Photographing the moon at night can seem extremely easy and straightforward ……until you actually rub noses with the actual process of doing it.
Let alone bringing to the table an interesting composition or a fresh new perspective, exposing correctly for an image which contains such a large spectrum of dynamic range (dark night sky and the superb brightly lit moon) is a tough enough job.
More so for beginners who have not until now developed the necessary knowledge to cope with such a situation.
In comes the Looney 11 ‘rule’ to the rescue.
The Looney 11 rule is an extremely simplistic guideline that is intended to give the photographer a baseline to start from when shooting the moon at night.
If that didn’t make much sense to you, it’s okay. Let me give you some more examples which will make it as clear as day.
First and foremost dial in f/11 as the aperture on your camera. This you already understood.
The next part is to choose an ISO value. Let’s say we start by choosing ISO 100.
So, with the aperture selected as f/11, we then set the ISO of the camera to ISO 100 and also use the same value (100) for setting the shutter speed. So the shutter speed we end up choosing is 1/100th of a second.
The shutter speed as you will notice is the just the reciprocal of the ISO value.
Shutter speed = 1/ISO value
So some other variations of the settings may be:
- Aperture: f/11, ISO: 200, Shutter speed: 1/200th of a second
- Aperture: f/11, ISO: 400, Shutter speed: 1/400th of a second
- Aperture: f/11, ISO: 1000, Shutter speed: 1/1000th of a second
The idea is pretty simple. Set the aperture to f/11 and the whatever the value you choose to be the ISO, just use the reciprocal of that value as your shutter speed.
If this Looney 11 rule seems all too gimmicky and you have no idea how this works, I strongly suggest you read How To Be An Exposure Calculating Ninja Right Now.
It is a simple explanation about how your camera actually looks at any given scene and how by changing one or more of the three primary settings of the camera (namely aperture, shutter speed, and ISO) you can affect the exposure of the resultant image.
The Sister Concern
In case you were wondering why this new ‘rule’ felt so familiar, well that is because the Looney 11 rule has another version of it that is used to take images during the day called the Sunny 16 rule.
Have you heard of it?
It essentially functions the same way as the Looney 11.
The only difference is that this time you set the aperture to be f/16 (coz Sunny 16) and not f/11 as the Looney 11 suggests.
The rest is exactly the same. You choose a value for the ISO and then use the reciprocal value as the shutter speed.
If you notice closely, there is only a difference of one stop of light between the Looney 11 and the Sunny 16 rule provided everything else remains the same.
Looney 11 being the one which allows that extra stop of light into the camera. Why?
Even though both Looney 11 and the Sunny 16 rule look and feel very similar, there is a subtle difference between them.
The Sunny 16 rule is meant for shooting subjects which are outdoors on a sunny day.
The Looney 11 rule is meant for shooting the moon itself on a dark night.
In no way can you use the settings that Looney 11 suggests to shoot a subject using moonlight.
There was a little confusion about it, so just clearing it up.
As with any other so-called ‘rule’ in photography such as the Rule of Thirds, the 500 rule or the Reciprocal rule, the Looney 11 too only offers the photographer a starting line from where to think ahead and make adjustments.
In no case whatsoever should any of these rules ever be treated in an absolute sense.
For instance depending on the present phase of the moon, the weather condition or any other factor which may affect the scene (such as light pollution), you will have to tinker with the settings a little bit to get the perfect exposure.
So, if the image resulting from you using, say, f/11 as the aperture, ISO100, and a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second seems to be a little dark, you may try bumping up the ISO value or slowing down the shutter speed to see if it makes a difference.
All the rules in photography are there just to get you to reasonably near ballpark from where it should be sufficiently easy to figure out a set of setting that suits the currently available shooting conditions, the best.
As a matter of fact, all the images in the world of the moon were NOT taken with the same f/11 aperture. Exceptions are there. Plenty of it. However, you need to understand the basics first to know when and how to break free of the so-called rules.
About The Phases Of The Moon
Some very basic adjustments that you can make to the aperture value depending on the current phase of the moon is as follows:
|Half||Quarter||Crescent||Total Eclipse||Star Gazing|
The moon is quite a bright subject as compared to the dark night sky around it. Coupled with that is the fact that it moves pretty fast. Any shutter speed below 1/30th of a second is likely to produce blurry and fuzzy results.
So try and use a fast enough shutter speed to avoid the motion blur.
Just as insurance, you may even want to bracket your shots.
From crispy white clouds to dark tree shadows, the night offers an infinite range of unique and powerful elements. Make sure you use them to spice up the mood profile of your moon photograph even more.
Try and preserve as much of the details of the moon’s surface as possible. It really does add a lot of character to the final image.
It isn’t as easy as just pointing the camera toward the moon and firing a shot. A good image will take time and a substantial amount of effort. So don’t expect a masterpiece on your first fire of the shutter.
Keep at it, and I am sure, in due time, you will be able to get some great shots.
Keep shooting amazing.
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