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Super Moon Photography: How to Shoot the Moon

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

Super Moon Photography: How to Shoot the Moon

Super Moon Photography: How to Shoot and Photograph the Moon

Once every so often the moon gets really close to the Earth.  Last night it was the closest it had been in more than 18 years.  I was in my last year of college at Syracuse University, and I have to tell you, I was not paying attention to proximity of the moon at that time.  Needless to say, I missed photographing it back then.

moon behind a treephoto by afH Capture + Design

This past Saturday morning, for the benefit of all MCP Facebook Fans, I posed the following question on my wall: “The full moon will be the closest it has been to earth in almost 20 years. If you have advice for those new to photographing the moon, please add it here. Give tips like, use a tripod, as well as settings and lens advice. Thanks for making this a collaborative effort.” It was so exciting and inspiring to read more than 100 comments to the thread, with photographers all over the world advising and helping each other with photography. All weekend MCP fans shared imagery on my wall. We saw closeup photos from a telescope, Photoshop cropped and enhanced images, many pull-backs with the environment, and I even added one where I used the moon as a texture on top of a floral. If you want to see my two more creative plays, make sure you scroll to the bottom of the post. There is no limit to what you can do. It was fun and inspiring.

super moon photophoto by Michelle Hires

Here are a few tips posters shared that will help you next time you want to photograph this fun ball of texture:

Even if you missed the “super” close moon, these tips will help you with any photography in the sky, especially at night.

  1. Use a tripod. For all those who said you should use a tripod, some questioned why or said they had taken pictures of the moon without one.  The reason for using a tripod is simple.  Ideally you want to use a shutter speed that is at least 2x your focal length.  But with most people using zoom lenses of 200mm to 300mm, you would be best with speeds of 1/400-1/600+. Based on the math, this wasn’t super likely. So for sharper images, a tripod can help. I grabbed by relic of a tripod, with 3 way pan, shift, tilt, and which weighs almost as much as my 9 year old twins. I really need a new, light weight tripod… I want to add, some people did get successful shots without a tripod, so ultimately do what works for you.
  2. Use a remote shutter release or even mirror lock up. If you do this, there is less chance of camera shake from when you press the shutter button or when the mirror flips.
  3. Use a fairly fast shutter speed (around 1/125). The moon moves fairly fast, and slow exposures can show movement and thus blur. Also the moon is bright so you do not need to let as much light in as you might think.
  4. Do not shoot with a shallow depth of field. Most portrait photographers go by the motto, the more wide open, the better. But in situations like this, where you are aiming for lots of detail, you are better off at f9, f11, or even f16.
  5. Keep your ISO low. Higher ISOs mean more noise.  Even at ISO 100, 200 and 400, I noticed some noise on my images. I assume it was from cropping in so much since I nailed the exposure.  Hmmmm.
  6. Use spot metering. If you are taking closeups of just the moon, spot metering will be your friend.  If you spot meter, and expose for the moon, but other items are in your image, they may look like silhouettes.
  7. If in doubt, underexpose these images. If you overexposure,it will look as if you dabbed a big white paint brush on it with a glow in Photoshop. If you purposely want a glowing moon against a landscape, ignore this specific point.
  8. Use the Sunny 16 rule for exposing.
  9. Bracket exposures. Do multiple exposures by bracketing, especially if you want to expose for the moon and clouds. This way you can combine images in Photoshop if needed.
  10. Manually focus. Do not rely on autofocus. Instead set your focus manually for sharper images with more detail and textures.
  11. Use a lens hood. This will help prevent extra light and flare from interfering with your photos.
  12. Consider what is around you. Most submissions and shares on Facebook and most of my images were of the moon on the black sky.  This showed details in the actual moon. But they all start to look alike. Shooting the moon near the horizon with some ambient light and surroundings like mountains or water, had another interesting component to the images.
  13. The longer your lens, the better. This is not true for a full landscape view of surroundings, but if you just wanted to capture details on the surface, size did matter. I switched from my Canon 70-200 2.8 IS II – as it did not seem long enough on my full-frame Canon 5D MKII.  I switched to my Tamron 28-300 for more reach.  Truthfully, I wish I had a 400mm or longer. I hated how much cropping I need to do in post processing.
  14. Photograph soon after the moon rises. The moon tends to be more dramatic and appears larger when it comes over the horizon.  Through the night it will slowly appear smaller. I was only out for an hour, so I did not observe this myself.
  15. Rules are meant to be broken. Some of the more interesting images below were a result of not following the rules, but instead using creativity.

As the day went on, photographers shared their moon photography as it got dark in their part of the world.  First Australia, New Zealand, and Asia, then Europe, then the Unites States and Canada.  If you were one of the lucky ones with clear skies, I hope you had the chance to shoot the moon and turn your photos into art. For those that encountered clouds or who did not have the proper equipment, I wanted to share some photos taken by MCP Actions customers and fans.

moon with clouds in frontphoto by BrianH Photography

large moon with stars

moon processed with photoshopThe two photos directly above were taken by Brenda Photos.

moon in seattlephoto by Mark Hopkins Photography

moon covered with cloudsphoto by Danica Barreau Photography

dolphin and the moonphoto by Click. Capture. Create. Photography

moon over the mountainsphoto by Little Moose Photography

brak rules when photographing the moonphoto by Ashlee Holloway Photography

glowing moon photo by Allison Kruiz – created by multiple photos – merged to HDR

full moonphoto by RWeaveNest Photography

combining exposures of the moonphoto by Northern Accent Photography – used double exposures and combined in post-processing

closeup of the moonphoto by Jeffrey Buchanan

And finally… two of my shots. Even with the tripod and shutter release, it was really windy, and that contributed to relatively soft images. If I had it to do over, I would rent a longer lens too. Others got better closeups than I did…  But here are my two more artistic interpretations, thanks to photography, photoshop and photoshop actions.

The shot below actually two photos. The moon was viewable from my backyard which was fairly boring. So I combined the moon from the backyard with a shot when the sun went down in my front yard – I used blending methods in Photoshop rather than having to mask and paint the moon on the image around each branch.  I also used the new Fusion Photoshop actions (One Click Color) to edit the integrated photo.

sunset and moon edited with photoshop actions

My next play was to use the moon as a texture.  I found an old floral image and placed the moon texture on top using the Free Photoshop Texture Applicator action. I used the blend mode Soft Light and reduced the opacity to 85%. So remember you can use your photos to paint the moon right on your image as a texture too.  Just another fun way to create works of art.

paint the moon textures

If you shot the moon, please come post your web-sized images to the comment section below. 500 images were sent to me for consideration, so I could not pick them all and tried for variety. Feel free to share your settings and how you created the shot so this can be a reference guide for the future.

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  1. July 25, 2013 at 12:57 am —

    Tonight. 100-400 L ISO 100 f/13 1/20

  2. July 25, 2013 at 1:16 am —

    For the moon above (yellow)
    Sorry, shot with Canon 5D Mark II RAW – compress jpg here. Image Stabilization (OFF) Auto focus, no tripod. Used the top of my car with my daughters stuffed dolphin supporting the lens at 400mm
    I usually shoot with a tripod and my remote. There is a process in Photoshop called image stacking which is suppose to clean it up a little.
    Here is another shot from the full moon the other day 7/20/13. (below)
    ISO 800 f/5.6 1/1250sec RAW same camera and lens, but shot in black and white.

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Super Moon Photography: How to Shoot the Moon