Upon hearing the word Astrophotography, most of you would probably think of perfectly capturing the starry sky in a picture. However, usually while looking at these types of pictures, most people fail to notice the absence of the moon. This is because, compared to the brightness of the stars, the moon shines like the sun. Currently, no camera has a high enough dynamic range that would allow the moon and stars to be natively captured together, let alone smartphone cameras.
However, all this doesn’t mean that people aren’t interested in capturing the moon. Quite the contrary, actually. In fact, a full moon is a thing of beauty that most photographers like to capture. In case you’re a budding photographer but don’t have a proper camera or photography gear to capture, then worry not. In today’s tutorial, we’ll be covering how to capture full moon with just your smartphone. Do everything right and you might end up with a picture like this:
Things You’ll Need:
- Smartphone with Manual Camera Mode: As most smartphone photography tutorials go, having a manual or “Pro” mode in the smartphone camera app helps out a lot in taking control of individual settings. In case your smartphone camera app doesn’t have a manual mode in its camera app, just download a third party one as there are plenty of them on iOS and Android.
- Optical Zoom: Now, most smartphones nowadays are coming with multiple cameras and one of them happens to be a “Telephoto”. Make sure you’re using this particular one during the procedure. In case your smartphone doesn’t have one, get a clip-on telephoto lens and put it over the camera sensor. Either way, do NOT use the digital zoom feature on the smartphone camera as it will ruin the quality of the photo.
- Phone Tripod Stand (Optional): This is optional as, at the end of the day, you can take this picture handheld but it’s always better to take a picture to be taken as steadily as possible, especially the one involving zoom. However, in case the handheld method doesn’t work for you and you don’t have a stand, just prop your phone against something steady and it’ll work too.
When it comes to taking a picture of the Full Moon, timing is the key otherwise, you won’t be ready for the perfect opportunity. There are 2 things to anticipate and the first of them is the lunar cycle. The moon has a lunar month of approximately 29 days and the full moon is visible on the 14th day. To know whether there will be a full moon or not there are countless of websites and apps that let you know about it way before it happens. Therefore, you need to plan your activities beforehand.
The second thing to anticipate is the weather forecast. Even if you anticipate the full moon, there’s no way you can capture it if it’s hidden behind clouds or if it’s raining. Use any weather forecast app or website to see if there will be a clear night in the area that you intend to photograph. Regardless, the weather can be unpredictable so be prepared for it.
As mentioned earlier, you need to have manual settings on your smartphone camera in order to control the individual settings. The settings include controlling the Focus, ISO, and Shutter Speed. Optional settings include the Aperture, RAW Capture, and Shutter Timer. Here are the appropriate settings and why they should be this way.
- Focus: Almost all smartphone cameras come standard with autofocus, which is super useful in taking everyday photos. However, in this case, the autofocus can ruin the shot. This is why you need to switch the focus to manual and then lock the focus at infinity. This can be done by moving the focus adjustment to one extreme which either has the infinity loop or pictures of mountains. This will make sure that the moon is focused all the time.
- ISO: A digital camera’s ISO defines how light-sensitive is the image sensor. The ISO is an adjustable setting and the higher its value, the more sensitive the sensor will be to light. Most cameras have a starting ISO of 100 while some might even start at 50. Against the night sky, the moon shines bright, which means that the lowest ISO will suffice. Therefore keep the ISO at 100 to ensure a noise-free shot.
- Shutter Speed: As the name suggests, this denotes how fast a shutter of camera can open and close to take a picture. It is measured in seconds and the recommended shutter speed for full moon photography is the range between 1/60 to 1/125 seconds depending on the conditions. A slower shutter speed results in a better exposure but comes at a cost of sharpness and vice versa. Just make sure you experiment and get the sweet spot in the aforementioned range to get the best picture.
- Optional Settings: In addition to those, there are some optional settings that can help make this process better. Starting with the Aperture, most phones don’t have variable aperture but in case of some Samsung flagships, it can be adjusted. Make sure the aperture has a higher number for a sharper photo. Next is RAW image capture which, again, isn’t there in all phones but in case yours has it, it is useful in post-processing so turn it on. Lastly, since stability is important, it’s always a good idea to have a second shutter timer so that the phone doesn’t shake when you press the shutter button.
Taking the Picture
Once all that is done, you’re finally ready to capture the full moon. The good news is that the actual procedure is fairly simple. Just prop your device on a tripod stand or against anything that’s sturdy and make sure it’s facing the full moon. Optically zoom the camera as close as you can to the moon to get the most details of its surface. Once that’s done, press the shutter button and wait for the camera to take the picture.
Of course, this is easier said than done as chances are you might not get the perfect picture on the first try but that’s what photography is all about. Micro-adjust some settings and try again as practice makes perfect. Once the picture is taken, some post-processing can really bring out the details. Fiddle with the contrast and sharpness and see the craters appear!