Few cameras are better suited to lunar photography than today’s digital “bridge cameras” or, as they are popularly known, superzooms. As capable and easy as these cameras are to use, if you want to employ a superzoom camera to get top-quality moon photos, there are a few tips that might help you raise your game when shooting your Nikon P1000, Nikon P900, Sony DSC-RX10, or similar camera.
Photographs © Todd Vorenkamp
At or near a full moon, due to the fantastic image stabilization systems of most superzoom cameras, you might be able to pull off a handheld shot. But, if you want to not fight the physics of camera shake, a tripod is the best tool to stabilize your rig and increase your image sharpness. Check out our tripod buying guides for travel and full-sized supports.
2. No Wind
When you are casually hanging out at 2000 or 3000mm, even a little bit of wind is going to cause camera shake. Even with a heavy tripod and a ball head with a working capacity over 41x, the weight of the Nikon P1000, on a Brooklyn rooftop with 20 knots of breeze, the moon was shaking a lot at 3000mm.
So, take shelter behind some sort of wind break, if possible. Or, hope for a calm night!
3. Aiming and Zooming
Yes, the goal is to get as close to the moon as possible, but don’t zoom your camera toward its maximum telephoto before you aim at the moon. Keep the lens at a wide-angle or moderate telephoto range until you get the moon centered in the frame. Tighten your tripod head a bit and then zoom in on the moon. Once you have zoomed in, lock down your tripod head.
If the moon wanders out of the frame, zoom back out or, if your camera is equipped, use the quick snap back function to zoom out a bit, recompose, and then zoom in.
4. Digital versus Optical Zoom
Many superzoom cameras have a “digital zoom” mode that lets you zoom in, virtually, even further. My advice is to skip the digital zoom because you are just cropping an optical image and that is something you can do in post-processing—no need to do it in the camera unless you really want to.
Get familiar with your superzoom camera’s controls and menus before you wander out to photograph the moon. Fumbling around your camera’s buttons and knobs in the cold and dark with the moon overhead isn’t fun. Before you head outside, preset your settings to get ready for the moon. This way you can concentrate on aiming and composing and not messing about with your settings.
6. Manual Mode
Most superzoom cameras are designed primarily to be run on automatic shooting modes. Therefore, many of them do not have all the knobs and buttons for manual control that might be featured on an interchangeable-lens camera. However, you can control aperture and shutter speed on these cameras manually; you just need to figure out how to do this—and get comfortable doing it. For lunar photography, there will be times where the automatic exposure function is not going to give you the results you want in the image. Feel free to use automatic modes—it might work perfectly—but do not hesitate to jump into manual if you have specific visual goals or exposures in mind.
7. Spot Meter
Your camera will have several different metering modes. If you have the center-weighted or matrix mode selected, the camera might try to pick an exposure between the bright moon and the cold, inky blackness of deep space. If it does that, the moon will likely be overexposed. The best plan is to use the spot meter to tell the camera to meter only for the moon’s surface. This is also advantageous when shooting in manual mode since you can adjust your exposure based on a meter reading from the bright moon, not the forbidding darkness of outer space.
8. Go Vertical
On the Nikon P1000, when zoomed out to 3000mm, the frame will cut off portions of the moon—is there such a thing as too close? If the moon is less than full, roll the camera vertical so that you aren’t leaving any of the illuminated surface out of the frame! Or, just go vertical for a more creative perspective.
9. Remote Shutter Release/Timer
When zoomed-in to insane equivalent focal lengths, you need to have some sort of method of releasing the shutter without touching the camera, otherwise, you will be creating movement and imparting camera shake into your images—and at 3000mm, a little camera shake goes a long way! Depending on the camera, get yourself a wired or wireless remote, or use the Bluetooth/WiFi capabilities to trigger the camera from your mobile device. Without a remote or an app, use the camera’s self-timer to delay the image. I found that 3 seconds was not enough to stabilize the rig and started shooting with a painfully long 10-second delay, which had severe compositional implications because the moon moves a lot through the frame in 10 seconds. Plan ahead!
There is not one magical exposure for every moon phase and atmospheric condition. Well, maybe there is, but I don’t know it. So, I recommend bracketing your exposures. Try to under- and over-expose your images by a stop to cover your bases. I find that pulling detail from underexposed shots works great for lunar photography, but you might pick up some Earthshine in the overexposed images, as well. Experiment and see! Shooting digital is free!
Are you a superzoom moon shooter? What tips do you have for your fellow long-lensers?
For general lunar photography tips, please click here.
For lunar eclipse photo tips, click here.
For cool lunar facts, click here.