How to Photograph the Moon

Jul 08, 2020

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If you follow me on instagram you might already know that one of my favorite photography subjects is the Moon, so much so that I devoted a second instagram account to it. I don’t always get to spend quality time with it since I do have to sleep, but that doesn’t make me love it any less. Today I’m sharing some of my best tips for taking photos of the Moon and I’ll warn you right now, it’s not with your cell phone.

The photo above is the first photo I ever took of the Moon that I was proud of. I guess you could say that it’s the photo that started it all for me. We were on a trip to Iceland and my zoom lens was new to me so I hadn’t been able to practice much. I didn’t intend to shoot the Moon that night but felt compelled to when I saw it rising at 11PM during an Icelandic summer sunset. I have always had a fond love for the Moon. Totally cliché, but I love that the Moon is always full no matter what phase it is in. Once I realized that I could use my new lens to photograph the moon, a fire lit inside me.

Moon Photography Equipment List

If you’re looking for photos of the Moon like the ones in this post, you won’t get them on your phone. I promise.

  • SLR Camera

    You need to be able to shoot in manual mode and the better the dynamic range, the better your photos will be. Look for a camera with a range close or better than ISO 100- ISO6400. Being able to swap out the lens is also a bonus but not always necessary. I shoot with a Canon 5DMKIV but you don’t need a fancy full-frame to be able to shoot the moon.

  • Telephoto Lens

    I use my Canon 100-400mm f/4-f/5.6L lens the most to shoot the moon. I also have a 2x extender that I use frequently with it to achieve moon photos at 800mm. Any lens with a focal length of 100mm+ will be a great lens to shoot with.

  • Tripod

    A tripod is sometimes optional when shooting the moon, especially when you can get your shutter speed fast enough to achieve a sharp photo. I use a tripod anytime I am shooting under 1/2400 sec. The most important factor is that it is steady while holding your camera. The last thing you want to do is knock over your little camera baby. Eek.

Please keep in mind that I am a professional and this is the equipment that I shoot with, but it isn’t the equipment that makes a photographer. Any that falls into the descriptions that I shared or as close as possible will do. I’ve shared my gear below, as well as some gear that will work perfectly fine at lower price points. While I am a Canon girl, there are plenty of other brands that are capable of moon photography.

My Camera Gear
Other Capable Camera Gear

Tips to Photograph the Moon

Over the last 5 years I’ve been increasingly passionate about teaching myself through various trial and error to photograph the moon. Here are some tips to help you along the way, but please keep in mind that these are not extent of what you can learn. I am still learning more about taking photos of the moon.

  1. The Moon Cycle

    Every month the moon goes through a cycle. It goes between being very full and visible to being invisible and back again. You can use the website Time & Date to track it for free, then use the compass on your phone to locate it in the sky. A full moon (near 100% illumination) does not always make for the best photos, my favorite time is when it’s in a very slim crescent (under 10% illumination), near the new moon.

  2. Time of Day

    Light is important for any type of photo, but you can photograph the moon at any time of day depending on where it is in it’s cycle and if it’s above the horizon.

  3. Location, location, location

    Where you decide to take your photos will determine what limits you will have. If I want very clear photos of the moon with the horizon I look for someplace higher up, like the top of a hill or parking garage. If I want to take photos of the moon with something, I usually do it from the street in front of my house.

  4. Pollution Matters

    Atmospheric pollution is always a pain and will make your photos look less crisp when the moon is near the horizon. Light pollution is usually bad, but not always. Look for Dark Sky designated areas for the clearest photos, and if you can’t find one of those find somewhere outside of city light.

  5. Composing a photo of the moon

    Typical photo composition rules still apply, but don’t feel like you have to shoot the moon by itself. You can get very interesting photos by combining the moon with the silhouette of other things and even at times making something else the focal point of the photo. There is also an app called Photo Pills that has a great VR atmosphere for setting up shots that line the moon up with other subjects.

  6. Delayed Shutter

    In order to mitigate shake while you are using a tripod, use the self-timer function on your camera. I use the 2 second one on mine with the touch screen to focus so that the camera is absolutely still when it takes the photo.

Examples of Moon Photography Settings

General photography settings will always apply to photos of the moon, but in the examples below I’ve included the shot information so that you can get a feel for what each shot required of my camera. These are all from this year.

  1. ISO, Film Speed

    ISO is typically ISO 100 – ISO 12800. Daytime moon photos are usually ISO 100, while crescent night photos will be higher, such as ISO 3200+.

  2. Focal Length

    Focal length varies drastically depending on how close you want the moon to be. I love shooting the moon between 200mm and 800mm+.

  3. F-Stop, Aperture

    F-stops vary as well, anything from f/1.4 to f/18. I average around f/9-f/12 for crisp shots of the moon.

  4. Shutter Speed

    Shutter speed will vary as well depending on time of day. I try not to go below 1/30 to retain sharpness of an image.

  5. Tripod Use v.s. Handheld

    Using a tripod will be necessary for any longer focal length shots and slower shutter shots.

If enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy my other photography tips. I share lots of behind the scenes and moon photos on my instagram account.

Have you tried to take photos of the moon before? Any tips to add?
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