How to Photograph the Moon (With 10 Great Examples)

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For centuries the moon as captivated people, given direction and provided hours of enjoyment and wonderment.  Being the brightest object in the night sky, it's something photographers of all levels can shoot, however it does take planning and preparation to accomplish.

The moon is bright, but it isn't bright enough to simply snap a photo.  It is an object that's lit with sunlight, so nearly every aspect of preparing the shot is the same.  To achieve a nicely exposed photo, one where the moon doesn't appear flat nor like an out of place object.  To accomplish this, let's first look at the basic gear you'll need.

Tripod. A secure base and workstation for your camera is essential to capturing the moon and avoiding camera shake.  While you may be able to get away with hand holding your camera, your best results will without a doubt come from mounting your camera upon a tripod. (See our article on how to choose a tripod for some good tips).

Long zoom lens. In order to help fill the frame and properly show off the moon, the longer your zoom lens the better.  You don't necessarily need the fastest lens, because you'll be on a tripod, but it's best to use anything 300mm or longer.

Shutter release cable. Or a wireless remote if it's an option for your camera model.  This is not an essential piece, but it's nice to have and helps avoid camera shake.  If you don't have one you can cheat and use the self timer function on your camera.

Camera. While almost any camera will work, point and shoots rarely produce decent photos, mostly due to the small size of the sensor and it over-heating during longer exposures resulting in digital noise.  A DSLR is preferred here, or film SLR, again with a long lens on it.

No preset or auto function of your camera will be able to properly meter the moon, so you are best off shooting in full manual mode.  Also, your geographical location and current phase of the moon will have an effect on what your settings will be and you will need to adjust for the season of year and clarity of the sky.

ISO.  Digital cameras should be set to 100 or lower, film shooters should shoot film of 100 ISO or slower to eliminate noise and grain.

Aperture. Because you're after crisp, clean shots shooting at f/11 to f/16, depending on your lens, will be the best place to start.

Shutter speed. This will be the point at which you will need to adjust on a number of shots.  The variables are many and include those mentioned earlier, such as the phase the moon is in, geographical location and desired shot, but on a clear night starting at about 1/60th should be a great middle ground.

A word about where you choose to shoot.  Picking a spot to shoot the moon is one of the most important factors in achieving a quality shot.  Ideally, if you want to showcase the moon itself you want to avoid any other ambient light, including street lights and traffic.  This may require you to go off on a remote road or into a public park after hours – your backyard may not be the best location for these types of shots.  On the contrary, if you are trying to include a city skyline under your moon shot, you'll need to find a lookout that allows for the twinkling lights below and do further test shots to nail the exposure properly.

Post processing your photos is really straight forward and in most cases an auto white balance will do you just fine, however photographs of the moon also make stunning black and white images.

The moon is an intriguing and fascinating subject to shoot, partially because it's always changing, moving closer and further away.  There is no one time that's better to shoot it over another, so be creative and shoot it year round! Additionally, you can also play with composition, aside from shooting the moon on it's own.  Get low and shoot through the rising stalks in a cornfield or catch the reflection of the moon in the ocean while on the beach.  As inspiration, here's 10 great examples of moon photography!

Moon Dreams

Photo by jurvetson


Photo by penguinbush

Noche de luna llena - Full moon night

Photo by Flowery *L*u*z*a*

Once in a Blue Moon

Photo by Kuzeytac

harvest moon

Photo by joiseyshowaa

Full Moon at Perigee

Photo by kukkurovaca

Moon over Boston

Photo by Werner Kunz (werkunz1)

Bad Moon Rising

Photo by makelessnoise

Half Moon

Photo by Za3tOoOr!

The moon 10-08-2014 by Ana Sofia Guerreirinho

Don't forget to check out our other collection of inspiring moon photos.

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25 thoughts on “How to Photograph the Moon (With 10 Great Examples)

  1. Kerem Hanci

    Great stuff! I would like to add the following :o)

  2. Gary Goodenough

    Use an exposure of about ƒ16 at the reciprocal of the ISO speed. In other words: make the ISO into a fraction. If the ISO is 100 —100 set the speed to 1/100th.

    Reason: the moon is in sunlight and a light gray. So stop down from the same rule of thumb used in daylight photography here on earth.

  3. amanda woods

    Me and my husband were having such a hard time with this tonight until reading this post. I got an awesome clear and perfect shot of the moon. Thanks

  4. Ray

    I dont want to brag but with a point & shoot cannon SX160 I have better pics than most of you. im surprised with the clarity I have got with this basic cam.

    So Mr author, P&S too, at times, can give you great pics of the Moon.

  5. John Isner

    f/11 at 1/60 with ISO 100 is just the “sunny sixteen” rule we learned in the old film days. We learned to shoot the moon using the same settings you would use on a bright, cloudless sunny day: f/16 at 1 over the ASA, which gives roughly the same exposure as the recommended settings.

  6. Anonymous

    Remember the moon is in full sunlight. Start by going into manual mode and set the camera as you would for taking a picture in broad daylight. ISO 100, f 16, 1/100 sec. Shoot, look, play with the light to get what you want.

  7. Susan Whitaker

    Thank you for the instructions! I wanted to get a decent photo of the moon this week and with your instruction so far I have been successful!! It would have been even better with a stronger telephoto lens.

  8. Alfred Vitley

    I have found that you can get some good shots of the moon if you take them at dusk or dawn. The moon is not as bright then and is easier to not have a white blown out circle.

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