the ground with something heavy, like a backpack. So as not to jiggle it, use a remote shutter-release cable, or set up a timed shot so that you can press the button and hold your body still while the camera’s shutter opens. “Don’t even breathe,” Easley says.

A full moon is bright and lit straight on, which makes photographing the dimensionality of its cratered surface difficult. Try photographing a crescent, waxing or waning moon instead so you can see its spherical shape beneath a bit of earth’s shadow. You can shoot the moon in the day or night. Use photo apps to track the moonrise and set times and stargazing apps to forecast visibility. Sometimes Easley sets an alarm so he can catch a moonrise or the moon’s passage across his sliver of urban sky.

During the pandemic, much of Easley’s commercial work vanished. He ended up spending more time on his apartment balcony trying to photograph the moon orbiting around him some 238,800 miles away. In uncertain times on Earth, he took comfort in focusing on space, often trying to capture other objects momentarily passing between himself and the moon — a trailing cloud, an airplane — crossing its luminous surface.

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