How to Photograph the Moon for Astonishing Results

You’ve seen countless stunning images of the moon and night sky, but do you ever wonder what it takes to capture these photographs?

Photographing the moon can be intimidating at first but once you get it down, you’re in for an incredibly rewarding experience every photographer should strive for.

Determining When to Shoot

ISO 100    Aperture ƒ/4.5    Shutter Speed 1/160s

One of the first steps to getting a perfect moon photo is planning when to venture out for your photos and knowing what scenarios will produce the desired results.

Time of Day

The best time of day to photograph the moon is either right after sunset or just before sunrise, which is displayed in the photo above. Doing so allows you to capture the moon when its closest to the horizon, which is when it’s least contrasted against the sky.

This makes your job easier and gives you foreground imagery to work with, since the foreground will likely still be illuminated.

If you have a long telephoto lens, photographing the moon in the dead of night can land some beautiful detailed shots.

Crop in on the moon as tight as possible and use a lens that is at least 300mm when shooting the moon against an almost black sky.

Weather Conditions

The quality of your photos will greatly depend on the weather. If you’re looking for a photo with a crisp moon as the focus, make sure to shoot on a clear night when there are very little or no clouds. Higher elevations with no air pollution work best!

Moon Phases

Actual full moon photos can end up feeling flat and dull, since the light is hitting it face on. If you want to photograph a “full moon” your best bet is to shoot the day before or after the actual true moon. Another great option is to shoot a Gibbous or Quarter moon, which will reveal the craters and shadows of the moon’s surface. You can find out what phase the moon will be in at any given time and place at this link.

Equipment Needed to Capture the Moon

The next step is making sure you have your equipment ready and on hand. Moon photography can be quite expensive, but can also be done with less expensive equipment if you’re willing to compromise on the type of shot.

At a bare minimum you’ll need:

  • Tripod
  • Remote trigger or cable release
  • 55-200mm lens. 800mm+ preferred

Even the slightest movement will cause blur when shooting the moon due to how extremely far away your subject is, so a tripod and remote trigger are a must.

ISO 320    Aperture ƒ/20.0    Shutter Speed 1/50s

Your lens will of course make the biggest difference when taking a photograph of the moon. The longer the lens the better and using a telephoto lens is preferred. Using at least an 800mm lens will give you the highest quality images. If this isn’t in your budget, consider renting a lens for a one-time shoot!

Photographing the Moon on a Budget

Without using at least a 200-300mm lens, the moon will come out very small. This being said if you’re shooting the moon with a 55-200mm lens, afterward you can use editing software after shooting to create some stunning images.

ISO 100    Aperture ƒ/5.0    Shutter Speed 1/320s

If you’re working with less sophisticated equipment and still want to photograph the moon, instead of focusing on the moon itself, put the focus on the foreground and have the moon positioned nicely in the background of the photo.

Camera Settings to Use When Photographing the Moon

Although specific camera settings will differ widely based on the specific conditions you’re shooting in, there are some rules that should always be followed when photographing the moon.

Image Stabilization and Mirror Lock-Up

One of these is that the image stabilization feature is off to prevent blur, which should be done every time you use a tripod. This may seem paradoxical, but turning on vibration reduction when using a tripod will actually result in blurred images. If you’re camera allows for it, you also want to use mirror lock-up mode (MLU) to minimize shakiness.

Shooting in RAW

Using a RAW format when shooting the moon is a good idea, which gives you significantly more power when editing the photos in post production. After all the work you put in to photographing the moon, you’ll definitely want this option! To learn more about the advantages of shooting in RAW read our RAW vs. JPEG blog post.

ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed

You’ll have to play around with the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, so make sure to switch to manual mode. Don’t rely on the light meter when deciding on your settings, since the camera will be confused by the moon’s light.

Considering the extreme brightness of the moon, most of the time you should be able to use your camera’s native ISO setting with good results. Some exceptions would be when photographing the moon in a landscape setting with lots of foreground imagery or when capturing an extreme crescent moon.

Although it doesn’t seem like it, the moon is moving in the sky at a fast pace and you’ll need a fast shutter speed to keep the image sharp. Using a minimum shutter speed of 1/125 to photograph the moon is a good benchmark. If you’re using a longer lens you can use slower shutter speeds but keep it at least 1/2 a second to prevent blur.

A good place to start overall is with your camera on the lowest possible ISO speed, an aperture of f/11 and a shutter speed of 1/250, and adjust as needed.

Importance of Composition with Moon Photography

Composition is very important when photographing the moon. If you’re capturing only the moon with no foreground imagery, place the moon in the center or use the rule of thirds to determine where it should be off-center.

ISO 160    Aperture ƒ/4.4    Shutter Speed 1/800s
ISO 320    Aperture ƒ/6.3    Shutter Speed 1/200s

When using foreground subject matter in your moon shots, some ideas are to photograph the moon as it comes over the mountains or ocean, or to frame it between objects.

Now that you have the tips you need to capture the moon’s beauty, get creative with it! You could try a day time shot, or try photographing a celestial event such as a blood moon, supermoon, or an eclipse. The opportunities are endless.

Need help understanding all the different dials on your camera? Join me for my free training called “Show Your Camera Who’s Bossand I’ll show you how to use those dials!

63 Comments

  1. Lorilynn Smith

    Thanks!!!! Great information gonna try it out.

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      You’re welcome Lorilynn! Good luck!! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Lana

    Love your explanation. I will try to capture some. Thank you.

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      You’re so welcome Lana, good luck! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Tabetha

    Thank you for sharing the details of photographing the moon in different scenarios. Giving the photos camera setting details also helps so much.

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      Thanks so much for your kind words Tabetha! You’re so welcome 🙂

      Reply
  4. betty sorenson

    Thank you David this helps a great deal.

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      You’re so welcome Betty, thanks for stopping by! 🙂

      Reply
  5. Tabetha

    Thank you so much for the detailed instructions on photographing the moon in different scenarios. The detailed camera setting information on each photo also helps.

    Reply
  6. Zeni

    Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      Thanks for stopping by Zeni, you’re so welcome! 🙂

      Reply
  7. patti

    Thanks so much for all of this valuable information! I can’t wait to try it out!

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      Thanks so much Patti, can’t wait to see your results! 🙂

      Reply
  8. Carla Gallo

    Thank you David…..just tried these settings and they worked perfectly!!! Hoping tomorrow the sky is just as clear as it is now.

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      I hope so too Carla! Things are pretty icky over here in TN, hoping it clears up soon!

      Reply
  9. Vikrami Kesavan

    Great information.Thanks for sharing with us..!!

    Reply
  10. Mick

    Thank you, David, for another exceptional teacing aid.

    I absolutely LOVE the way you explain things … both with these written guides AND the videos that you produce.

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      Thank you so much Mick, you’re too kind! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      Reply
  11. Leticia

    Love the pictures I’m going to try it thanks

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      That’s awesome Leticia, good luck! 🙂

      Reply
  12. Lynn Fursman

    Thank You David for the helpful information can’t wait to get out with my camera again😊

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      You’re so welcome Lynn, have fun! 🙂

      Reply
  13. Diane

    Ty David. My photography has improved greatly with you lessons and emails like this. I can’t ty you enough.

    Diane

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      You’re so kind Diane! Thanks so much and you’re so welcome! 🙂

      Reply
  14. Louise Rogers-Feher

    Great tips. I tried the blood moon and took some interesting picures😳 not! Will try this tonight.

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      Oh man Louise! I totally get it. Can’t wait to hear how this time goes! Good luck!

      Reply
  15. BAS

    WOW! Thanks for this!

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      You’re so welcome, thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  16. Sherry Truman

    What setting do you put for the camera? M- Manual, A- Aperture Priority, or TV-Shutter Priority?

    Reply
    • Holly

      I am thinking he used Manual. where he could control all of those settings, ISO, Shutter, and Aperture.

      Reply
      • David Molnar

        That’s right Holly! I only shoot in manual mode. Sherry – if you want to learn more about manual mode and how to use it on your camera, you can join me on my free webinar, “Show Your Camera Who’s Boss!” Click this link to choose a time: http://bit.ly/2NsvETK

        Reply
  17. Lisa Marcheleta

    Thank you for this information! I have been trying to get a good pic of the moon for a long time!! I love the shots of the moon that you included!!

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      You’re so welcome Lisa! Good luck. 🙂

      Reply
  18. Marilyn Dalrymple

    Thank you for this. I appreciate it very much.

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      Thanks so much Marilyn, you’re so welcome!

      Reply
  19. Judy Hobbs

    I’m going to try it tonight fingers crossed.

    Reply
  20. Melanie Goins

    Thanks so much for sharing the moon photography! The extras you share are great and very educating, while easily explained so we may understand. Your time and information is greatly appreciated. You truly are a mentor. You Da Man!

    Thank you,
    Melanie G.

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      Thanks so much Melanie! You’re too kind. 🙂

      Reply
  21. Julie Hicks

    GREAT INFORMATION AND I WILL TRY THIS WHEN THE WEATHER CLEARS UP. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      Thanks Julie! I know the weather is pretty icky over here in TN too. Hope it clears up soon for you!

      Reply
  22. Pat Bluth

    This was a great article and explained so a newbie could understand. Tonight is Supermoon but the sky is dripping rain and very cloudy. I wrote all the options down and will keep trying to get a good moon shot until I succeed.

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      I hear ya Pat! It’s pouring here in TN too. Hoping it clears up soon! ☔️

      Reply
  23. Elizabeth A Loosberg

    I long for every tidbit you share and always learn something new- I may have missed it in your courses, but the bit about NOT using image stabilizer while using tripod….after many failed moons, eclipses and meteor showers- that is one mistake I will not make again!
    TY

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      You’re awesome Elizabeth! So glad this was helpful for you. 🙂

      Reply
  24. Carol Ballew

    Thanks, David, I love photographing the moon, and you have added tips that will help me. I am in Oklahoma and we are in the middle of snow/ice storm, so no moon shots tonight

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      Oh man! I hear ya Carol. It’s been raining buckets here too! Hopefully things will clear up soon. Have fun! 🙂

      Reply
  25. Carla Rodgers

    It’s snowing and I won’t get to see it but thanks for the info!

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      For sure Carla! It’s been pretty icky here too and hopefully things will clear up soon. Have fun!

      Reply
  26. Buffie Strickland

    Thank you for the info! I have been using my fujifilm finepix s 36x super wide 25-900 for all my moon pics because I couldn’t figure it out on my canon, but now I will try with these instructions! Thank you again!!

    Reply
  27. Buffie Strickland

    Thabk you for the info! I’ve been using my fujifilm finepix s 36x super wide 25-900mm to take my moon pics because I couldn’t figure it out on my canon. Now I can try with it. Thank you again!!

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      That’s awesome Buffie!! 🙂 Have a blast (to the 🌙)

      😜

      Reply
  28. Lorraine

    Thanks so much!! Thanks for explaining the flatness effect of the full moon… I know I have gotten the creaters before…. just was not getting them on full moon shots!!!

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      For sure Lorraine! That’s awesome. 🙂 I hope you have the best time, good luck and have fun!

      Reply
  29. Tina

    Hi,Thank you for all the help you give us…I’m always looking for new ways to shoot the moon..I’m not big on editing my photos, I like to take lots of pics until I get something I like. I know pictures look better when edited. ~Tina~

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      You’re very welcome Tina! I hope it helps to give you some new ideas! 🙂

      Reply
  30. Carrie

    Thanks for all the information I’m going to try this. Your details on everything is awesome.

    Reply
  31. Monique

    Thank you this is very helpful! I’ve taken what i think are some pretty great shots of the moon over the years, but quite honestly i just play with the settings until i get a good shot (not always remembering the setting for next time) LOL so this will definetely help me out!! Now to wait for a clear nite!! Thanks for your advice here!! 🙂

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      You’re so welcome Monique! I hope you get a clear night soon!

      Reply
  32. CC

    I used a Tamron 600mm lens, tripod, remote shutter release and settings of Manual, ISO 100, F/11 and shutter 1/200. The pics were all dark. Very dark. Which setting should I change first to get a brighter photo?

    Reply
    • David Molnar

      Hi CC! I would recommend raising your shutter speed a bit and ISO first and see if that may help! I hope that helps! Best of luck!

      Reply

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