Shooting the Moon

We’ve all had times when our enthusiasm has far outweighed our skill set. Such was my initial experience with photographing the moon earlier this week.

If you’ll recall, I just upgraded to DSLR this last summer.  I took the leap into manual exposure at the same time.  I can tell you with complete and utter confidence that there is still lots and lots for me to learn.  That keeps me engaged and, at times, frustrated.  Sometimes I envision a picture in my mind, but just can’t get there in reality.  Such is the technical world of photography

I got off work last Tuesday and, as I drove down the freeway, I saw that the moon was huge.  Huge and beautiful in a clear sky.  I quickly abandoned plans to go to the gym and headed home to grab my camera and the new tripod.  And to bundle up as it was cold out.  I was going to shoot the moon.

As I drove I wracked my brain to figure out where to go.  You see, there are a lot of trees in the great state of Washington.  Both a blessing and a curse. I’m still searching for a good local place that offers an unobstructed view of Mt. Rainier.  Still searching.

For the moon, I settled on a local waterfront park located about ten minutes from our house.

By the time I got myself and my gear together it was around 5:30.  And dark.  I briefly considered waiting for the husband to come home so he could escort me, but I was excited.  I was on a mission.  I was going to take a beautiful photograph of the moon! (Visions of moon shots danced through my head…)

I arrived at the park to find the gate closed and locked.  Which I had expected.  I gathered my gear, locked the car and headed down the very dark hill to the water.  Very dark.  And, the wind was blowing.  And it was dark.  Did I mention that part?  And then there was the part about being alone.

I was immediately creeped out.  We have a pretty sizeable homeless population in our area.  Though I’ve never seen any at this particular park that doesn’t mean anything.  In addition to the homeless we have our fair share of generally shady humans.

I got down to the water and, by the moonlight, saw that the tide was very high.  The wind…breezy and cold.  Branches?  Waving in the wind. Paranoia?  High.

I set up the tripod and reality set in:  I had no idea how to approach the settings.  I thought low light would always demand a low shutter speed (that’s why I got the tripod, right?).  Turns out that’s incorrect.  I set my ISO at mid-range (1000).  Shutter speed 1/13.  Aperture 5.6.

Shooting the Moon,

I was quickly discouraged.  The pictures weren’t turning out.  My fingers, in the icy wind, were frozen.  I was also acutely aware that, standing on the wooden bridge in the moonlight, I was easily visible to anyone standing along the shoreline.

I threw in the towel after only a few shots and hurried back to my car (the hounds of hell nipping at my heels.  How’s that for drama?)

Once home and thawed I started to do what I should have done in the first place:  researching how to photograph the moon.

I found a great tutorial on the Clickin’ Moms website.  However, I found myself skeptical about the recommended settings:  ISO 200, SS 160-250, f 8-11.  The author suggested slightly underexposing the photo.  Okay.  She explained that the moon was plenty bright, thus the low ISO.  The shutter speed needs to have enough oomph to freeze the moon because it’s moving.  Makes sense.  Not quite sure I understand aperture somewhere between 8 and 11.

The next night was the full moon.  The full, full moon.  I was ready to give it another try.  I left work a bit early to run pre-Thanksgiving errands and, on my way home, scoped out possible locations.

When the husband got home I asked him if he wanted to go with me.  He agreed and we headed out.  We found a pull-off right next to a big field within a couple of miles from the house.  I was just pulling my gear out when the owner of the large field (in which there are cattle) pulls up in his large truck.  He asked if everything was okay and I explained what we were up to.  In reality, he wanted to know what we were doing parked next to his large fenced field.  Understandable.  With our explanation he graciously said that we could drive down his driveway if we thought the view would be better from there and went on his way.

I headed for the recommended settings, but didn’t quite make it.  The lowest I got was ISO 800, SS 400.  I did get up to f9.  But, I was watching the meter (and for some reason didn’t take a peek at the photos taken at the above settings) and it was pretty much bottomed out to the left.  A little underexposed?  A little?

So, I second-guessed myself.  Shutter speed stayed relatively low, but ISO skyrocketed.  The results?  Less-than-satisfying.

Shooting the Moon,

Shooting the Moon,

Except for those two.  The very first two where I almost listened to the advice of the tutorial.  Those two, though not perfect, dazzled me when I viewed them in LightRoom.

Shooting the Moon,

Shooting the Moon,

The next night was Thanksgiving and, on the way back to my parent’s house from my grandparent’s house the husband and I took a detour.  We ended up just outside the gates of the local cemetery.  The husband wasn’t too sure about that, but I told him that we were fine because I have family in that cemetery.

I set up the tripod and, with guarded confidence, adjusted my settings. The meter plunged.  I ignored it.  I took a photo.  Looked at it.  Breathed a sigh of satisfaction.  Took another.  And another.  And another.  Adjusting settings just a snidge, moving the tripod to catch the moon through the trees (the husband’s artistic recommendation)

Shooting the Moon,
Shooting the Moon,
Straight out of camera

Shooting the Moon,

There is nothing like the sweet taste of photographic success.  I am dazzled.  I am amazed.  I see many, many moons…at all different phases…in my future.

10 thoughts on “Shooting the Moon

  1. LaNae – My rambling thoughts may be helpful. I remember receiving advice back in film days that goes along the lines:
    1. The moon is lit by our sun – so it is like a landscape lit by sunlight.
    2. The sunny f16 rule states (assuming no filters or something like a UV filter) that when lit by full sun, shutter speed for correct exposure at f16 is the reciprocal of the ISO you are using.
    3. You can then work out the appropriate shutter speed for alternative f stops.
    4. I think the recommendation for f8 above is to ensure maximum sharpness for the image – it will be sharper than if taken at f16 for example.
    5. The more telephoto the lens, the more the moon will fill the frame but this has no bearing on the correct exposure for the moon – surrounding sky will be black anyway – but the amount of black will vary by the focal length of the lens being used.

    Hope this helps.



    1. Thanks, Rob. You’re rambling thoughts do help, though I had not heard of the sunny f16 rule and had to Google it. 🙂 Still chewing on it, as math/numbers seem to cause an instant mental block.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. yay!!!! I love that you took us on your learning journey. (and made us laugh along the way–glad the hounds of hell didn’t getcha) The shots are amazing!

    p.s. I’ve started asking my hubby to go with me as well.


    1. Thanks, Lisa! There is always learning going on with me and photography and I’m thinking I should share more of the flubs and victories. And, yes, safety in numbers. I worry that he will get bored standing around as I adjust, shoot and mumble to myself…but he doesn’t seem to mind.

      Liked by 1 person

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