Taking pictures of the moon is one of the more popular subjects in night photography – but it’s also quite tricky to get right. In this tutorial we show you how to photograph the moon using a simple tried and tested technique that is certain to give you moon pictures you’ll be proud of.
The moon may be shining big and bright in the night sky, but as anyone who’s tried to shoot moon pictures knows it’s tricky to do justice to with a camera. Pictures of what looks like a huge full moon to the naked eye can often end up showing a tiny white blob dotted on a black background.
Luckily, it’s not complicated to learn how to photograph the moon. It’s very easy to set up your DSLR to take a clear, well-defined picture of the moon like this one, and we’re going to walk you through how to pick the best night photography settings and equipment that you’ll need to get started with learning how to photograph the moon.
Knowing how to photograph the moon starts with getting yourself a long zoom lens to ensure you get close enough to capture detail. We used a Sigma 50-500mm. If you don’t have one in your camera bag, they’re easily rented.
A tripod is also a must to avoid camera shake when taking moon pictures. Also check the weather forecast in advance, as to photograph the moon you’ll need a clear and cloudless sky.
Pollution in big cities can sometimes get in the way of a crisp clear shot, so consider driving out to somewhere where the air will be cleaner to photograph the moon.
Look online for charts that show moonrise times, and if you can, wait until as late at night as possible, so the sky will be completely dark and the moon will be bright and clear against a black backdrop.
We hauled our equipment into the back garden half an hour before midnight to get everything set up for our shot.
When you’re ready to go, make sure your camera is set up so you’ll be shooting in raw format. This will give you the picture quality you need in order to be able to crop your final image to get closer to the moon, as well as edit the exposure, contrast and clarity to bring out the detail on the moon’s surface more clearly.
As well as being beautiful in itself, a big, bright moon shot can be useful. Once you’ve followed our steps and come away with a clear image, we’ll walk you through how to add your lunar masterpiece to night landscapes in Photoshop.
While it’s a big challenge to shoot a well-exposed nightscape that also includes a well-defined moon, it’s a cinch to add the moon in Photoshop, and we’ll walk you through how to create a dramatic composite in five easy steps.
How to photograph the moon step-by-step
01 Find out the phase
Check a lunar calendar to see which phase the moon is going to be in. Moonconnection.com will show you pictures of the moon according to which hemisphere you live in, so you can plan ahead. A perfectly full moon like the one we’re shooting has the biggest visual impact.
02 Zoom in close
A zoom lens is essential for capturing the moon’s surface detail. Our 50-500mm Sigma lens is ideal. A tripod will keep your camera still, and a remote shutter release will reduce shaking further – if you don’t have one, set the camera’s self timer to a few seconds in the Setup menu.
03 Get set up
Switch your camera to Manual mode and your lens to manual focus. When choosing your camera settings, there are two key factors to remember: the moon is bright, so a low ISO is fine, and it’s actually moving slowly, so a fast shutter speed is called for. We chose 1/200 sec, f/10 and ISO200.
04 Watch it live
The moon won’t fill the frame, so judging focus can be an issue. Using Live View, zoom in on the middle of the moon, then focus manually on its centre. When you’ve focused, press the shutter button and let go of the camera before it takes the shot. Check your shot is sharp using the LCD.
Final moon photography tips for the first-timer
If you’re photographing the moon you probably have a telephoto lens in your kit bag, and this is essential for composing a nice picture. Your 70-300mm zoom lens, for instance, on a DSLR with an APS-C format sensor should give you good results. But there are a few other factors to consider.
Timing and location are important. Wait until the moon is high in the sky, so that atmospheric pollution is less of an issue, and it helps if you can get out of the city.
It’s best to use Manual mode on your camera. At ISO100, a good starting point is f/8 at 1/125 sec. This aperture should ensure optimum lens quality in most cases.
- Don’t miss our free night photography exposure guide
Review the results in magnified playback mode and alter the shutter speed so the moon is bright but the highlight detail is not lost.
For optimum sharpness, you also want to use a sturdy tripod. Autofocus should work well, but switch to manual focusing if necessary.
Mirror-bounce can degrade sharpness when using a telephoto lens, so it’s worth using the Exposure Delay mode. The Auto white balance setting often works better for lunar shots than using a preset value, like Daylight.
When editing, crop the image as necessary. You may need to increase contrast and sharpening to reveal the finer features of the lunar surface.
Colour fringing can also be a problem around the circumference of a full moon. You can remove this by tracing around the edge with a desaturation tool.
3 key tips when learning how to photograph the moon
Moon Photography Tip 1: switch your white balance
If the moon is bright orange in your shots, switch from Auto White Balance to Tungsten or Cloudy to cool down tones, or adjust the tone of the image in post-processing
Moon Photography Tip 2: crescents offer different compositions
Missed the full moon? You can still get a decent moon picture – crescent moons make for beautiful shots, and three-quarter moons will show good crater detail
Moon Photography Tip 3: Rent-a-lens
Not lucky enough to have a hefty zoom lens in your collection? You can rent beautiful bits of glass easily from www.lensesforhire.co.uk. A Sigma 50-500mm like ours will set you back £40 for three days, which is plenty of time to get a great moon shot in the bag.
PAGE 1: How to photograph the moon
PAGE 2: How to photograph the moon and add it to other night photography scenes
Night Photography: set up your camera to shoot anything
Night Photography Tips: 9 essential steps for beginners
12 common errors of night photography (and how to fix them)
Free night photography cheat sheet: how to shoot popular low-light scenes
Moonlight photography tips: making magical midnight landscapes
Pages 1 2