How to photograph the moon: an easy way to shoot moon pictures full of detail

How to photograph the moon: the easy way to shoot moon pictures with amazing detail

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.

How to photograph the moon: the easy way to shoot moon pictures with amazing detail

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.

SEE MORE: Beat camera shake! The ultimate cheat sheet for using tripods, monopods and shooting handheld

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.

SEE MORE: 77 photography techniques, tips and tricks for taking pictures of anything

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.

SEE MORE: 8 things you may not know about long exposures, but probably should

How to photograph the moon step-by-step

How to photograph the moon: step 1

01 Find out the phase
Check a lunar calendar to see which phase the moon is going to be in. 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.

SEE MORE: Best camera settings for astrophotography

How to photograph the moon: step 2

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.

 SEE MORE: Painting with light: what you need, and where and how to do it

How to photograph the moon: step 3

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.

SEE MORE: Manual focus – what you need to know to get sharp images every time

How to photograph the moon: step 4

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.

SEE MORE: Milky Way photography tips for the first-time astrophotographer

Final moon photography tips for the first-timer

Photographing the moon: how to set up your camera for the best results

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.

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.

SEE MORE: Light trails: what you need to know to master this night photography favourite

3 key tips when learning how to photograph the moon

Tips from our professional photographer on shooting pictures of castles: set a cloudy white balance

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

3 key tips for knowing how to photograph the moon: rent a lens

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 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


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Moonlight photography tips: making magical midnight landscapes


    Short Version: Use a Tripod, Exposure is 1/ISO @ f/16, Focus is Infinity, done.

  • Drew

    I’ve always found f8-f11, 100-125/s, and ISO 100 to be good for a full moon.

  • Kim Griffiths Hamm

    I have to back off of infinity just a touch so be careful on just going there.

  • Spike Allibone

    also I’d probably add – use mirror up so that it reduces body shake and also remove any UV filter etc that you might be using to protect your lens, I’ve had some ghosting reflections when shooting on a tripod at night. Surprised these tips weren’t included here….

  • Hank Terrebrood

    Good advice, my Sigma also doesn’t do infinity as well as a touch less than infinity.