Using Manual Camera Settings

  From early man to modern man we have all shared the same fascination of staring at the heavens. From the paintings found in the Lascaux cave in France dating back 16,500 years to Van Gogh and beyond man has captured his wonderment with his choice of media. With digital photography, we feel the need and desire to capture a little piece of the night sky over our own head. One night while outdoors enjoying a breath of fresh air, you look up and spot a beautiful full moon, you're inspired and want to capture the moment.  You grab your camera, point it at the moon, and click the shutter. You can't wait to share it with all of your friends online!

You connect your camera to the computer and in seconds you download the picture and its ready to go. Immediately you start attaching it to emails and sending it from here to there and to everyone you can think of. In minutes you start getting return emails back ranging from “What is it?” to “Wow you got a picture of a UFO!”. Curious about why you're receiving remarks like these, you open the picture on your desktop thinking everyone should recognize the moon, and you see this... 

Bad Moon ShotCredit: SJ Saladino

Cameras with built-in metering systems, the part of the camera that automatically sets how wide your lens opens, and the length of time the shutter stays open to properly expose a picture, does not work well on a night sky. For the best pictures you need a camera that allows manual control, and is not just a fully automatic camera. You don't have to buy a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera for these features, a number of point-and-shoot cameras give you some manual control, or even pick up an older 35mm film camera for occasional night sky pictures. Instead of the picture above your pictures could look something more like this. 

Good MoonCredit: SJ Saladino

To get more detail in the face of the moon I had to cut down on the exposure, and to do that I had to close down the aperture of the lens, and shorten the length of time the lens was staying open. I set my camera to manual mode instead of automatic for everything. I set the aperture to F8, primarily because that is the area where the lens I was using performs it's best. Then I set the shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second and took my first picture of the moon. The picture was too dark so I knew I had to slow down the shutter speed, so I cut the original by 50%  to 1/500 of a second and saw a big improvement. Eventually I settled on a shutter speed of 1/160 second. It only took a few test shots to get to where I was able to capture usable pictures of the moon. A little time and patience can do wonders in photography.

If you can set your camera to manual start out at f8 for your aperture setting and 1/500 for shutter speed. If it's too bright you can make your aperture smaller by going to a larger number like f11 or f16 and try a shot there. OR leave it at f8 and slow down your shutter speed to 1/160 a small step at a time. If it isn't perfect, don't worry too much  you can easily use editing programs, some are free, for minor corrections.