So What Is The Looney 11 Rule In Photography?


Want to photograph the Moon, but you don't know what settings to use? The Looney 11 rule is a great way to estimate the right exposure without fancy tools like a light meter. So, let's take a look at the Looney 11 rule!

Have you ever wondered why taking pictures of the Moon isn't as simple as you expected it to be? Well, there is a reason for that. It's bright and it moves! Ok, it isn’t that simple, but the Moon is a moving object reflecting light from the sun – therefore, there are quite complex lighting conditions that should be considered before attempting to photograph it. Regular shots of the Moon will certainly show up this motion, blurriness and as such, they can even look out of focus.

The Moon is intriguing and poetic and it has been a constant subject for photographers. Take a look at one of the most influential photographs of all time taken by Edward Steichen. Even when extremely small, the Moon definitely dominates the scene.

Today we want to talk specifically about the Looney 11 rule, a straightforward technique used for achieving amazing photographs of the moon, and hopefully this simple rule will get you started in the magnificent world of astrophotography.

Sunny 16, Looney 11

Photographers are practical people. So they've devised various principles and guidelines designed to help them navigate their camera setting. Among the most famous of those guidelines is the “sunny 16 rule.” If you haven't heard of the sunny 16 rule, you can check it out here.

Unlike the sunny 16, the looney 11 rule helps to shoot the moon and not your surroundings under the moonlight. Use the looney 11 rule, and you'll be on your way to fantastic crisp shots of the Moon.

So What Is The Looney 11 Rule

The rule is quite simple to follow. Start by setting up your aperture, this will be the baseline of your exposure. Set it at f/11 (hence the Looney 11 rule), which is just one more stop of light than the sunny 16 rule.

Remember that apertures are measured in fractions, so if the common denominator is closer to 1, it means you'll be having a wider aperture. If it gets further from 1, then you'll have a tighter aperture.

So, after setting your aperture to f/11, you'll simply need to set your shutter speed with a value matching your desired ISO. For noise reasons, you'll be wanting to shoot at a low ISO value

So here is what to remember…

  • The Rule: Set aperture to f/11 and shutter speed to the reciprocal of the film speed.
  • Example 1: f/11 at ISO 100 and 1/100th second shutter speed.
  • Example 2: f/11 at ISO 200 and 1/200th second shutter speed.

But Why?

It all comes down to the rule of equivalent exposure or the reciprocity law in photography. Read these articles below:

  1. The Rule of Equivalent Exposure
  2. A Guide To Reciprocity In Photography

So Here Is Your First Exercise

First things first, your aperture is at, f/11. Then, if your camera has a lower 100 ISO setting, then you'll have to set up your camera's shutter speed to 1/100 or 1/125. If you want to shoot at ISO 400 for some reason, then you'll have to use a shutter speed of 1/400 or 1/500 depending on your camera, but with a fixed f/11 aperture value.

One of the biggest advantages of digital photography is that we can see immediately see if we've nailed it. Check your photo, and if it looks odd, then try increasing or decreasing your aperture. This is a rule, but it is flexible, so use it as a guideline and a simple place to start.

Just remember that the Moon will be brighter or darker depending on the environment. This happens due to smog, fog, lighting pollution, etc.

Wait, There Is More

The Moon really deserves to be shot with telephoto lenses in the majority of cases. Using a long lens (200mm, 400mm, or longer) will actually show up shakiness at 1/125 of a second shutter speeds. There is another rule of thumb that states that your shutter speed shouldn't be lower than your focal length – this would give us “slow shutter speeds” in relation to the focal length that we'll be using for the desired photographs we want to get.

But don't worry, the best solution here is to use a tripod. You can also use any device that keeps your camera steady, but investing in a good tripod will be a game changer in your photography, trust us on this one.

Some Important Points:

  1. The Looney 11 rule can be used as a starting point to photograph the moon but this should not be taken as a definitive rule that should not be changed. For example, you may want to shoot the moon in a landscape or different phases of the moon, or even a lunar eclipse, etc. During these times, it is important to make changes to the settings to get the perfect exposure. A totally eclipsed moon will need the aperture wide open and shutter speed lowered and/or iso increased, to gather as much light during the eclipse as light falling on it will be blocked.For example, let us consider the example 1 above: on a full moon, you are shooting at f/11 at ISO 100 and 1/100th second shutter speed. When the moon’s phase changes, the amount of light reflected off the surface of the moon reduces and so we are changing the aperture value depending on the rule of equivalent exposure to compensate for correct exposure.
  2. Also keep an eye on the shutter speed as very slow shutter speeds can cause blurry images due to the movement of the moon.
  3. There are times when you may want to bracket exposures or stack images to get more details out of your moon images. The moon’s character is in its beautiful surface details.
  4. It takes a lot of planning and time to get perfect shots of the moon. Settings also vary depending on the position of the moon in the sky and weather conditions. So make sure you study the scenario and change the settings accordingly.
  5. If you are shooting the moon during the daytime, then again you need to check the settings as the sky is now blue and not dark.
  6. The Looney 11 rule is to photograph the moon and not the landscape or any other subjects illuminated by moonlight. Subjects illuminated by moonlight will need quite long exposures to get the exposure right and to capture the details on the subject.
Moon PhaseLight from the MoonAperture ValueISOShutter Speed
Full MoonMoon is 100% litf/111001/100th second
Half MoonMoon reflects off less light – about 50% compared to full moonf/81001/100th second
Quarter MoonMoon reflects off even lesser light – about 25% compared to full moonf/5.61001/100th second
Thin Crescent MoonVery less light reflected off the moonf/41001/100th second
Fully Eclipsed MoonMoon is shadowedf/2.81001/100th second


Here is an articles that explains how you can shoot landscapes under moonlight – How to photograph moonscapes

Remember Planning Makes Perfect

A single perfect shot of the moon is nice to have, but always keep in mind that it is not the perfect exposure that makes a great photograph. Composition is the ultimate asset for a meaningful photograph. Plan your composition, scout for the best places for your moon portraits, and you'll achieve images that are out of this world.

We really hope that this brief tutorial on moon photography will encourage you to take your camera and point it towards the sky, and who knows, perhaps you'll capture something odd and mysterious too.

Remember to share your images over at the Tank, this is a place for valuable feedback that will make you a better photographer in no time.

Further Reading

Further Learning

If you really want to go next level with this stuff, then you’re going to want to get your hands on the Expert Photography guide to milky way photography. An incredibly comprehensive resources that you should take a look at.

About Author

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography, contributes some free images to the community and is a University Professor in photography. You can get to know him better here.

1) The moon is a sunlit object. The light reaching us has been reduced by going through the atmosphere one time, just like terrestrial scenes. So it should photograph like any other sunlit object that is moving slowly. Do you recommend f/11 instead of f/16 because pushing it up the curve provides more data but doesn’t risk clipping? (With Tri-X I usually prefer the equivalent of f/11 to improve shadow density.)
2) Since the moon is sunlit even when it is not full, could you explain why you recommend more exposure? (If you used a super-spot-meter to measure a tiny patch of the lit moon, would there be a difference between measurements of that patch when the moon was full and when it was half or crescent? I’m struggling with the physics and geology here!)

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