How to Photograph the Moon

Evocative moon photos are a real talking point when done well. Unfortunately, it's not a case of simply pointing your camera moon-ward and shooting; doing that might be tempting but the end photo won't be worth viewing let alone sharing with others. Instead, once you're aware of what you need by way of a lens and how to tweak the aperture and shutter speed, you'll be able to get great shots of the moon. With a little photo-taking know-how, the moon might just become one of your favorite photo subjects.


  1. Image titled Photograph the Moon Step 1
    Choose a suitable lens, which is 200mm or larger. The moon will look tiny in your photo if taken with your normal 50mm lens. After all, there is a lot of sky and the moon is just a little ball from where you're standing. Choosing a good lens will improve the whole appearance of your photo. A telephoto lens is the best lens for moon photography. The minimum to ensure good detail is 300mm,[1] but better still is a lens with a focal length close to 500mm. This latter lens will give you the image of a full moon approximately equal to 5mm in diameter on your film or digital sensor.
  2. Image titled Photograph the Moon Step 2
    Be aware of what makes the moon so brilliant. It's sunlight! We see the moon because of the light of the sun reflected from the surface of the moon. Moon is, therefore, your subject in sunlight. As such, setting your camera to nighttime exposure is not going to work as well because you'll probably need daytime settings to counter the bright light. There are several photography "rules" you can try, although it still pays to experiment because your local conditions may cause the rules to not work in your case, while something else might work better for you. Consider trying the following:
    • Try the "sunny f/16" rule: Shoot at f/16 with a shutter speed of 1/200 second if your film or sensor sensitivity is ISO 200.
    • Owing to the atmospheric haze and dust, and so forth, you might need to shoot at f/5.6 using a shutter speed of 1/250 second.
    • Try the "loony 11" rule: Shoot at f/11 at 1/ISO.[2]
    • Try Antonio Marques' suggestion: Aperture at f/11, ISO 100, 1/125 to 1/250.[3]
  3. Image titled Photograph the Moon Step 3
    Find a suitable resting place for the camera. It is important to keep the camera as still as possible for a moon shot. A tripod is ideal, especially with the long focal length of the lens. However, if you're out walking at night and haven't managed to take along a tripod, rest on a rock, fence, car, etc. for stability.
    • Another great piece of equipment is a shutter release cable. Rather than having to physically touch the camera (and therefore potentially wobble it), a shutter release cable allows you to take the shot without touching the camera again once it's set up. If you don't have one though, use the shutter delay set to 3-10 seconds, enough time to get your hands off the camera.[4]
  4. Image titled Photograph the Moon Step 4
    Focus the moon within your frame and set the exposure. Exposure time should be short and it's usually best to photograph the full moon. After carefully focusing the moon (and turning off your auto-focus) and setting your camera to one of the settings suggested above, activate the self-timer and take one picture. Activating the self-timer is important in order to avoid camera shake. The image of the moon here was made using a telescope.
    • Take test photos. You need to get used to your camera's capacity for taking photos from different angles and at different speeds. If the initial speed isn't working for you, play around until you find the one that produces the best shots. The important features of the moon should be clearly seen on your photo (craters, the Man in the Moon, etc.).
    • Antonio Marques suggests that if your camera enables you to take sequential shots with different EV values, that you bracket the EV 1 or 2 units.[5]
  5. Image titled Photograph the Moon Step 5
    Take more photos. Take two more pictures with exposure settings of 1/125 sec. and 1/500 sec. at f/5.6. And perhaps experiment with a few other settings. You will get at least one perfect picture of the moon with good details showing in it.
    • Review if possible. If you have a digital camera with a clear screen of each shot, try to see which ones have worked best after you take them. When you think you know which ones are working well, take a few more using that setting.
  6. Image titled Photograph the Moon Step 6
    Go through your photos on the computer at the earliest possible opportunity. Select those that produced the best photos and study them closely. What is it about those photos that appeals to you and how can you recreate that effect each time?
    • Play around with the moon photos on Photoshop or any other photo altering program you own. You might like to sharpen the angles, brighten it, bring out some features with more clarity, etc. Consider highlighting some colors and textures more, if needed.
    • Also try black and white, sepia, and varied color settings to see which provide the best appearance for each moon shot you've taken.
  7. Image titled Photograph the Moon Step 7
    Be creative. Good moon photography isn't just about the settings. It's also about focusing on the angles, the different times of night, or incorporating landscape features. Think about how you might need to take into account these other elements for your moon photography hobby.
    • Make notes in a photo journal to remind yourself next time of the settings, times, temperature, etc., that make for the best shots with your camera.
  8. Image titled Photograph the Moon Step 8
    Get adventurous. Once you're feeling comfortable with full moon shots, try a sequence that shows all the phases of the moon. Also consider taking moon shots during different seasons and different times of the night. The varying light and shadows on the moon will change depending on the time of night and year, so it's worth experimenting more if moon photography gives you a buzz. Make a few photo collages on your photo program, to highlight the beautiful variances in the moon.


  • While you don't have to use a self-timer, it is one way to avoid camera shake, resulting in noise in your image.
  • There aren't specific best times to photograph the moon. Although, you will want to be aware of the times the moon rises and sets in your time zone. This will help you capture the moon when it is lower and closer to the horizon.
  • Make sure you don't use IS or VR on your digital lens or camera. Those will cause your camera and lens to vibrate and result in an image with noise.
  • Look for natural reference points to include in your photographs, trees, the moon's reflection in water.
  • The moon is often up during the day. You can get interesting images, especially early morning and late afternoon. It helps in capturing near by clouds which can add an interesting element. Play around when editing. You can simulate a darker time than when the photo was taken.

Things You'll Need

  • Camera, digital or otherwise
  • Appropriate lens, either 200mm or larger with a minimum F4-5.6
  • A cable to remotely release the shutter
  • A sturdy tripod

Sources and Citations

  1. Antonio Marques, How to photograph the moon,
  2. Antonio Marques, How to photograph the moon,
  3. Antonio Marques, How to photograph the moon,
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