Super Moon Photography: How to Shoot the Moon

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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. March 21, 2011 at 3:16 pm —

    Great tips! I didn’t think of applying the Sunny16 rule, wish I had read that before going out and taking pictures! My big tip for night photography is always use a TRIPOD. I was in Portsmouth, NH when I took these. I found with my bracketing that a lot of my photos looked like sunrises instead of moon-rises!

  2. March 21, 2011 at 2:42 pm —

    Oh, I also meant to weigh in on Danica’s shot above this one! First time shot? Fabulously done! You should be very proud of that shot! Nicely done!

    All the images Jodi selected are great… love seeing the different perspectives and interpretations.

  3. March 21, 2011 at 2:39 pm —

    Jodi… first, you are ABSOLUTELY right… no matter how many years of experience in anything, we are all continually learning. There are NO dumb questions or ‘failed’ attempts. Only more learning and growing, and for that, I am glad I found your blog/FB page. I’ve enjoyed the collaboration of ideas. Have picked up a few things myself as well as (hopefully) contributed a bit.

    That being said, your query: a question I have wondered myself and for which I have no definitive answer. There are other factors at play in a moon image just like any other astral photography: the distance between your lens and the subject and what lies in between. In this case, millions of miles with billions of moisture filled air particles. An area of high humidity will impact the clarity due to refraction of light on through moisture particles. (it’s why stars TWINKLE in the winter) That refraction can cause clarity problems. Other particles in our atmosphere can also impact light, such as smog, smoke, light cloud haze, etc.

    Beyond all that, I’m not sure, as I’ve seen some pretty amazingly detailed images of the moon during a time of year I would have expected much LESS clear. Could also be the lenses used. This is a topic I’m still researching and experimenting with, and would be happy to collaborate on with one or more people!

  4. Danica
    March 21, 2011 at 2:23 pm —

    Great tips, Jodi! This was actually my first attempt at a moon shot and I think it came out well. I really appreciate you including it! Due to my location, I couldn’t get a shot of the huge moon coming over the horizon and had to wait until it was further up and smaller. I knew I wanted some foreground details (trees/buildings) to provide some reference but the moon was so bright that that turned out to be quite challenging. I had to compile two photos taken at different exposures in order to get the cloud and tree details as well as the moon features. The background is ISO 400, f/4, 1/3 sec exposure. The detailed moon on top has 1/200 sec exposure. I’d have kept trying with a lower ISO to remove some of the noise but I was freezing my keester off! I will definitely be trying this again!

  5. March 21, 2011 at 2:16 pm —


    That is a great point. Makes sense. And I appreciate you weighing in and explaining that. Being a portrait shooter, I am quick to use f2.2 or even 1.8 to get a very small part in focus, and blur out much of the background, etc. But the moon is not close like my subjects. And that is true that lenses are not all sharp wide open, or even close. I often use 2.2 on my lenses that open to 1.2 for that reason. I used a tamron 28-300 for this.

    Since you seem so knowledgeable, if you read this… can you explain why the closeups of the moon, even with perfect exposure, seemed so grainy at ISO 100-400 on a 5D MKII? I cannot decide if it was just that I cropped in, or if it was some other phenomenon that I cannot think of. By the way, this is a good lesson to all that just because you are knowledgeable on a topic, as I am on Photoshop, learning is never done. NEVER be afraid to say when you are wrong or do not know a topic fully. Ask and learn!

  6. March 21, 2011 at 2:11 pm —

    Jodi… Russ is correct, but it’s also important to note that not all lenses are necessarily their sharpest at F/4 or F/5.6, especially kit lenses and lower priced lenses that amateurs or ami-pros may be using. Even the cheapest lenses will probably tack sharp at F/9 through F/16, so by going to lower aperture, you COULD be sacrificing clarity. And by going to a smaller opening you ARE actually gaining clarity.

    I highly doubt all of your readers are shooting $15,000 300mm lenses, so the higher aperture is VERY important to maintain clarity.

    Even my BEST Nikon 50mm F/1.4D while sharp at f/1.4 is MEGA sharp at F/11, and this is true across the spectrum of lenses.

  7. Linda
    March 21, 2011 at 2:04 pm —

    Setting meter exposure to spot is helpful when photographing the moon, it allows you to capture the details of the moon, eliminates the hazy glowing ball effect.

  8. March 21, 2011 at 1:03 pm —

    Great post Jodi, and thanks for using my picture! There are some GREAT ones here and all are simply fantastic! Nicely done everyone!

    I created a Facebook ‘Note’ on how I did my shot if anyone is interested.

  9. March 21, 2011 at 12:54 pm —

    At first my settings were all wrong, then I checked setting of moon shots over at flickr, that’s when I got closer to what I wanted. Wish I had taken more with a background or foreground. Nikon D80-Shutter speed: 1/125, f/9, ISO at 200, 135 mm. PS. I am saving up for a 400mm lens 🙂

  10. Jayne
    March 21, 2011 at 12:14 pm —


  11. W.Erwin
    March 21, 2011 at 11:31 am —

    I took many photos,but like this one best.

  12. March 21, 2011 at 11:25 am —

    All your rules make sense except the one about f-stops. The hyperfocal distance of ALL lenses is not greater than about ten thousand feet. That means even a 500 mm lens has everything in focus beyond two miles, and the moon, even close, is beyond two miles. Shorter lenses have shorter hyperfocal distances. So you are sacrificing shutter speed for nothing to go above f/4 or f5.6. And as you said else where, you want to have a fairly quick shutter speed.

    This photo is two shots back-to-back like a HDR—the moon detail layered onto Pikes Peaks’ Sentinel Point. By changing shutter speed I got detail in both the moon and the mountain.

    • March 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm —

      Russ, interesting… I had not thought of it that way. So you are saying to shoot at f4 and still get as crisp a shot for a closeup of the moon? I will experiment and test this next time, but it does make sense what you are saying and I appreciate your contribution.

  13. Jayne
    March 21, 2011 at 11:23 am —

    Here is my moon picture. I am fairly new to photography and so I only had my 70-300mm 1:4.5 kit lens. I did have the ISO set at 1600 (took this before I read your post) f 4.5, shutter speed 60. Still learning and still saving for my 70-200 mm lense.

  14. March 21, 2011 at 11:21 am —

    Thanks for the tips! I took a decent moon on a clear black sky photo, but after reading this decided to add a texture to add a hint of color to the photo. I like this edited version much better. Thanks for the idea 🙂

  15. March 21, 2011 at 11:07 am —

    Why didnt I read all this BEFORE but I am still happy with what I got.

  16. March 21, 2011 at 11:04 am —

    my photoshopped version of the supermoon, i couldnt get the shot of it at it’s closest because it was 1pm mountain time when the moon was super!! so i took this shot at about 10:30pm mt when it was just regular. my first time shooting the moon so it took me quite a few shots but in the end i was able to get it with just my 300mm promaster. wish i had a telephoto lens. i decided to edit it slightly since it looked like any ordinary moon…

  17. March 21, 2011 at 10:44 am —

    I took quite a few moon shots myself…some just as it came over the horizon but I liked this one best. Double exposure and combined in post processing with CS5. (Canon EOS Digital Rebel Xsi, ISO 1600, f4.5, 1/20, EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6IS – Focal Length 79mm)

  18. Smitty Bowers
    March 21, 2011 at 10:39 am —

    This was taken with a tripod and a 1 second exposure. Iso was 100 and I under-exposed a third of a step. I liked how the detail in the sky popped out. I also liked the combination of artificial and natural light. It’s not that sharp, but it’s atmospheric. The last stage in processing was MCP’s Touch of Light/Touch of Dark.

  19. March 21, 2011 at 10:15 am —

    Wonderful shots! Here is mine. f 11, ISO 100, 195 mm, .8 seconds.

  20. March 21, 2011 at 10:12 am —

    I took a bunch of the typical textured moon in a black sky shot, but I also took this one. And even though it isn’t as sharp, I think it’s definitely more interesting. {Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 ISO 100 f10 1/100}

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Super Moon Photography: How to Shoot the Moon