How to Take a Picture of the Moon - 9 Steps

There's something so satisfying about gazing into the night's sky at all the magnificent stars and the illuminated moon. If you happen to live far from the city or can find a country road, the sky suddenly turns into a mesmerizing scene well worth photographing. The moon is a popular subject for photographs, but something simple can also be challenging to shoot.

If you're interested in taking photographs of the moon, it is essential to take note of the following tips. These tips act as a guideline to help you capture the moon's beauty and detail better. They are not unlike other photography tips that help you take photographs of the night sky, which means you can take pictures of the constellations and even clouds.

Arm yourself with the proper equipment. Unfortunately, you cannot just whip out a smartphone and take a clear photograph of the moon. Even the latest models, like the iPhone 13 Pro, fail to capture the detail or magnitude of the object. If you want a photo that isn't a white and blurry blob, you will need professional equipment.

 

 

Step 1 . You need a professional camera.

The first thing you'll need is a camera. Most modern interchangeable lens cameras can do the trick. Although, a compact camera with optical zoom can work too. We've even seen people have success with the older generation compact cameras that boasted 14x optical zoom.

 

Popular cameras for night photography are:

Sony Alpha a7S III Mirrorless Digital Camera

Canon EOS R6 

Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera

Nikon Z 6II Mirrorless Digital Camera

FUJIFILM X-T4 Mirrorless Digital Camera

Sony Alpha a9 II Mirrorless Digital Camera

Nikon D850 DSLR Camera 

Leica Q2 Digital Camera

 

Step 2. Get a long zoom lens.

When selecting a lens to shoot with, you will want to pick one with as high a magnification range possible. This range, or focal length, is the number on the lens - like 14–35mm or 24-300mm. In this case, the 300mm will serve the purpose better than the 35mm. Ideal focal length ranges are 400mm, 500mm, or greater. If you only have a 100mm or 200mm lens, you could attach a teleconverter to increase the likelihood of getting a stellar photo. Side note, you can use teleconverters too. 

 

Popular lenses for night photography are:

Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM

Canon EF 35mm F1.4L II USM

Nikon NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S Lens

Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM Lens

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR Lens

FUJIFILM XF 8-16mm f/2.8 R LM WR Lens

 

Step 3. Invest in a steady tripod.

Regardless of the camera or lens, you will need to invest in a sturdy tripod to avoid a blurry image. As the Earth spins, the position of the moon changes. This isn't noticeable to the human eye but something the camera will surely pick up. Further, a remote camera trigger will mean you don't need to touch the camera when taking the photo. This slight shake from your hands on the shutter can also result in a less-than-perfect image.

 

Step 4. Lower ISO settings.

Get the settings correct. We recommend shooting in full manual mode to give yourself ultimate control over the end result. Go ahead and change the ISO (the sensitivity or measure of the camera's ability to capture light) to the lowest setting. For most cameras, this is typically 100. Remember to check that "Auto ISO" is off. A low ISO setting captures less light. We don't want other light sources interfering with the subject.

 

Step 5. Close your aperture.

Next, we want to lower the aperture to decrease the amount of light coming through the lens. An aperture of around f/11 should be a safe bet. A small depth of field is created when we lower the aperture. This makes a sharper subject of the moon. If you are looking to include other objects in the background, they will appear blurry. This is why you will need to take multiple images with adjusted settings and composite them together.

 

Step 6. Correct shutter speed.

The last setting to change is shutter speed. We want the sharpest image of the moon as possible. Essentially, we want to allow the least amount of light in and create a sharp, not over-exposed, image of the moon. Set the shutter speed between 1/125 to 1/250, depending on your camera model. Try to use a remote camera trigger to reduce camera shake. Choose the right time.

 

Step 7. Plan according to local weather.

When it comes to photographing the moon, some nights are better than others. It is best to research before the time on how the weather and conditions will be. You can take photos of the moon at any time of the day or night. Ideally, you want good visibility, low humidity, and no smog/air pollution. If you're looking to capture the moon when it's at its fullest, you should consult a lunar calendar. You could also look into taking photos of the blood moon, lunar eclipse, or solar eclipse.

 

Step 8. Find the perfect location.

For this, we recommend planning ahead by picking out a clear spot the night before. It could be an exciting addition to include a foreground, something like a few tall trees, or the horizon into the shot. You should also have a rough idea as to which path the moon travels along.

Make the necessary edits.

 

Step 9. Edit your shot in post-production.

As with any other photography, it is often best to make post-production edits. Put the photos in image-editing software, like PhotoShop or Lightroom, then adjust where necessary. A popular finish is making the moon fill the entire frame and darkening the surrounding background.

It is essential to keep in mind that most photographs you see of the moon with a landscape or objects in the forefront are composites. This means that several images were taken and stitched together to allow all things (treeline, buildings, etc...) and the moon to be clearly visible. 

Why does the moon appear smaller in the photo?

 

Common mistakes.

A common question around moon photography is why the moon appears smaller in the photo. Point-and-shoot cameras and DSLRs have wide-angle lenses. Wide-angle lenses have a focal point of less than 35mm. This means that any object you see with the naked eye will appear smaller in the viewfinder or camera screen. Our eyes are often described as a fixed 50mm lens. The camera pulls in as much of the scene as possible rather than what we directly observe.

Another common reason is the moon illusion. Humans tend to mistakenly perceive distant objects as being more significant than they really are. Most people will see the moon and sun as much larger than it really is.

 

Are you ready to capture the moon and all of its glory?

As somebody who has always been interested in astronomy, photographing the night's sky has become a favorite pastime. I eagerly await each month for the time when the moon is at its fullest. An enlarged, round, glowing ball of energy and amazement. Despite its presence gracing our skies each night, it still remains fascinating to see and challenging to photograph.

Now go out and capture the moon! Seize the night or day! Maybe you'll even capture an extraterrestrial being. We hope this guide leaves no questions unanswered.

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