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Super Moon Photography: How to Shoot the Moon

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 10:12 am — Reply

    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}

  2. March 21, 2011 at 10:15 am — Reply

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

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

    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.

  4. March 21, 2011 at 10:44 am — Reply

    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)

  5. March 21, 2011 at 11:04 am — Reply

    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…

  6. March 21, 2011 at 11:07 am — Reply

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

  7. March 21, 2011 at 11:21 am — Reply

    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 🙂

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

    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.

  9. March 21, 2011 at 11:25 am — Reply

    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 — Reply

      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.

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

    I took many photos,but like this one best.

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


  12. March 21, 2011 at 12:54 pm — Reply

    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 🙂

  13. March 21, 2011 at 1:03 pm — Reply

    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.


    • March 21, 2011 at 2:01 pm — Reply

      Mark – thank you for including a note on how you achieved yours. And thanks for being a part of this.

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

    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.

  15. March 21, 2011 at 2:11 pm — Reply

    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.

  16. March 21, 2011 at 2:16 pm — Reply


    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!

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

    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!

  18. March 21, 2011 at 2:39 pm — Reply

    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!

  19. March 21, 2011 at 2:42 pm — Reply

    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.

  20. March 21, 2011 at 3:16 pm — Reply

    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!

  21. Rhonda
    March 21, 2011 at 7:11 pm — Reply

    Just a thank you to everyone for all the info. We went out Saturday waiting for the moon rise and this is my best shot. Tripod, tripod, tripod next time. And it was windy. It was red coming up but not that dark or bright a red but couldn’t focus on actual with my limited knowledge.

  22. March 21, 2011 at 9:06 pm — Reply

    Shot with my Canon 50d & 70-300IS USM lens handheld (was being lazy tonight, but now I wish I would have used the tripod!)
    ISO 100

  23. Jim Buckley
    March 21, 2011 at 10:05 pm — Reply

    I’m a bit slow on this but it does follow the moon theme.

  24. March 22, 2011 at 3:10 am — Reply

    Unfortunately we had a storm moving through the desert so I was not able to photograph the moon until it broke through the clouds. And even then it was not spectacular. Had to get a little creative on scene with a flashlight. And then had even more fun with post processing.

    Technical details: Exposure 36 seconds at f/7.1, focal length 18mm, ISO 100

  25. March 22, 2011 at 11:20 am — Reply

    Very cool images of the moon on the horizon. We had a bunch of clouds that night, so I had to wait until it was higher in the sky, and then it was trying to catch it in between clouds. I got a few of the moon on a black sky, but I really like this shot where you can just see the light of the moon peeking out from behind the clouds. (Canon Rebel T2i, EF70-300IS, focal length 70mm, ISO 800 f14 6.0 seconds)

  26. March 22, 2011 at 12:52 pm — Reply

    I didn’t get to see this, so really enjoyed looking through all the beautiful photos, and the ones in the comments too. Some very talented people follow this blog. Thanks for sharing. Helen x

  27. March 23, 2011 at 9:24 am — Reply

    Would love to win one!

  28. March 23, 2011 at 11:36 am — Reply

    I would have the photograph of my grandfathers hands as I recently lost him this past fall and I was fortunate to have take an image of his hands showing the many year of hard work and love. I treasure this image and would love to have a large gallery wrap hanging in my office.

  29. August 15, 2011 at 9:25 am — Reply

    The moon last night was gorgeous at home, and I remembered reading this tutorial/article. It was about 10:30pm and we were sitting by the poolside chatting with friends; I couldn’t help myself, so I went and grabbed my tripod, Nikon D90, and Nikkor 70-300mm 4.5-5.6G lens to try it… settings at ISO 2000 300mm f/6.3 1/2000

    The tips really helped me capture the essence of the moon, from my part of the world. Not having read the article since March, and coming back this morning to revisit it, I realized I’d followed these tips: # 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, and 10-15. I couldn’t get too creative with what was around me, silhouettes, clouds, etc. because it was clear skies, LOL! I did shoot it at a high ISO, instead of a one, I’d totally forgotten, but it worked for me, this time.

    thanks again for the tutorial, love them!

  30. […] a mad rush on Twitter links back to the version on my Flickr account, and is featured on a photographer’s blog (@MCP Actions)  about how to “Shoot The Moon”.  I’m pretty thrilled to have taken a picture that garnered so much […]

  31. […] MCP Actions Super Moon Photography […]

  32. Kelly
    May 5, 2012 at 5:46 pm — Reply

    Closeup of the moon May 4, 2012

  33. David
    May 5, 2012 at 8:01 pm — Reply

    The moon may appear to be bigger and more dramatic at the horizon, but it is not actually bigger. It is merely an optical illusion that they moon appears larger at the horizon. Take a picture of the moon on the horizon and you will be sad to notice when you actually look at the image that the moon doesn’t appear even as close to the size it did when you were viewing it with your eyes.

  34. Paul
    May 5, 2012 at 8:17 pm — Reply

    Remember to turn off Vibration Reduction on lens if using a tripod!

  35. Tony
    May 5, 2012 at 11:43 pm — Reply

    Here is mine 🙂

  36. simon garcia
    May 6, 2012 at 12:29 am — Reply

    Here’s a composite shot of the supermoon in 2011. Thought you might like it.
    I shot the moon with a Canon 7D using a Tamron 70-200mm. Exposure was 6 seconds at f/16. Something like that.

  37. Alamelu
    May 6, 2012 at 2:30 pm — Reply

    Super Moon May 5th 2012 – Sony A350 DSLR

  38. May 6, 2012 at 10:49 pm — Reply

    My first attempt at multi exposure of the moon and sky. Can see more on my facebook page.

    Raq A Bye Photography

  39. Michael
    January 27, 2013 at 8:39 pm — Reply

    Shot with my Nikon D3000 with Nikor 55-200 ISO 100 f/ 5.6 last night.

  40. hemant
    June 19, 2013 at 10:19 pm — Reply

    this is my second attempt at moon photography but i couldnt get the clouds as some of above images did….

  41. June 20, 2013 at 10:31 pm — Reply

    Hey all, here’s the last supermoon in Melbourne, Australia. Taken last month, 2 shots… one focussed for the moon and the other focussed for my friend then combined in Photoshop.

  42. Jen C.
    June 22, 2013 at 10:52 pm — Reply

    I ended up having to use the tripod 🙂 Thanks for your tips/suggestions!! This was my first attempt and I am pretty thrilled!! Thank you! 🙂

  43. July 25, 2013 at 12:57 am — Reply

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

  44. July 25, 2013 at 1:16 am — Reply

    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