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!

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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.





Moon light reflection on pond

Edward Steichen Moonlight: The Pond 1904 Public Domain

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.

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.

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.


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About the author

Federico Alegria

Federico is a one of our staff writers and has 8 years of experience in making documentary photography, he is currently working in long-term photo essays and you can watch more of his work here. He is also a photography educator at a design-focused University, and is currently pursuing his PhD (and of course, his thesis is around Photography). His work has been featured in museums, newspapers and magazines. He is currently based in El Salvador.

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