Photographing moonscapes is a photographer’s dream and it is something that requires a lot of practice and patience because you need to get the details sharp and exposure right on both the landscape and the moon. Practice is paramount. Moreover, you are not always working with very dark skies, but skies that have details and colours – the blue hour or twilight usually – and this adds an element of complexity.
Note: If you are just photographing the moon, it can be pretty simple, but if you are photographing the moon in the background with foreground details, then it can be a bit trickier than you might think, which is what we will be discussing in this article. Just to clarify things, “moonscape” can be a confusing word used in photography and here is the definition: According to Wikipedia, a moonscape is an area or vista of the lunar landscape or a visual representation of this, such as in a painting. The term “moonscape” is also sometimes used metaphorically for an area devastated or flattened by war. In our case here, we are using the term moonscape to represent a landscape/cityscape scene with the moon in the sky. So photographing moonscape means to photograph the moon with at least some landscape or cityscape detail.
Photo by zan douglas on Unsplash Note: These images cannot be exactly classified as night-scapes because most of them are shot at twilight or blue hour or sometimes even during the day (early mornings or late afternoons). Also night-scapes usually refer to a night image of a night scene, typically one that has a night sky with a landscape, cityscape or other elements in the foreground.
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Gear Required To Photograph Moonscapes
A camera that can shoot in manual mode
Lenses of your choice depending on how you want the moonscape. Wide angle lenses if you want the moon to be a bright burst of light in the sky illuminating the landscape or moderate focal lengths between 70 to 200 mm if you want a detailed moon with landscape or cityscape in the foreground. If you are using a full frame camera you can go longer than 200mm.
A very sturdy tripod with a ball head as you may be sometimes using heavy zoom lenses to photograph the moonscape
An app to check weather and moonrise / moonset times for the location you’ll be photographing
A remote or cable release to avoid blur due to shutter slap
Here are a few tips you need to keep in mind while photographing the moonscape because you need both the moon and the landscape in focus and uniformly exposed in the frame.
Put your camera on a tripod, a really sturdy one because you are dealing with low light and maybe heavy lenses.
Use the mirror lock up feature so that you can avoid even the slightest of movement that can blur the moon. When you zoom in to have a bigger sized moon in the frame, any slight movement will degrade the image and render it useless.
Use a remote or cable release to release the shutter – again this is to avoid any shake and to have more control over the shutter speed, especially when using bulb mode.
Use aperture values at least above f7 or f8 and preferably between f11 and f16 because you want both the landscape and the moon to be in focus. Take into consideration your lens’ sweet spot as you want to avoid any artefacts due to very small apertures.
Use lower iso values to avoid noise as you will already be dealing with low lights. 100-400 ISO.
Use manual focus to get the moon in perfect focus. Switch to live view mode, zoom into the moon (a magnification of 10x should be fine) and make sure that you have the moon (the main subject) in perfect focus. Infinity focus does not usually work here and may throw the moon out of focus.
Note:If the majority of the frame is the landscape (shorter focal lengths), keep the focus one-third into the frame to have everything in the frame in focus. If the moon occupies the majority of the frame (longer focal lengths), keep focus sharp on the moon.
Full moon days and the days before and after the full moon are the best days for moonscape photographs as the moon beautifully appears in the sky near the horizon around sunset and sunrise times. What this does is, it gives beautiful colours and enough ambient light to illuminate the landscape. In other words, the tonal range will be just right to record details of the moon and the landscape.