How to photograph the moon

Perhaps you saw the latest “moon event” circulating your Facebook feed, headed out and came back with blurry, disappointing pictures. Or perhaps you’re reading this to plan ahead to capture what is expected to be a spectacular moon tonight. Whatever the case is, you want a photo of the moon—how do you get it?

Photographing the moon is tricky because there’s limited light, and a camera’s autofocus won’t work on a night sky either. Getting a great photo of the moon isn’t impossible though—here’s a simple set of instructions on how to photograph the moon for beginners.

What You Need

Any DSLR or mirrorless camera will work to capture the moon, and some super zoom cameras with manual modes can also work well. Besides the obvious (camera), you’ll need:

  • A good lens. A telephoto if you want to single out the moon and capture its details. A wider angle lens will get some of the scenery in too, but if you use a focal length shorter than 50 mm, the moon will look smaller than it does to the naked eye.
  • A tripod
  • A remote release (optional)
  • Patience

How to photograph the moonHow to Photograph the Moon: The Steps

Wait for the right night.

Since the moon has different phases, you’ll get a much better shot simply by waiting for the right night. You’ll want to pay attention to the moons phases. A full moon makes for a great image, but it’s also much brighter, which can make it trickier to get the shot. Of course, complete cloud cover makes shooting the moon impossible as well, so pay attention to the weather too.

The time of day matters when it comes to photographing the moon as well. The moon appears largest when it’s closest to the horizon, so shooting at moonrise or moonset is often the best. You can use an app like LightTrac to identify just when that is for your particular area and day. You can choose to capture the moon during the night, or even during the day once the moon has risen. Events like lunar eclipses and harvest moons are also great times to capture the moon.

Choose a scene and set up a tripod.

Unlike photographing the stars, light pollution doesn’t have as dramatic of an effect on moon photos. You can use a telephoto lens and shoot just the moon from almost anywhere, or scout out a good landscape and use a lens with a wider angle.

Once you’ve selected your location, set up your tripod. You’ll need a longer shutter speed, so a tripod is necessary for getting a sharp shot.

Set your exposure.

The full moon actually casts quite a bit of light. A bright moon on a black sky throws off the camera’s auto exposure system, so manual mode is a necessity to getting the shot right. The exact settings will depend on your shooting environment—for example, at dusk, you can use a faster shutter speed than at night.

While long exposures are usually great for night photography, there is one problem—the earth and moon are both rotating, so if you use a long shutter speed, you’ll lose some of the details in the moon from motion blur. Of course, the motion isn’t that fast so you will need to keep the shutter speed ideally under 30 seconds to get a clear photo.

Due to the brightness of the moon, you can often use a low ISO and an aperture of f11.

Shooting the moon with some scenery or other elements in the photo? Expose for the moon to keep those details. However, in many instances, this will leave the rest of the scene black. How do you get a well-detailed moon, without underexposing the rest of the scene? This is often achieved through bracketing—taking multiple photos at different exposures, then combining the images in post processing, like with a HDR image. Be sure to take at least two photos, one with the moon well-exposed, and one with the rest of the scene well-exposed. Thanks to that tripod, your shots will be from the same perspective, so combining them is easy.

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How to photograph the moon

Set your focus.

If you try to photograph the moon with autofocus, your camera will attempt to focus but be unable to lock focus on the moon. The moon is so bright and distant that autofocus usually doesn’t work that well, which is why it’s best to manually focus. Turn the lens barrel to infinity, then check your focus in the viewfinder and adjust from there. Nailing the focus may take a few tries, so you may want to practice on a plain moon if you’re hoping to photograph a special lunar event. Once you find that sweet spot, mark it with a sticker or gaffers tape to remember the next time you want to photograph the moon.

Shoot!

You’re finally ready to actually take the photo, however don’t reach for the shutter release just yet. Pressing the button can actually introduce camera shake, even when mounted on a tripod, therefore you will need to use a remote release. If you do not have a remote, using the self-timer will function the same way, triggering the photo without your hand on the camera, so there’s no additional camera shake.

Check your shot, and adjust.

It’s difficult, especially for beginners, to get a moon shot right on the first try. Thankfully, you have a pretty big window of opportunity time-wise, so be sure to check your shot and make any necessary adjustments. Don’t see the details of those craters? Your exposure may be too bright and is overexposing the details of the moon. Your shutter speed could also be too long, or your focus not quite right. Use a critical eye checking that viewfinder, then adjust and reshoot.

Edit.

You can get even more details out of your photo of the moon with a few simple adjustments in post processing. If you shot a RAW photo, adjustments are even easier. Use the contrast slider to bring out a bit more of those details. Applying some sharpening or using the unsharp mask filter often helps too. If you shot a bracketed set of photos to properly expose the foreground, you’ll of course need to merge the photos together at this point.

Today’s digital cameras can capture great details even on something as far away as the moon. Shooting the moon can be a bit tricky however, but with the right setup and camera settings, the moon can be a great subject to capture.

Looking to sharpen your photography skills? Join our top-rated professional diploma in photography today!

By Bill Dunford

Feature | May 20, 2021

Capturing the Moon with a camera is one of the most satisfying – and challenging – projects available to an outdoor photographer. Here are some suggestions for making the most of a moonlit night with your camera.

1. Planning is Key

There’s nothing wrong with grabbing a spontaneous shot if you see a beautiful Moon. But if you want to increase your odds of making a truly memorable photo, there are some ways to make your own luck. Scout out a good shooting location during daylight hours. Practice using your camera’s controls in advance. Give yourself plenty of time to set up.

Bill Ingalls is NASA’s senior photographer and has traveled all over the world for more than 25 years photographing events for NASA. Ingalls goes to great lengths to scout out the perfect vantage point to juxtapose the Moon with various Washington monuments.

“It means doing a lot of homework,” Ingalls said. “I use Google Maps and other apps – even a compass – to plan where to get just the right angle at the right time.” He often scouts locations a day or more in advance, getting permission to access rooftops or traveling to remote areas to avoid light pollution.

2. Know Where and When to Look for the Moon

One of the most important parts of planning is to know when the Moon rises and sets on a given day, and its current phase. Using NASA resources, you can see the Moon’s exact phase down to the hour, generate a calendar of sky events including full moons, and even make your own handy Moon phase calendar. There are also a number of commercial apps available for your computer or smartphone that can help you predict exactly when, where, and how the Moon will make an appearance.

3. Include People or Objects in the Shot

Ingalls’ tip for capturing that great lunar photo is: don’t make the mistake of photographing the Moon by itself with no reference to anything.

He said, “I’ve certainly done it myself, but everyone will get that shot. Instead, think of how to make the image creative – that means tying it into some land-based object. It can be a local landmark or anything to give your photo a sense of place.”

Even without a famous landmark nearby, trees, mountains, streetlights, and even just clouds in the sky can all add visual interest to an image.

4. Use a Tripod Whenever Possible

You’ll make sharper images if you can minimize any camera shaking. The easiest way to do that is by mounting the camera on a sturdy tripod. To take it a step further, using your camera’s self-timer will eliminate any shaking from pressing the shutter button. A shutter release cable eliminates the need to touch the camera at all. If your camera has Wi-Fi capabilities, you might be able to activate the shutter from a mobile device.

5. To Capture Details on the Moon Itself, Adjust Your Camera Settings for Daylight

Since most Moon shots are taken at night, it might seem intuitive to adjust your camera for low-light conditions. But if you want to photograph the Moon itself and its features clearly, remember this: moonlight is just reflected sunlight. In fact, it’s often bright reflected sunlight, depending on the Moon’s phase. Set your camera’s white balance for daylight, and try a fast shutter speed with a smaller aperture.

Of course, if you’re shooting both the Moon in the sky and the landscape below, exposure gets much more tricky. Planning and experimentation will be your friends.

6. Zoom In

The Moon often looks much bigger to the eye than it does in photographs. In order to avoid having it look like a tiny white dot, it’s important to zoom in on the Moon as tightly as your equipment will allow, especially if you’re using a smartphone camera.

7. Take Inspiration From Other Photographers

Take a look at our gallery of Moon photos, this searchable image gallery, or NASA’s official Flickr stream for ideas and inspiration.

8. Make a Moon Photo Safari into a Family Activity

Especially if there is a supermoon, eclipse, or another special celestial event, a Moon photography expedition makes for a memorable outing.

“I think this would be a lot of fun to do with kids, if nothing else, to just have them witness it and talk about what’s taking place,” said Ingalls. He recommends personalizing the experience by using people in the shot. “There are lots of great photos of people appearing to be holding the Moon in their hand and that kind of thing. You can get really creative with it,” he said.

9. Experiment

The Moon isn’t only visible at night. Try a daylight shot.

Experiment with shooting the Moon during different phases. A full Moon is beautiful and extremely bright, but also quite flat. During other phases, the lengthening shadows cast by mountains and craters on the lunar surface make for interesting, complex moonscapes.

10. Practice Makes Perfect

In the end, the best way to work toward that perfect Moonshot is lots of hands-on experience and experimentation. Practice will lead to beautiful photos of Earth’s nearest neighbor.

Photographers often search for nights with little to no moon. However, a full moon can really add a different twist to your photography.

As night sky photographers, we are constantly in search of skies with little to no moonlight. The moon is incredibly bright, and acts similar to light pollution from a city, washing out many of the surrounding stars. Anything more than a crescent moon is too bright to shoot the Milky Way, however, experimenting in full moonlight can produce some very unique results. Hopefully this story will give you a few helpful pointers to shoot under the full moon on your next outing!

1. Illuminating the Foreground

If you’ve ever shot at night, you know that the foreground can tend to be pretty flat. However, in the moonlight, that all changes. Night scenes are transformed and a full moon can give a photo a magical glow. Under the full moon, only the brightest of stars will shine through, and the foreground is illuminated. Take a look at the two photos below. The first one was taken after the moon had risen, giving light to the foreground, therefore giving it depth and a three dimensional look and feel. The second photo, taken on the same night but before the moon rose, appears very flat, and noisy. These were both shot at ISO 1600 on a Sony a7rii with a constant aperture, with the only difference being in shutter speeds.

Some people like to use a light to illuminate the foreground, however, this is something I never incorporate into my shooting techniques. Using a light, no matter how diffused, always appears uneven and fake to me. Moonlight is great because it is so high up and illuminates everything, even the things in the distance. With an artificial light, your foreground may be lit up, but on your horizon it will likely be dark.

How to photograph the moonMoonlight Illuminating Foreground
How to photograph the moonNo Moonlight Illuminating Foreground

2. Be Cautious of the Moon in Your Frame

Including the moon in your frame will be very difficult to pull off. Because the moon is so bright, I tend to shoot it around 1/50 of a second shutter speed with a low ISO and a closed aperture. However, if you include it in your frame and do this, you will not be able to see anything else. If you want to include the moon in your shot, you have two options. Either shoot the moon when it is behind you and then blend it in later, or you can bracket the shot and take multiple exposures to blend in later.

How to photograph the moonTaken at Mobius Arch, California

3. Darken the Foreground in Post Processing

When you go to process your image, the foreground is going to look very bright, and depending on your white balance settings (I leave mine on auto and fix in post), it may even look like day time. It’s important that you use a gradient filter of some sort to darken and fix the white balance. We don’t want our night time photos to look like they were shot at high noon! Check out the examples below, where you can see the first image appears to be shot during the day time. Using gradients, I darkened and cooled down the foreground to give it more of a night time look.

How to photograph the moonRAW File

How to photograph the moonEdited Version

4. Yes, a Tripod is Still Required

You will still need a tripod to shoot exposures at night. I was shooting shutter speeds between 5-10 seconds, and I doubt you can be perfectly still for that long!

5. Camera Settings

When shooting other night time photos, such as the Milky Way, we often open the aperture as much as possible. This is often f/2.8 or f/4. However, this is rarely the sharpest aperture for your lens. For full moon shots, you won’t need as much light since the moon is lighting everything up. On my lens, I usually find the sweet spot to be about f/6.3 or so, but test in the day and find your sharpest aperture for each lens you own.

For shutter speeds, I generally use the rule of 400. The rule of 500 is a lot more popular, but if you plan on doing any large scale printing, go with 400. This basically means that you divide 400 (or 500 if you don’t plan on doing any prints) by the focal length of your lens. For me, that is 18mm. 400 divided by 18 is 22, meaning I won’t shoot longer than 22 seconds. This is because the earth turns, making the stars move in the sky overnight. If your exposure is too long, you will experience star trailing.

How to photograph the moonEven at 20 seconds on an 18mm lens, I still experienced some star trailing. However, this is zoomed in and on a normal size print, you would not be able to tell.

Lastly, your ISO is going to be the last thing you decide on. Set your aperture and shutter speed, and then test a few exposures to see what is the best ISO. I usually aim for around ISO 800, in order to keep the noise down. However, depending on your camera, you may want to open up your aperture in order to lower the ISO, if you shoot on a camera that does not handle low light as well.

To sum that all up, figure out your shutter speed first by dividing 400 (or 500) by your focal length. Then, try to keep your aperture somewhere around f/8, but this will be dependent on your camera and how much noise you can handle. Lastly, dial in the ISO. Take lots of different exposures and figure out what works best for you!

Hopefully this helps you shoot the night sky on your next outing. One of the best things about the full moon is it allows everyone to take very nice night sky exposures. Practically any DSLR that would struggle in the low light of a Milky Way shoot can still take very nice images after dark when the full moon is out.

I’ll leave a few of my favorite full moon images below, and if you’d like to see more, check out my website, Instagram, or Facebook Page.

How to photograph the moon

How to photograph the moon

How to photograph the moon

How to photograph the moon

How to photograph the moon

How to photograph the moon

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How to shoot a Full Moon or Supermoon

T he moon, regardless of whether it’s a supermoon or just a plain ’ole full moon makes a great subject to capture because you know its going to be visible every month. So, if you don’t get a great shot, just try again.

The moon can be photographed using a mirrorless or DSLR camera and zoom or super-telephoto lens or even super-telephoto COOLPIX cameras. One tip for increasing the apparent focal length of your lens on an FX or Full Frame Nikon DSLR or Z series mirrorless camera is to set the camera into DX Crop mode. This will add the 1.5x crop that using a DX format Nikon DSLR or mirrorless camera would have done, giving you extra reach.

Exposing for the light of the full moon

If you’re using any of the PSAM exposure modes, set the camera’s exposure manually or use program or shutter or aperture priority. You may want to underexpose the image to ensure that the detail of the craters on the moon’s surface aren’t blown out. Bracket exposures to find the ideal one for your taste. Using Spot metering will also help you get the correct exposure for the moon, which will be the brightest part of your image. Use a shutter speed of at least 1/15 second or faster since the moon actually moves pretty fast across the sky. Set the focus to infinity and if your choice of ISO allows it, set the aperture to f/11 or f/16.

Select COOLPIX cameras such as the P900 feature a Moon Scene Mode. Select it and the camera will optimize the settings, focusing at infinity, in the center of the frame. You may also want to use a tripod, and if you do, remember to set the VR to OFF in the setup menu. Don’t have a tripod? Brace yourself against a sturdy object or place the camera on a sturdy surface and use the Vari-angle LCD to compose the image.

What about the foreground landscape?

Photographing the moon along with the foreground landscape can be tricky because of the wide dynamic range. Exposing for the foreground might cause the moon to be overexposed, and exposing for the moon might cause the foreground to be too dark. In this case the optimum solution may be to create a multiple exposure or composite. If you’re using a wide-angle lens and the moon is a small element, it likely won’t cause the overall image to suffer if the moon is blown out with no visible details.

There are a few ways that you can add the moon to another image for a more interesting composition. One of those techniques is by using the Multiple Exposure function that is incorporated into select Nikon cameras. (Check your camera’s User’s Manual to see if your camera has this feature.) Some Nikon DSLRs offer Image Overlay in the camera, which is another way of compositing two images together.

Yet another technique is to photograph the moon and the landscape as separate images and combine them together using an image-editing program. Use the same focal length that you shoot the landscape with, when you photograph the moon, for the most realistic look in the final composite. It also makes the actual compositing easier to do.

Other ways to get creative: set the Picture Control in the camera to B&W since the moon against the black sky is pretty much a monochromatic image. When doing so, try adjusting the red filter in the monochrome setting, which will give you more of a punchier tonal difference or higher contrast between the blacks and whites.

Use some of the fun effects that are built-into the camera for a unique view. Shoot video as you zoom into your shot, or experiment with time lapse of the moon’s movement across the sky.

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing the Moon

Select an aperture of f/11 or f/16.

Use a shutter speed of at least 1/15 second or faster since the moon actually moves pretty fast across the sky.

Set the focus to infinity.

Use Spot metering to help you get the correct exposure for the moon, which will be the brightest part of your image.

Set the camera’s exposure manually and underexpose the image to ensure detail of the craters on the moon’s surface. Want to use the camera set to programmed exposure? Just use the exposure compensation to underexpose the image for a correct exposure. Either way—bracket your exposures.

How to shoot a Full Moon or Supermoon

T he moon, regardless of whether it’s a supermoon or just a plain ’ole full moon makes a great subject to capture because you know its going to be visible every month. So, if you don’t get a great shot, just try again.

The moon can be photographed using a mirrorless or DSLR camera and zoom or super-telephoto lens or even super-telephoto COOLPIX cameras. One tip for increasing the apparent focal length of your lens on an FX or Full Frame Nikon DSLR or Z series mirrorless camera is to set the camera into DX Crop mode. This will add the 1.5x crop that using a DX format Nikon DSLR or mirrorless camera would have done, giving you extra reach.

Exposing for the light of the full moon

If you’re using any of the PSAM exposure modes, set the camera’s exposure manually or use program or shutter or aperture priority. You may want to underexpose the image to ensure that the detail of the craters on the moon’s surface aren’t blown out. Bracket exposures to find the ideal one for your taste. Using Spot metering will also help you get the correct exposure for the moon, which will be the brightest part of your image. Use a shutter speed of at least 1/15 second or faster since the moon actually moves pretty fast across the sky. Set the focus to infinity and if your choice of ISO allows it, set the aperture to f/11 or f/16.

Select COOLPIX cameras such as the P900 feature a Moon Scene Mode. Select it and the camera will optimize the settings, focusing at infinity, in the center of the frame. You may also want to use a tripod, and if you do, remember to set the VR to OFF in the setup menu. Don’t have a tripod? Brace yourself against a sturdy object or place the camera on a sturdy surface and use the Vari-angle LCD to compose the image.

What about the foreground landscape?

Photographing the moon along with the foreground landscape can be tricky because of the wide dynamic range. Exposing for the foreground might cause the moon to be overexposed, and exposing for the moon might cause the foreground to be too dark. In this case the optimum solution may be to create a multiple exposure or composite. If you’re using a wide-angle lens and the moon is a small element, it likely won’t cause the overall image to suffer if the moon is blown out with no visible details.

There are a few ways that you can add the moon to another image for a more interesting composition. One of those techniques is by using the Multiple Exposure function that is incorporated into select Nikon cameras. (Check your camera’s User’s Manual to see if your camera has this feature.) Some Nikon DSLRs offer Image Overlay in the camera, which is another way of compositing two images together.

Yet another technique is to photograph the moon and the landscape as separate images and combine them together using an image-editing program. Use the same focal length that you shoot the landscape with, when you photograph the moon, for the most realistic look in the final composite. It also makes the actual compositing easier to do.

Other ways to get creative: set the Picture Control in the camera to B&W since the moon against the black sky is pretty much a monochromatic image. When doing so, try adjusting the red filter in the monochrome setting, which will give you more of a punchier tonal difference or higher contrast between the blacks and whites.

Use some of the fun effects that are built-into the camera for a unique view. Shoot video as you zoom into your shot, or experiment with time lapse of the moon’s movement across the sky.

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing the Moon

Select an aperture of f/11 or f/16.

Use a shutter speed of at least 1/15 second or faster since the moon actually moves pretty fast across the sky.

Set the focus to infinity.

Use Spot metering to help you get the correct exposure for the moon, which will be the brightest part of your image.

Set the camera’s exposure manually and underexpose the image to ensure detail of the craters on the moon’s surface. Want to use the camera set to programmed exposure? Just use the exposure compensation to underexpose the image for a correct exposure. Either way—bracket your exposures.

How to photograph the moonIf you have been taking pictures for any amount of time, chances are you’ve tried to take a picture of the moon in the past. How did it come out? Perhaps like a white blob that is a lot smaller than you hoped it would be?

If you answered yes, this article is for you. Not only will you learn why pictures you have taken of the moon in the past have failed, you’ll also learn how to photograph the moon like a professional photographer. If you’re relatively new to photography, you should take A Jumpstart Guide to Photography before continuing to get the most out of this tutorial.

Why Does the Moon Look Smaller in Pictures?

The reason the moon looks smaller in pictures is the same reason why just about everything looks smaller in pictures. Your average camera has a wide-angle lens. This is true of point-and-shoot cameras as well as DSLRs.

To understand this, you have to remember that your eyes are like a 50mm fixed lens. Since the wide-angle lens on your camera is shorter than 50 mm, the moon always look smaller.

There’s another reason why the moon look smaller too. Known as Moon Illusion, this is a phenomenon where the moon appears bigger to your eyes than it actually is.

Why Does the Moon Look Like a White Blob?

Simply put, your pictures of the moon are overexposed. Obviously the moon is most visible at night when everything else is dark or dimly lit. Even if you point your camera directly at the moon, the camera sees that everything else is dark and compensates for these low light conditions with a longer shutter time.

The result is a moon that looks more like a white circular object or a blob and not actually like the moon you tried to capture in your picture. The techniques in Night Photography Unlocked make all your nighttime pictures look better.

Equipment You Will Need

In order to take good pictures of the moon, you need a DSLR camera with a 200mm telephoto lens or a point-and-shoot camera with an optical zoom.

You also need a tripod because of the longer exposure times required to make the shots work. A remote camera trigger is ideal, but if you do not have one the self-timer in your camera also works. This is because even the slight motion of pressing the shutter button can actually distort the picture and turn it into that all familiar white blob that you’re trying to avoid.

The Long Exposure Photography course shows you how to set up your equipment for the low light conditions present when photographing the moon.

Photographing the Moon

Assuming you are using either a telephoto lens or optical zoom on a point-and-shoot camera, a tripod is practically a necessity. Set up your tripod and try to fill as much of the frame as you can with the moon at maximum zoom. Without the use of a special camera mount for a telescope, you won’t be able to fill the entire frame and your moon photograph will probably need some post process cropping.

Set your camera mode to full manual, ISO to 100, aperture to f/11, and the shutter speed to 1/125 (assuming an ISO of 100). If your camera only goes down to ISO 200, use a 1/250 shutter speed.

These values are sometimes referred to in the photography world as the Looney 11 rule which refers to the aperture setting that works best for photographing the moon.

When moon photography gets really tricky is when you want to include a foreground object with the picture of the moon. The moon will always look overexposed if you just take a standard picture of the scene. The best way to accomplish a moon/foreground picture is by taking two separate images and combining them using Photoshop.

The first image should have the moon properly exposed while the foreground is severely underexposed. The second image focuses on the foreground and the moon will be overexposed. These two images can easily be combined in Photoshop to create one image that is properly exposed and includes the details of the moon that are often missing in these moonscape pictures.

If you are unsure about how to properly perform post processing using Photoshop, check out Foundations of Photoshop.

The Secret Professional Photographers Don’t Want You to Know

As you realize now, including the moon in a landscape photograph usually requires Photoshop or some other image editing software. Once you have a few good pictures of the moon, you can reuse them for your other night photographs. Professional photographers do this all the time and it gives them stunning results without the headache of multiple pictures each time they take a night photograph.

Photoshop lets you resize your moon pictures and you could even add clouds or various colors to the moon to match your photo easily. These modified moon photographs can be inserted anywhere and add unique character to your photographs without much effort at all.

There is something about the moon that intrigues humans. It only makes sense that you should try to capture this intriguing quality in your photographs. Whether you decide to take pictures of just the moon or create beautiful landscapes with the moon looking above, understanding the process and practicing the techniques outlined above will give you the best possible moon pictures, regardless of the type of camera you are using.

Don’t forget that once you have a few good moon shots, you can reuse them over and over again in any pictures you take. Get creative – add the moon into a daytime landscape or shade it slightly red for a spooky Halloween themed picture.

Above all else, have fun and enjoy these new techniques which are guaranteed to make moon photography much more interesting.

Taking a good picture of our little satellite pal is harder than it seems, but a little prep makes a big difference.

By Stan Horaczek | Published May 27, 2021 5:50 PM

How to photograph the moon

This story was originally published in 2018 and has been updated.

The moon is a photographic tease. It hangs up there in the sky, all big and bright. Then you try to take a picture of it and you get a pathetic white blob floating in a sea of digital noise and darkness. It’s frustrating, especially when you’re experiencing a super moon, or a blood moon, or a harvest moon, or any of those other moon phenomena that don’t really mean anything, but are extremely good at helping websites rack up page views and Instagram users gather likes.

But, while the earth’s little lunar buddy can be a pain to photograph, the results can be rewarding. Here are some on how to photograph the moon, no matter what kind of camera you have, or what kind of media hype that particularly moon brings with it.

How to photograph the moon: Plan your shot

Let’s start with the bad news: Stumbling across a beautiful moon and expecting to capture it with your smartphone is extremely unlikely to happen. In fact, you’ll probably end up with something like this mess.

How to photograph the moon

The iPhone 8 Plus has a great camera, but it’s not wonderful for shooting the moon. This is the worst picture I have ever voluntarily posted online.

Gross, right? That’s because your smartphone—at least on its own—isn’t designed to snag a shot this kind of shot. The lens is too wide, the sensor generates too much digital noise, and the lens is often smudged with goop from your pocket that streaks the frame. It’s not pretty. So, it’s worth it to visualize the shot you want, and that will help determine the gear and technique you’ll want to use.

Sites like In-the-sky.org are a good reference for planning lunar events, or just tracking regular moon activities.

Using a dedicated camera

Your best bet learning how to photograph the moon is an advanced camera with exposure controls and a long, telephoto lens. For the shot below, I used a full-frame Canon 5D Mark III DSLR with a Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens and an extender attached. If you don’t know anything about the numbers associated with zoom lenses, 600mm is extremely long. In fact, it’s longer than most of the big, white lenses you’ll find on the sidelines of pro sporting events.

Luckily, you don’t need $10,000 worth of gear to make a solid shot happen. Any modern interchangeable lens camera with access to a zoom lens will do the trick. Even a compact camera with a long zoom lens built in can work, although if it does make things a little trickier.

Pick your longest telephoto lens. If you’re not sure which is which, you’ll want to check the focal length of the lens, which is typically noted as a range, like 18-55mm or 70-200mm. The higher the number, the more zoomed in your view will be.

When using a camera with a built-in zoom lens, it gets a little more complex. As you zoom toward the telephoto end of the camera’s range, it can’t let in as much light (because the aperture gets smaller). As a result, it needs to crank up the sensor’s light sensitivity, which increases digital noise. You might have to do a little experimenting to find the perfect balance of zoom and noise for your specific camera, especially if it’s something with a monstrous 50x zoom. Many cameras also offer “digital zoom,” which you should ignore because it’s just cropping in on the image, which you can do better in post.

In recent years, smartphones have gotten more adept at shooting moon photos. Specifically, Hauwei and Samsung both have specific shooting modes to enable moon captures with their zoom-lens equipped devices. Those devices have a way to go before they can compete with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, but they’re getting closer.

How to photograph the moon

This is a “super moon” rise from 2017. Using a 1200mm lens makes the moon appear larger in the scene.

Setting up

You’ll want a tripod for this shot, not because it’s dark, but because telephoto lenses are a lot harder to keep steady and free of motion blur without a sturdy base.

Pick a spot with a clear view of the moon—going out the night before to track the rough path across the sky can help you get an idea of when everything will fall into place.

If you want a shot of just the moon, location doesn’t matter as much, but adding some foreground can help give the moon some context that helps it feel as big as it looks, or even bigger.

Sometimes the time you shoot will be determined by a specific event, like an eclipse, but otherwise, you can pick the time that works best for your composition. Shooting a moon as it comes up over the horizon, for instance, will make it look huge, especially in a “super moon” situation.

Set the camera

If you’re not familiar with camera exposure modes and terms, you’ll want to switch your camera to program mode, which is typically represented by a “P” on the mode dial. This is an automatic mode, but it allows you to adjust exposure using something called “exposure compensation” because your camera doesn’t innately know how to photograph the moon. You’ll have to look up the exact method for using exposure compensation on your specific camera, but chances are, you’ll have to reduce the overall exposure by -2 or even more.

Moon shots often trick camera light meters because it tries to average out the bright celestial body with the dark sky. You can usually tell when you’re getting it right because you’ll start to see some actual detail in the moon.

If you do know about camera settings, start with a low ISO setting—even 100 will work to start. Choose a small aperture like f/8 or f/11 to get the sharpest performance out of your lens and start with a shutter speed around 1/125. This might be too dark, depending on your location, but you can adjust as you see fit.

How to photograph the moon

This is the same setting as above, slightly later and shot with a 600mm lens to show more of the scene, including the Albany, NY skyline. You’ll notice a lot of environmental haze in the photo due to humidity in the air and the extremely long distance covered in the shot.

How to photograph the moon: Shoot the photo

Focusing on the moon should be pretty easy if your lens is long enough. If your camera lets you zoom in when using the back screen to compose a shot, that’s a great way to carefully check that everything is sharp. You can use the camera’s autofocus system, but if you find that it’s constantly zipping back and forth, looking for its subject (photographers call this “hunting”) then manual focus might be a better bet.

Once you’re ready to take the picture, use your camera’s self-timer mode to actually fire the shutter. Many cameras have a mode that will wait two seconds after you push the button to take the picture and that comes in handy here. Pushing the shutter button with your finger can introduce small amounts of camera shake and give you a blurry photo, even if you’re on a tripod.

Don’t take just one. Lots can go wrong with a photo like this, so shoot as much as you can while you have the chance.

If you can’t get close enough to get a really tight shot of the moon, don’t sweat it too much. You only need a picture that’s roughly 2000 x 2000 pixels to look great on Instagram, so there’s plenty of room to crop into files from most cameras.

How to photograph the moon

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Home » Photography » How to Photograph the Moon with Foreground

How to photograph the moon

Learning how to photograph the moon with foreground is on the to-do list of many budding night sky photographers. However, when you first try to capture a landscape image that incorporates the moon, you may be a little surprised at the results.

If you’ve tried this before but struggled to get a good image, it is likely one of the following describes your results:

  • the moon was a bright, overexposed blob in the sky
  • the foreground was far too dark; almost entirely black with details lost in the shadows
  • the moon looked much, much smaller than it did to your eye

Sound familiar? Don’t worry – this quick guide will show you how to photograph the moon with foreground.

1. How to expose both the moon and the foreground

A bright moon will give you ample light for a long exposure image, but the moon is much brighter than your foreground and will consequently be overexposed as a result.

You’ve probably found yourself in a situation where you are battling the exposure of the moon and the landscape, resulting in one or the other losing all details.

How to photograph the moon

Well, luckily there is a quick and easy solution. Employ bracketing to achieve a high dynamic range (HDR) image. Bracketing is where your camera takes a number of images at different exposure levels in quick succession. The aim is to then blend these together during post production, achieving a properly balanced exposure.

2. Making the moon look “correctly sized”

Using a wide-angle lens to capture your foreground (and the landscape as a whole) will make the moon look small in the frame. This is just basic physics and, whilst it may look larger to your eye, it is difficult to convey this in a 2D space.

Consequently, a technique that some moon photographers use is it capture one image of the landscape using a wide-angle lens, and then take a closer shot of the moon using a longer focal length.

These two images are then composited together, overlaying the tighter shot of the moon into your landscape scene.

If you go down this route, it is important to ensure that your moon is in the correct position. Otherwise, you’ll no doubt be called out by some lunar experts!

3. Choosing a focal length for photographing the moon with foreground

Think about what kind of scene you want to use. A wide-angle lens will capture a vast landscape and foreground detail, but is that absolutely necessary?

Why not try a telephoto lens to close in on the details. This will also help to make the moon appear larger in your frame, rather than a small spot in the sky.

An image of the moon rising above the treetops can work well. An added benefit is that the trees might work as a silhouette, removing the need to employ HDR techniques or similar to balance the exposure.

4. Use apps to find the position of the moon

Just like with any good photo, composition is absolutely key. Using augmented reality functions on smartphone apps can really help you to compose your night photos. I recommend downloading an app called Lumos. Point your camera at the sky, and the app will overlay the position of the moon (or sun) at any given time of the day.

This means that you can precisely line-up your shot, knowing exactly where the moon will be when you press the shutter. It’s also great for time-lapsing and capturing more complex images.

5. Keep your expectations realistic

Lunar photography suffers more than many genres of nature photography from photo-manipulation. There’s no problem with that, but when photographers do not declare that their images are doctored it creates unrealistic expectations. Almost all of those images you see of huge, dramatic moons above city skylines are fake. That moon has been composited in, as I have mentioned above, and many people go a little too far – it looks completely unrealistic.

There’s nothing wrong with compositing, as long as you don’t try to pass it off as something that it isn’t.

In conclusion

Capturing the moon on camera is no easy feat, but persistence will be your friend here. Make sure to join our free newsletter and read up on our in-depth moon photography guide for more guidance.