Photographer Beth Ruggiero gives great tips and settings for capturing
the moon and milky way at their best in your landscape images.
Don’t miss her great explanation of how to focus at night!
*Please scroll to the bottom of the post for more images from our guest.*
How to Photograph the Moon and Milky Way
with Beth Ruggiero
The Moon and Foreground
- A correct exposure for the moon AND the foreground in the same shot happens for only 20 minutes once a month.
- Must capture the moon within the 20 minutes when moonrise is closest to sunset or when moonset is closest to sunrise. A large moon with that orange glow is captured when the moon is just above the horizon.
- In all other cases, you will need to create a composite image to get the foreground landscape exposed properly. If you expose for just the moon, everything else will go black.
Preparation and Settings
- Scout your location – find a good foreground.
- Photo Pills or The Photographer’s Ephemeris can help with timing, but do not account for mountains on the horizon.
- Set up an hour beforehand.
- Use auto white balance.
- Use Evaluative or Matrix metering to meter the whole scene (during the 20 minute window).
– If the moon is higher in the sky, the light difference becomes too great – you must meter on just the moon or just the landscape.
- Exposure – less than 1 sec, based on ambient light.
- Base ISO (100)
- f/8 – f/5.6 (At night you will need your widest aperture – or close to it.)
- Keep your subject (building, tree, etc.) at a distance of about 100’ – 200’ to make the moon appear larger.
- Use a longer lens (200mm) to make the moon appear larger, or for a less prominent moon, try a wider lens. (100mm)
- If your subject is further than 200’ away, use an even longer lens (600mm) to magnify the moon and keep your subject sharp.
- Can be taken at any time of night. Details of the moon will be visible, but the landscape will go dark.
- Composites of the moon and foreground can be created in PhotoShop using blending modes and layer masks.
- AF and spot meter on the moon.
- Tie the focus point to the metering point and expose for the moon.
- ISO will eventually increase (200-400) the darker the sky gets. Staying at ISO 100 means a longer shutter speed which can start to show movement of the moon which will become blurred.
“Focusing at night is the biggest challenge
for any night photographer.”
Focusing at Night
- Get there early enough to have SOME available light. If you can’t get there until after dark – AF on a distant light or part of the moon.
– Pre-focus for infinity* using AF (200’ or more) Take a shot of your subject. Zoom in on the image and check exposure and focus. The subject AND the background should be in focus (set infinity here).
– Switch to Manual. Stabilize your focus using gaffer tape between the focus ring and the fixed part of the lens barrel.
- If you are out after dark without a distant light or moon, focus on the brightest planet or star in the sky.
– Put it in the center of your viewfinder.
– You can’t use AF for this!
– Turn on “Live View”. Zoom/Magnify 10x.
– Manually focus until the star/planet is sharp and almost “crunchy-looking” – it will become small.
– Tape your focus ring.
- No bright objects at all? Use a quality laser pointer.
– Aim at a surface between 50’-200’ away.
– Use AF to focus on the pinpoint of light.
– Switch to manual and tape into place.
- Make sure your foreground objects are also in focus.
– Take a test shot. Zoom in with Live View and check. If your subject/tree is blurry – step down your aperture (f/2.8 to f/4), OR move back, OR change your composition.
*On an AF lens, the infinity setting is not necessarily infinity because of the AF motor.
Other Tips for the Moon
- Haze or smoke makes for a more brightly colored moon.
- Partly cloudy skies add interest to your moon images.
- During a full lunar eclipse, the moon is completely orange/copper. Because it’s not as bright, you can pick up starlight – this is the ONLY time you can get the moon and stars exposed in the same shot.
The Milky Way
- Shooting the Milky Way is no different than shooting a starry sky.
- You need a dark sky with no moonlight.
- Scout your sites for foreground during the day.
- Best times are in the pre-dawn hours (3:00-4:00 am) of March or April.
- Establish your composition and focus.
- Settings are dependent on ambient light, but a good place to start is:
– 20s exposure – longer will start to produce star trails.
– ISO 3200
– widest aperture (f/2.8) *If f/4 is as wide as you can get, increase ISO to 6400, you may get noise.
“If you’re REALLY interested in night photography, you need AT LEAST f/2.8, IDEALLY you want an f/2 or f/1.4.”
“Night photography is NOT straight out of camera. It all needs post-processing.”
– Minimally tweak and correct white balance.
– Noise reduction.
– Apply contrast and sharpening.
- Always use your histogram at night. Live view will not be reliable.
- Don’t rely on the light meter for exposure – it has no value at night.
- Turn the LCD brightness on your camera to the lowest setting.
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of the Week
A great little light to help you focus at night or light up a landscape.
Super bright green light you can see even in mid-day!
Safe child lock: rotate the switch to turn off or turn on the pointer anytime, anywhere.
Different types of batteries can be used: 18650 or 16340 rechargeable lithium battery.