Getting a better Moon photo

Getting a better Moon photo? Easy!


In nearly every case, your first photo through the telescope is going to be the Moon. That's because the Moon is awesome. You know that it's something you absolutely have to do.

I've written about attaching your mobile phone or DSLR to a scope before, and how you can get a single shot. But people often ask me how to get a better photo.

Using video

You use lots of shots.

Here's my effort. A while back, there was a bit of sun, and the Moon was visible high in the blue sky when I got back from walking the dog. I fetched my camera and birding lens and put it on a tripod.

I didn't want to get more sophisticated than that.

I set the camera to manual, and focused carefully using the live view on the back of the camera. I set a 1/1000 second with ISO 200, and set the aperture to underexpose slightly. I didn't want any part of the Moon overexposed. Then I switched to video mode and shot for about a minute - during which a plane passed.

Back inside, I downloaded the movie onto my computer. It's an MOV file, which had about 1900 frames, of 1920x1080 pixels.  Remember, even high definition video is a lot lower resolution than still frames.

Processing takes three steps. PIPP, Registax and GIMP.

PIPP (planetary image pre-processing) is free. I used it to winnow down the frames to the highest quality ones, and crop and centre the Moon for later. It spat our another video, and AVI, with about 200 smaller, stable frames.

Registax (stacking and sharpening program) is also free. It took the frames, stacked them on top of each other, creating a higher quality frame. Then it sharpened the image using "wavelets" (which I confess I don't understand).

Lastly, I adjusted the image in GIMP (image processing - also free), pushing the contrast and making other minor tweaks.

There's nothing complicated or costly about this. Try it yourself!

Even better by using more of your pixels

How to improve more? Shoot individual stills - they use all the camera's pixels.

Standard video frames are only 1920x1080 pixels, which means we don't have a huge number of pixels to play with. The Moon itself was only about 400 pixels across. But my DSLR has a sensor of 6016x4000 pixels, so we can get more resolution using stills.
Again, I set my camera up. (Incidentally, you can tell from the Moon's phase that I did this a day after my first video was taken.) After framing and focusing as before, I used a timer to take 100 individual photos. I downloaded these to my computer, and this is a typical one, uncropped.
As you can see, the Moon was about 900 pixels wide on these frames. That was more than double the size of the video images.
My workflow was very similar to before. I opened all 100 files in PIPP, had it detect the Moon, centre it, crop some of the black off and keep the best 25 frames. I also had it convert to monochrome. Come on, it's the Moon - there's not much difference.
I took the 25 TIF files to Registax. I set align points, aligned and stacked using default values. Then I sharpened using the first two wavelets, and finished in GIMP.
Because we had so many more pixels to play with, the image is larger, so I've zoomed in on Mare Imbrium. Compare details with the other shots I've got on this page - the video with the plane and the one out of the still camera.
As in all these things, there are more details I haven't talked about. That's for you to research.
You've got the basics, go and shoot the Moon!