Photographing the moon

moon-phot_20201130-010807_1 Photographing the moon

Photographing the moon is a fundamental step for any photographer. Taking a picture of the moon doesn't seem complicated - just press and press the button. However...

 In fact, it is quite a complex exercise in technical terms requiring certain knowledge and equipment. In principle, it is impossible to photograph the moon by setting the camera in automatic mode. In this case, you get a white ball of poor quality and no details.


Approximately as in the photo below.

moon photography

However, with the camera, you can get truly impressive photos of the moon. In order for this to happen, you need to know what minimum equipment is needed, focus mode, correct exposure, what should be ideal weather conditions and composition.

Minimum equipment needed to photograph the moon

In order to get impressive pictures of the moon that you see on the internet, it is absolutely not necessary to have super-first-class equipment. All you need is a camera with the right lens and some set of accessories.


If you want to get a very large picture of the moon, you will need a telephoto lens with a focal point of at least 300 mm. This can be a camera with a replacement lens or a bridge camera with a good zoom. This focal length allows you to get very close to the moon without the need for framing in postprocessing and loss of resolution. A camera with APS-C or inch sensor may even be preferable thanks to the crop factor, you will be able to get a larger magnify than a full-frame sensor.


A key accessory to getting photos of the moon is a tripod. The moon is a relatively stationary object, so short exposure is optional for its photographing. By slowing down, you can close the aperture and reduce the ISO. It is possible to take photos and short exposure from the hand, but it can cause the camera to tremble and, accordingly, blur.

According to the "Safe Exposure Rule" - if you use a 300mm lens, the exposure time should be about 1/300. When shooting in the evening, in low light, this time of exposure can be a problem. This problem can be solved by putting the camera to the tripod. Than you can afford a longer exposure, for example 1/100.

Automatic or remote shooting

You have a camera with the right lens standing on a steady tripod, you take a picture but .... The picture is blurred. Unfortunately, it can easily happen. When you use a long exposure, the camera records your slightest movement, even by pressing your finger on the shutter button.

There are two ways to avoid this: use a self-timer or remote control. The self-timer is set from the camera menu, usually between 2 and 10 seconds. This is an easy solution but often quite inconvenient. Sometimes 2 seconds is not enough to stabilize the camera, and in 10 seconds the shooting conditions can change, especially in the dark.

Using the remote control you are in complete control of the situation. It's just like you're pressing the shutter button. Remote, in fact, is a simple camera shutter button. It can be wired or wireless. This is a simple and inexpensive accessory that is worth adding to your photo set.

Focus mode for photos of the moon

moon photo

Nowadays, technology has reached such a level that autofocus can be used in 95% of situations and it will work unmistakably. However, it is best to use manual focus to photograph the moon. It's just convenient: using a tripod and manual focus you'll only need to focus once and not think about it again. What's more, if you're shooting live view (from the camera screen, not from the viewfinder). If you use autofocus, you will have to focus on each shot.

The right exposure to photograph the moon

Shooting the moon is a rather unusual shooting situation because a very bright object is immersed in a completely dark environment. In these extreme situations, automatic exposure is doomed to failure.

Here's how you'll need to set your camera settings.

Exposure mode

The first big mistake is the incorrect installation of the exposure mode. Digital cameras don't always define exposure the same way, but almost everyone has multiple exposure modes. The names of the installations vary from brand to brand, but roughly they are:


If you take pictures of the moon using the first two modes, the moon itself will look like a white ball. This is because the lux meter will try to average the light present throughout the image. It will most likely try unsuccessfully to compensate for the black color of the cosmos, so any bright objects will seem overexposed. That's why you should use a point mode that will limit "reading" to a small central part of the frame without taking into account everything else. Therefore, when you bring exposure to the moon, the exposure readings will be accurate.


If your shot is limited to the moon alone, the value of the aperture becomes a secondary factor. The object is located at a distance of millions of kilometers and therefore the concept of depth of field becomes relative.
However, if you're going to include the moon in a landscape photograph, you should set a fairly small aperture (from f/8). So the whole scene will be in focus.


The moon is a very bright object, so you don't need to raise ISO much. Playing exposure and diaphragm try to keep it as low as possible. However, situations can be different.
In landscape photography, in some cases, you may need to lower the exposure time. In this case, you will have to raise the ISO. However, try to keep it below 800, otherwise digital noise will be very noticeable.

Perfect weather conditions for photographing the moon

moon photo

Everything that was written above was related to the ideal shooting conditions. But unfortunately, there are weather conditions that can complicate the shooting or even make it almost impossible.

Very humid nights should be avoided. On such nights a huge number of drops in the air accumulates with increasing distance, which significantly reduces sharpness.

Paradoxically, partly cloudy skies are better than wet. Some photos of the moon peeking out from behind the clouds are impressive.

In the rain to go out, of course, there is no sense, except that you can not see the moon you can harm the equipment.

Windy weather is also not ideal. Even if you use a tripod, a strong wind can rock it and there will be problems with blur.

There are several smartphone apps that will help you calculate the ideal conditions for photographing the moon. For example My Moon Phase, Daff Moon Phase, Moon Phase Calendar, and others

It is also useful to know the exact time of sunrise and sunset in case you decide to photograph landscapes with the moon. Moments of touching the ground are the best situation to get impressive shots.

Composition for photos of the moon

The artistic component is important for the creation of exceptional images as opposed to ordinary, banal, photos of the moon. You can apply the rules of the composition to make the pictures more attractive.

For example, the rule of thirds will help to make the pictures more dynamic.

moon photo

A moon is a bright object in itself attracting attention. For balance, you can choose the object opposite.

moon photo

With a large moon, you can try to bet on minimalism, emphasizing the object in the foreground, as well as, because the moon is a very bright object, it can be used as a background for the silhouette. The result can be very impressive.

moon photo


Photography of the moon can be a lot of fun, especially if you add your creativity to it, even though it will make you more than much else, tinker with the settings of exposure, focus, and ISO modes.

Of course, if you want to get over-exaggeration, you will need a telephoto lens. However, even with an average telephoto lens, you can get interesting landscape photos with the moon. Don't forget to put the format in the RAW settings so that post-processing can get the maximum picture quality, reduce digital noise, and improve sharpness.



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