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Stacking Photos Tutorial: Capturing the Perfect Moon Shot

Stacking Photos Tutorial: Capturing the Perfect Moon Shot

You may have heard photographers or seen photos, which have been “stacked” and wondered what it meant, why it’s done, or how it’s done. Well today you’ll find out the answers to all three of those.

 

Stacking is more commonly called “focus stacking” and is done to give a photo a greater depth of field. 

Basically, you’re combining multiple images taken at different focus distances to get the result you want. Focus stacking is commonly seen in macro and landscape photography. Here’s how to recover details in your landscape photography.

Now to capture the moon it’s a little different, because we’re not going to change the depth of field or focus point on the moon. We’re trying to capture an object roughly 238,900 miles away (give-or-take a mile here and there).

Also keep in mind that the Earth is spinning, the moon is orbiting… things are in motion here! Add that with the distance, and it’s important to have the right gear in place to help your chances of capturing a crisp image.

ESSENTIAL GEAR

So before we get into the technical how-tos, let’s start with some essential gear. As mentioned earlier, the moon is kind of far away. You’ll want to shoot it with AT LEAST a 200mm lens. A 300mm would be more ideal. If you don’t have one, look at renting one from a camera store near you, or becoming friends with a photographer that does.

Next, a good tripod. It’ll just make life easier. Pretty much all the time. Except when hiking… but I digress.

A remote shutter will also be helpful. No need for potential added camera shakes when you can trigger remotely.

If you need recommendations for any of these pieces, check out our Gear Guide!

SHOOTING THE MOON

Quick-start guide:

  • Shoot in manual mode
  • A tripod to keep things still!
  • Large lens (at least 200mm)
  • Time — to shoot the moon, and to edit in Photoshop

Your camera’s light meter won’t do you justice here as your camera will most likely overexpose the image as it’s going to see a mostly black sky, leaving you with a glowing white ball with zero detail.

Because of this, you’ll want to shoot in manual mode. If you are on a tripod, make sure you turn off your vibration reduction on the lens or camera itself.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all settings approach as light will vary depending on the lunar phase. A good place to start is around ISO 100, f/8 and 1/200th of a second. Take a few test shots and make sure you have a well-exposed moon without any parts being overexposed.

Once you have the camera’s settings dialed in, start shooting. A lot. Like 50-100 images. Of the moon.

Do your best to keep the moon in the same place in frame as it will make life easier once you start editing. If you’re on a tripod, you’ll need to adjust every 10 pictures or so.

EDITING IN LIGHTROOM

Once you have all your photos, you’ll want to import them into Lightroom. Once in Lightroom, crop the images to a 1:1 or 5:4 ratio (whichever you prefer to work with). You can crop one image and then synch the rest.

Now this is where it’s important to have the moon in the same place in frame. If the moon moves off center and your synch the crop, you’ll eventually have a crop that you’ll manually need to fix.

After the images are cropped, go through and only keep the best, most in-focus images. You’re resulting library should look something like this:

post edits

From here, export the high-resolution photos into a folder and install RegiStax – the program which makes the magic happen.

After it’s installed, open the program and click “Select” – find where you exported all of the high-resolution images, select all of them and click “Open.”

Next, click “Set Alignpoints” – this will put some red dots on your photo

From here, you’ll move down the line – select “Align” and then “Limit.”

If the program crashes or you’re just spinning wheels, try again and reduce the amount of Alignpoints next time. If you’re successful, the program will move to the next tab, “Stack,” and you’ll now have yellow circles with some green lines. Click the “Stack” button to the left of “Save Image.”

Once that’s done, move onto the next tab ‘Wavelet.” The six layer values can be adjusted which will change the detail you see in the image. Experiment with the sliders, but be patient.

After you found the right amount of detail for you, click “Do All,” and then “Save Image,” and voila – you’re done! You can see the difference stacking can make.

NOW’S YOUR CHANCE!

Lucky for all of us, the next full moon is on a Friday night — well technically Saturday morning. So you can stay up late and aim for the moon. But don’t worry, if you miss you’ll capture some stars and they’re pretty cool too.

If you have any questions about stacking moon photos, don’t hesitate to @ me on IG – @mikescic. I’ll do my best to help! And explore our night photography map for the darkest places to shoot in NJ.

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