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


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


    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.

  • 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.

  • Tyler Jenne

    In photoshop, try using the “curves” tool. Set it to medium contrast and you will be amazed at the detail with shooting the moon. The original was nice, but after using the curves selection this result I am much happier with.

  • Ree Delloiacono

    I have a Nikon D3200 and lense up to 300. What would my settings be for the moon?

  • chris

    i did a few shots of the moon tonight and i took it hand held and i used iso125 and f5.6 and a shutter of and a shutter speed of 1.125s in manual mode i also use a canon 100-400 lens mk2 on the 5dmk3

  • George Gabriel

    The use of photo shop or any other post process software to combine pictures into a composite is CHEATING! You are creating a fantasy image, not a photograph. As long as the process is documented, I am ok. However many photographers don’t admit their “pictures” are composites and present them as actual scenes. I see these images and while they look fantastic, they just aren’t real.

  • Kenneth Sørensen

    Cheating? What is this, some kind of game? Where can I find the rules that dictates that compositing is cheating? Do you consider HDR as cheating as well? What about focus stacking?
    I know a photojournalist shouldn’t add or remove objects from their images, but for most else.. it’s about the end product. Compositing to get beyond the current hardware limitations, I don’t really see the problem.

  • Kenneth Sørensen

    Same as being recommended in the article. It’s not really camera specific.

  • George Gabriel

    HDR is simply the additive effect of actual images combined via software or hardware. (some cameras do it internally) This is not cheating as you are using actual images.
    My gripe is taking an image, pasting it on a layer over another image. Using tools to create something that doesn’t actually exist. Again, documenting the changes and tagging it as an abstract is ok. You are being honest about what was done.
    I guess I am just a pureist.

  • George Gabriel

    Cudo’s to you for taking the shot hand held with a shutter speed of 1.125s.

  • Molon Labe!

    Do more than just shoot a ball in the sky. Add some depth to it with a foreground or silhouette image.

  • Marvin Bross

    These composites are like an artist painting, don’t look natural.

  • Tom Rose

    A few assumptions in this article:

    “consider driving out to somewhere where the air will be cleaner”
    Some photographer;s do not drive, or do not own a car

    ” Using Live View, zoom in on the middle of the moon”
    Some of us have oder cameras that do not have live view

    So to follow your advice it seems that I need to buy a car and a new camera!!

  • Joseph Alsko

    Was Ansel Adams cheating when he “dodged” and “burned” in his darkroom? Hope I didn’t just cause the price of my Ansel Adams print to plummet!!!