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Photographing The Moon with a Sigma 150-600mm Lens

I’ve owned a Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary Lens for some time and it is excellent for photographing the moon. Typically I take one-shirt photos but during a full moon these are often washed out. The moon is always too bright, even at ISO 100.

Instead of a one-shot approach, I opted to record a short video and then stack the video frames into one highlight detailed photograph.

Camera Equipment

To photograph the full moon I used a Canon EOS 90D, the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary Lens & a Sigma TC-1401 1.4x Telesconverter. To get a good focus on the moon, I used a Bahtinov Mask for the Sigma 150-600mm that I purchased on eBay.

I set the camera and massive lens up on a tripod and waited for the moon to rise. I find using the Benro GD3WH Geared Head makes the Sigma far more manageable.


Step 1 – Record a Video

Instead of shooting a photograph, I recorded a short video using an ISO of 100 and as high a frame rate as possible. Depending on your camera this could be 30fps, 50fps or even higher. The higher the frame rate the more stills we take in a shorter time. You only need to record 1-2 minutes of video.

The moon will move across the viewfinder, that is not a problem.

I used a frame rate of 50fps and took a 2 minute video. This gave me 6000 individual photographs to work with and stack.

Photographing the Moon with a Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary Lens

The actual video I took is shown above with the steps I went through when editing the image. You’ll notice the moon doesn’t look particularly great, to begin with, in the video but it’s got the data we need.

Step 2 – Process the Video in PIPP

PIPP – Planetary Imaging PreProcessor is a free Windows application that pre-processes the frames from your video. PIPP will crop and align each frame from your video and automatically generate an AVI video file. In this video file the moon will no longer move across the screen.

There are quite a lot of options in PIPP, so play around with them and see what best suits your tastes and style.

Step 3 – Process the AVI in AutoStakkart

AutoStakkart is another free Windows application that we will use to process our video. Although this time, we will be processing the AVI file that PIPP generated.

There are several, in-depth user guides to AutoStakkert on YouTube which are worth watching if you struggle to figure things out.

AutoStakkert, in essence, analyses each frame of your video and works out which frames are the best. You can then see quality ranking graph showing what percentage of your frames are good.

Using information from the quality graph you can then select which percentage of frames you want to keep and stack. Anywhere between 25-50% is usually a good starting point. Once you setup alignment points you can then stack the video frames into a TIFF file.

TIFF image of the moon from AutoStakkert
TIFF image of the moon from AutoStakkert

As you can see, it is a lot more detailed than the raw video was but it is still a little bright. We can fix that in Photoshop, GIMP (free download) or any other editing photo editing software.

If you are photographing planets then at this point you can use another software tool called RegiStax to further sharpen the images. The wavelets option in RegiStax is does a remarkable job of bringing clarity to planetary images.

Step 4 – Tweaking in Photoshop

I opened the TIF created by AutoStakkert in Photoshop for editing. To start with I dialled down the brightness.

Full moon with brightness dialled down
Full moon with brightness dialled down

With this particular photograph of the full moon, I wanted bring out slight elements of moon mineral colours. I didn’t want to create a full mineral moon coloured image but you could do that at this point.

Full Moon
Full Moon with subtle mineral moon colours

At this point I was happy with the result. These techniques work during each phase of the moon and allow you to be a bit more creative when it comes to photographing the moon.

PIPP, AutoStakkert, RegiStax and GIMP are all free software tools so try it for yourself, experiment with the software settings and see what you can create.

Clear skies!