So you want to take pictures of the moon and stars.

Many people like to take pictures of the moon, some of the stars. When taking pictures of the moon, there are a few things one must be aware of in order to get decent images.

One is exposure metering. If the camera is set to averaging, the metering system will look at the entire image and decide what speed/aperture combination to use for the average light in the entire picture. if the moon is, lets say 10% of the image, the metering system will try to expose properly for the 90% dark area. This causes the moon to be a bright white circle with no detail. Spot metering on the moon will fix this by ignoring the dark sky.

Now for metering on the stars, you can't, not enough light. Exposure for stars would be totally based on time. The longer the time, the more light is collected by the sensor, the brighter the stars will appear. Keep in mind that the moon and stars are moving. For any exposure time over about 15 seconds, the movement will be noticeable as a blurry moon or star trails. Bulb setting (B) will keep the shutter open as long as you want for the stars. I'd start at maybe 10 seconds for the stars and increase as desired. Of course this would depend on how wide the aperture would be. Of course you can increase the ISO value to make the sensor more sensitive, but be aware that at some point, noticable noise may be introduced to the image for a higher ISO. How much noise depends on the characteristics of the individual camera.

Another thing to be aware of is white balance. White balance should be set to daylight when taking pictures of the moon because that's what is illuminating the moon. Of course this can be adjusted easily in post processing if one is saving RAW files, more difficult in a JPEG editor.

A tripod would be beneficial for moon shots and essential for star shots as a slow shutter speed may be required for the moon, definitely for the stars. Any movement at that distance will be greatly exaggerated. Also, if you can use a remote shutter release, that will prevent any camera movement due to you touching the camera. I'd still use a lens hood to help keep any stray light out.

You can use a wide angle or telephoto to take the picture depending on what kind of field of view you want, but be aware of the aperture. The smaller the aperture, the longer the exposure must be to get the same amount of light stored on the sensor. The best thing to do is take the basics and experiment with your camera as a lot depends on the f-stop used. The smaller the f-stop (eg. 1.8), the more light the sensor will see, which will help make the picture brighter.

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All images © Bill Harbison - All rights reserved