Capturing a beautiful photograph of the full moon can be a wonderfully rewarding experience for any photographer. The moon makes for an intriguing night photography subject, but photographing the moon does require some specialized techniques and gear.
In this guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know to successfully photograph the moon and end up with stunning lunar images.
The key to photographing the moon is understanding how to properly expose the moon itself while still retaining details in the surrounding sky and landscape.
The moon is extremely bright compared to the rest of the night sky, so you need to use exposure settings that balance out the brightness difference. You also want to think about composition and consider using a foreground element to create scale and interest.
With the right approach and equipment, you can capture breathtaking photos of the moon in all its glory. This guide covers the best camera settings, gear, tips and techniques for photographing the moon phase and creating unique lunar photography.
Let’s get started!
Choosing the Best Camera Settings
The most important factor in photographing the moon is getting the exposure right. The settings you use will depend on whether you want a detailed close-up shot of the moon itself or a wider image showing the moon in the context of the night landscape.
Here are the key camera settings to understand:
ISO – Use a low ISO setting (100-400) to minimize noise and capture fine details of the lunar surface. Higher ISOs will add unwanted graininess.
Aperture – If you take a light meter and get a spot reading of the moon any day, you will see that it is always an f/16.
Shutter Speed – You might have to use a low shutter speed to capture the brightness of the moon. That’s why I would advise using a tripod to avoid any blurriness.
White Balance – The automatic white balance on your camera will likely create a blue color cast on the moon. The camera should be set to the daylight white balance setting for better color accuracy.
Focus – Sometimes the auto focus doesn’t work properly in very dark environments. I would suggest setting the camera to manual focus and set it to infinity. Make sure the moon is pin-sharp.
Drive Mode – Switch to timer or remote release to prevent camera shake. The self-timer mode works great if you don’t have a remote.
RAW vs JPEG – Shoot RAW images for superior image quality and maximum post-processing flexibility later on when editing your moon pictures.
Must-Have Camera Equipment
Having the right photography gear goes a long way in capturing stunning moon images.
These are the essentials you’ll want to have according to us:
DSLR or Mirrorless Camera – A digital SLR or mirrorless camera allows you to manually adjust exposure settings and attach specialty lenses. Entry to mid-level models are perfect for moon photography on a budget.
Telephoto Lens – A telephoto lens in the 200mm to 400mm range magnifies the moon nicely while still showing landscape context. Prime lenses provide excellent sharpness.
Tripod – Shooting with a tripod eliminates camera shake and allows you to use slower shutter speeds if needed. Use a sturdy tripod that can support your gear in windy conditions.
Remote Shutter Release – A remote shutter release or intervalometer enables you to trigger the camera without touching it, preventing vibration. They are inexpensive and well worth it!
Flashlight or Headlamp – Being able to see your camera settings in the dark is essential. Use a small flashlight or headlamp with a red light mode to preserve your night vision.
How to Make the Moon Appear Larger
With the right technique, you can give the illusion of making the moon appear much larger in your images:
Use a Long Telephoto Lens – A telephoto lens with a long focal length, like 400mm or 500mm, will significantly enlarge the moon in the frame while keeping it sharp.
Get Closer – Photograph the moon when it is nearest to the Earth during its orbital cycle for maximum size. The closest point is known as the perigee.
Shoot Near the Horizon – Photographing the moon near the horizon takes advantage of the moon illusion effect where it appears larger due to visual perception.
Use Foreground – Placing interesting foreground elements like trees, buildings or landscapes will make the moon look bigger relative to the foreground objects.
Leave Space Around It – Don’t crop the moon too tight. Leave negative space around it to make it feel dominant.
Post-Processing – You can enlarge the moon slightly when editing your photos if needed while maintaining image quality.
Choosing the Best Time to Shoot the Moon
The phase of the moon you are photographing and what time you choose during the month makes a big impact on the resulting image.
These are the best times to photograph each phase:
Full Moon – A full moon offers the most surface area and brightness. Photograph it as it rises for amazing results.
Crescent Moon – The crescent shape can make for very striking images, especially as the crescent fills out over successive days.
Moonrise or Moonset – Point in the cycle where the moon is closest to the horizon. You can capture it with interesting foreground landscapes.
Supermoon – When a full moon coincides with the moon’s perigee, it appears especially large and bright. A stunning subject!
Night of a Lunar Eclipse – Total lunar eclipses when the moon passes into Earth’s shadow create a reddish moon that’s incredible to photograph.
Moon – Having some moonlight from a waxing crescent to a gibbous moon can softly illuminate the foreground landscape and sky.
Pro Composition Tips
Creating compelling compositions is crucial for eye-catching lunar images.
These are some tips you can follow:
Include Foreground – Position an interesting foreground like a tree, building or landscape to add scale and depth. The moon will look huge by comparison.
Rule of Thirds – Place the moon at one of the intersection points of the rule of thirds grid rather than dead center.
Leading Lines – Use roads, fences, rivers or other elements to create leading lines that direct the viewer’s eye toward the moon.
Frame the Moon – Frame the moon with an archway, between trees or use any natural framing you can find.
Symmetry – Compose the image to have symmetrical elements on both sides of the frame. Works great with reflections.
Reflections – Try shooting the moon reflected in water for an amazing image. Include the reflection as well as the moon itself.
Silhouettes – Arrange silhouetted elements like trees or structures in front of the moon. The contrast looks fantastic.
Negative Space – Keep ample negative space around the moon so it doesn’t feel cramped.
Expert Tips for Perfect Moon Photography
Follow these pro tips when photographing the moon to take your images to the next level:
- Turn off image stabilization when using a tripod since it can cause blur on locked-down shots.
- Use Live View mode and zoom in to focus accurately on the crisp edge of the moon.
- Take exposures at a few different settings and pick the best one later. Bracketing your shots helps guarantee a properly exposed image.
- Shoot in RAW format for increased dynamic range and maximum ability to adjust exposure and white balance in post-processing.
- Expose for the moon itself to preserve surface details. Let the foreground go dark if needed.
- Photograph multiple days before and after the full moon to document how the light and phase changes.
- Try compositing multiple exposures together for a balanced exposure of the moon, sky and foreground landscapes.
- Use moon photography apps to track the timing and location of the moonrise/moonset each month.
- Look for interesting lunar events like eclipses, supermoons and moon halos to capture memorable images.
- Go to a location with an unobstructed view low on the eastern horizon for moonrise photos. Scout locations in advance if possible.
Putting it All Together
The key to photographing the moon is knowing which camera settings, gear and composition techniques you need for the shot.
Here is an overview of the entire process:
- Prep Your Gear – Have your DSLR or mirrorless camera on a sturdy tripod with a telephoto lens attached. Use a remote release and flashlight to adjust settings.
- Choose Exposure Settings – Start with ISO 100-400, f/11-f/16 aperture, 1/125s or faster shutter speed, daylight white balance and manual exposure mode.
- Focus on the Moon – Use manual focus to infinity for a crisp moon.
- Compose the Shot – Position the moon in an interesting way, try including a compelling foreground element and follow good compositional principles.
- Trigger the Shutter – Use a remote release or self-timer to avoid camera shake. Take multiple exposures in quick succession.
- Review and Adjust – Check your test shots and adjust the exposure as needed to properly expose the moon while showing good sky and ground detail.
- Post Process – Import into your favorite photo editing software and enhance your moon pictures with tweaks like white balance and contrast adjustments.
With persistence and creativity, you can master the art of photographing the different moon phases.
Use these tips and soon you’ll have eye-catching full moon photos you’ll be excited to share. The moon makes an incredibly fun and challenging night photography subject. Just remember to properly expose for the moon itself and fill the frame with its beauty relative to the surroundings.
FAQs: How to Photograph the Moon
Use lower ISO 100-400, medium aperture f/11-f/16, fast shutter speed 1/125s or more, and manual exposure mode. Spot meter on the moon and focus on the edge.
A telephoto lens in the 200mm to 400mm range works great to photograph the moon large in the frame while still showing the landscape.
Use a long telephoto lens, photograph when the moon is closest during its orbit, shoot near the horizon, and use foreground objects to create a larger relative size.
Include foreground objects, use leading lines, frame the moon, create symmetry and reflections, silhouette objects in the foreground, and keep ample negative space around the moon.