How To Stack Photos To Capture 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. 

You combine multiple images taken at different focus distances to get the desired result. Focus stacking is commonly seen in macro and landscape photography. Here’s how to recover details in your landscape photography.

Now capturing the moon it’s a little different because we’re not going to change the depth of field or focal 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, remember that the Earth is spinning, and the moon is orbiting… things are in motion here! Add that with the distance, and having the right gear in place is essential to help your chances of capturing a crisp image.

Essential Gear for Shooting the Moon

Finding The Right Telephoto Lens

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 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.

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Finding The Right Tripod for Your Camera

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

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Great 1st Tripod
$79.99$72.99
Pros:
  • Lightweight for Travel
  • Ball-head can rotate 360°
  • Detachable Monopod Option
  • 2-Year Warranty
Best Design
$379.95$341.96
Pros:
  • Compact, Travel Size
  • Holds Up To 20lbs
  • Quick Release for Camera
  • Weather Resistant
Ultimate Tripod
$649.95$584.96
Pros:
  • Lightweight Carbon Design
  • 20lb Weight Capacity
  • Built-In Mobile Phone Mount
  • Fits In Backpack Side Pocket
12/08/2022 12:29 pm GMT

Make It Easier with a Remote Shutter

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

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 it will most likely overexpose the image as it will 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, turn off your vibration reduction on the lens or camera itself.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all settings approach, as the light will vary depending on the lunar phase. A good start is around ISO 100, f/8, and 1/200th of a second. Take a few test shots and ensure 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 the frame, as it will make life easier once you start editing. You’ll need to adjust every 10 pictures if you’re on a tripod.

Looking for a great app to help you take your shots of the moon on the go? Check out PhotoPills for everything you need!

Editing Moon Photos 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 the frame. If the moon moves off-center and you 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

Stacking Moon Photos In Lightroom

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

You’ll move down the line from here – 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 on to the next tab ‘Wavelet.” The six-layer values can be adjusted to change the detail you see in the image. Experiment with the sliders, but be patient.

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

NOW’S YOUR CHANCE! Try it for yourself!

Want to learn more about taking photos at night? Check out our guide to astrophotography!

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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