Camera Settings to Start With for Star, Moon, Milky Way & Night Sky Photography

Once you’re comfortable creating communication between yourself, your camera, and the universe at night, it’s time to bring those technical and creative skills together to create an interesting nighttime image. The settings and tools you’ll need for each image will be different, though; whether you’re inspired by the Milky Way or the moon’s intricate shadows, you’ll find everything you need to know to make those images a reality in this final chapter.

1. How to capture a clear image of the moon

Full, new, waxing and waning moon phasesDifferent phases of the moon. 

A successful lunar shot requires a few basic pieces of gear and the right balance of settings like aperture and ISO. First, however, you’ll need to plan your photoshoot by identifying the moon phase that you’d like to capture.

There are four moon phases:

  1. Full moons happen about once per month and are completely round.
  2. A moon is waning when it moves away from its full state and becomes a sliver smaller each day.
  3. The new moon is not visible (except during a solar eclipse as a silhouette).
  4. A moon is a waxing moon when it moves out of its new moon state and moves toward becoming a full moon.

To identify the best time to shoot your chosen moon phase in your area, use Time and Date’s moonrise and moonset calculator, which helps finding the moon phase you’ll see on a given date and time.

Camera settings and gear

Now for the hard part. Remember that your eyes are able to adjust to changes in light and space easily, but digital cameras have a harder time unless you tell them exactly what they’re seeing. That said, the moon looks much brighter to your camera than it looks to you: so, generally, you’ll want to start by exposing your photo as if it were a bright and sunny day. For photos with little to no foreground imagery (just a shot of the moon):

  1. Start with an aperture of f/8,
  2. an ISO of 100-200,
  3. and a shutter speed of 1/125.

If your photo looks blurry, adjust your shutter speed. If it looks underexposed (not enough light), go down a stop in aperture from f/8 to f/5.6 or so.

Manual mode will also be your friend for close-ups of celestial bodies, as you’ll need to make very slight adjustments to get everything just right.

Gear-wise, you’ll also need your trusty tripod, although you can do without a remote shutter release for these shots. Also employ the help of a good zoom lens—it’ll be the only way to capture all the close-up details of the moon’s surface that make lunar shots so impressive

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