How to photograph the Moon

The closest celestial body to Earth is the moon. For centuries man has looked up to the moon in awe, from which stemmed countless songs, poems and sci-fi stories. Photographing the moon can be extremely difficult, to the rotational speed of the Earth and moon, and due to the luminescence of the moon. This article will help you to photograph the moon so that it does not come out as a big white blob in your photographs. The biggest thing to remember when you are photographing the moon and the night sky is to have fun Jand look out for the man on the moon.

Setting Up


This section will provide you with the technique for setting to photograph the moon. The primary settings to remember is that you must use low an ISO number, fast shutter speed and varying apertures to compensate for the low light conditions and the high luminescence of the moon.

The following steps show you how to get ready:
1.    Plan your trip – find a venue which is away from the city, plan around the phases of the moon (full moon is the best, but you can create great effects with a half-moon as well). Note: make sure that the venue where you take the photographs is safe,
2.    Wait for the sun to set,
3.    Take snacks and a lot of water with an extra jacket with you,
4.    Make sure you have a fully charged battery, with a spare battery,
5.    Mount your camera onto your tripod,
6.    Connect your cable-release to the camera (this will reduce the amount of camera shake, which could affect your clarity of the photos)

What do you need?

The first step in taking great moon photographs is to obtain the correct gear and software. The following indicates the required gear and software with a short description of each:

A DSLR Camera
You will need a DSLR camera with Manual capability. Manual capability will allow you to set the ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Ensure that your camera can operate in low light, and that it has adequate noise filters and ability to handle high ISO values. I personally prefer using Canon cameras.
A Fast Lens
You will require as well a good lens with the ability to set it to manual focus. Manual focus is required because the camera will not have the ability to focus automatically, and you would use manual focus to focus your star to pinpoint sharpness.
I would suggest as well a long telephoto lens, the longer the better. I shoot with the Tamron 150-600 lens, which provides you with a lot of details of the moon.
A Sturdy Tripod
You would require a sturdy tripod due to you shooting long exposures. Ensure as well that your tripod which will not shake when there is some wind. Ensure as well that your tri-pod’s head can rotate horizontal and vertical. This will enable you to take landscape or portrait photographs.
A remote camera trigger
You would use the remote camera trigger to trigger your shutter without you touching the camera (avoiding camera shake), and to control the exposure time
Ensure that you take along a good flashlight and headlamp. You will require the headlamp to see where you are going
You would require a lot of patience capturing the perfect lightning shot

Phases of the moon

There are two websites which I use to check the phases of the moon:
Moon Connection: This site provides a visual interface on the phases of the moon
Time and Date: This site provides you with information on what time the moon rises and sets.

It is important to check the phase of the moon and what time it will rise, to ensure that you can plan your photograph and outing accordingly.


The next step is one of the most important parts: how to focus onto the moon. It is important to take the time to focus your photographs to pinpoint clarity, and it is one of the few times where you cannot rely on your camera’s autofocus system. Your camera’s auto focus system will not be able to focus on the moon as the moon is lit too much in the dark skies. If you do not focus correctly then the moon will look like a white blob in your photo.

Follow the following steps to focus on the Milky Way:
1.    Set your lens to MF (there are two options AF (Auto Focus) and MF (Manual Focus)),
2.    If your lens have image stabilization, then switch it off,
3.    Zoom your lens to the maximum, and point your camera on the tri-pod to the moon’s position
4.    Turn your focus ring, until the moon is 100% in focus, and you can see the details on the moon. This can be a painstakingly slow process, but well worth it,
5.    Once you’ve achieved the perfect focus, and then lock your focus on your lens (another flip button on your lens. This will ensure that you have perfect focus for the whole evening’s photos.

Taking your first test shot:
1.    The first step would be to set your camera to the following settings: ISO = 100, Shutter Speed = 1/125 and Aperture f/9
2.    Press your cable release, and take the photograph
3.    Do NOT touch the camera in any way – as this will cause vibrations, and much up your photograph. If you touched your camera by accident in this step, then please redo from step 1
4.    When the photo is finished then look at it in playback

In Playback make sure that you have captured the moon’s details to pinpoint accuracy, and that the moon did not come out as big white blob, but rather a very sharp image. If it not very sharp then re-focuses your lens until the ultimate sharpness can be obtained. If your photo is sharp then sit back and admire your first photograph.

Camera Settings

The following guide will make it easier for you to get to the right setting for your camera, but you must always take test shots with different settings until you are happy with the outcome of your photo.

The three primary settings you should use is the ISO, Aperture and shutter speed. ISO, Aperture and shutter speed combination will determine the amount of light that gets captured, and it is essential that you get the combination right.

Now what are the right settings into taking the ultimate moon photograph?

White Balance
I would suggest setting your camera’s white balance to Auto White Balance, as this will give you flexibility if you want to edit your photo later on.

If you like controlling your camera’s settings then set your camera to M (Manual), but if you are not so confident then set your camera to TV (Time priority) and play around with your shutter speed. If your camera is in TV mode then it would allow you to change the ISO as well, thus I would suggest reading the next sections as well. If your camera is in M (Manual) then this will provide you with greater flexibility to set the right conditions to your favour.

Metering Mode
I always set my camera to spot metering for moon shots, due to the amount of light emanating from the moon. Make always sure that you take your light metering on the moon, and then re-frame the shot according to your own criteria.

I would recommend using a wide aperture range to increase the depth of field – from f/7.1 to f/11. I would first suggest using an aperture of f/7.1 and working your way slowly to f/11.

Shutter Speed
Set the shutter speed to 1/200.

The reason for the fast shutter speed is that the moon “moves” quite quickly in the heavens, and thus you want to capture much as possible details, without the moon looking blurred. If you see that 1/200 produces blurred photos then increase your shutter speed until the photograph is not blurred, but crystal clear.

Set your camera to a low ISO (200) – depending on your light. The low ISO will compensate for the white of the moon, and would allow as well for lower noise levels.


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