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Tips for Photographing the Moon

Kevin Gourley Photography Workshops

Lots of people want to photograph the moon! It's really pretty easy if you do it right. We have a great opportunity coming up on November 14, 2016 when we'll have a "Supermoon" where it will be the largest we have seen in nearly 70 years!

Click here for more information from NASA about the upcoming Supermoon

Want to find the exact moonrise times and angles etc.? Check out The Photographers Ephemeris App

Photographing the Moon and Its Craters

The main thing to keep in mind when photographing the moon is that the proper exposure is ideally determined by considering the light illuminating the moon. What is illuminating it? The sun! And if you think about it, on the surface of the moon, it is actually DAYTIME there. So if you have your camera set to an exposure (aperture, shutter speed, ISO) that would be appropriate for a daytime shot here on Earth, it should work fine when photographing the moon which is indeed also in the sunlight.

So, in this large closeup shot of the moon, we see the craters clearly visible. To get a shot like this, I used these settings:

That large image is just a cropped version of the full image captured in camera (see below):


Note that the exposure settings are comparable to shots taken in daytime scenes here on Earth. You don't need long time exposures. You don't really even need a tripod. The only advantage with a tripod is that you can keep the camera stable and when it comes to squeezing out a little extra sharpness in the shot, that extra stability might help. This shot benefited from the use of a high quality telephoto lens at 400mm. The higher your lens focal length, the larger the moon will appear and you'll see more details in the craters.

If you are trying to photograph the moon at night, you could start with these similar settings as a starting point, in Manual Exposure Mode, and then if the moon turns out to be too dark, shift to a slower shutter speed. If the moon appears to be too bright, simply shift to a faster shutter speed.

Photographing Scenes Illuminated BY the Moon

What about nighttime shots where there are elements in the foreground that are illuminated by the moon? Well, now we have a bit of a problem. Those areas in the foreground here on Earth are in the dark of night with their only illumination being the light reflecting off of the moon, onto the Earth.

An exposure setting chosen in the same way we did above will only be useful in photographing the moon and its craters but all of the elements in the dark foreground will be lost in blackness. So, you'll have to shoot with an exposure where the foreground begins to lighten up (by quite a bit).

Check out this example, and note my exposures settings for this shot are:

I am using the same ISO and my aperture is bumped up a bit higher to increase the depth of field but the shutter speed is drastically longer than in the first image. Now I am shooting at a full 30 second exposure in order to pick up enough light to capture the reflections in the water and illumination of the rest of the sky and clouds and trees. With an exposure setting like that, you can't possibly ALSO have the moon crater details appear. The two exposures are just too dramatically different. In this case, the moon is just a bright white dot, but at least we can see the clouds and sky and lake reflections.


Photographing Daylight Scenes Containing the Moon

This scenario is easy enough. If you are photographing the moon in the daytime, the exposure that is right for the daylight scene is going to be pretty close to right for exposing the craters on the moon! You could shoot in most any exposure mode and get it right.

In this particular example, the moon and foreground are both illuminated by the same light source, the sun.

In this shot, the exposure settings were:

Image Sharpness

One last thing to consider is always something to keep in mind in ALL of your photography. Do all that you can to get good image sharpness. Just to summarize these points, here's a list:

Have fun photographing the moon!

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And... last but not least...

CHECK OUT OUR UPCOMING CLASSES - CLICK HERE