PhotographyTips.com - the #1 guide to better conventional and digital photography Become a Member iPhone Posing GuideGuide to Posing the Female Model BookGuide to Posing the Model CD
Search
Login

Member Login

Find us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter
Find us on Flickr
Connect with us on LinkedIn

SPONSORS

Sell Photos Online

FEATURED SITES


Shoot the moon

A long lens is essential.


A 300mm lens on a tripod captured this cropped image of a full moon.
A 300mm lens on a tripod captured this cropped image of a full moon.

Photographing a full or partial moon is not much different than photographing any other sunlit object, except it is so distant.

EXPOSURE

If your camera is equipped with a spotmeter, this is a good time to use it. If not, it is probably better to switch off or override your camera’s auto exposure so you can make manual exposure settings. When you point your camera at the full moon, it sees a little bright spot surrounded by darkness, and automatic metering may be overly influenced by the amount of dark sky and call for too much exposure. Your image of the moon would then be overexposed.


The precise amount of light from the moon that your meter reads will depend on how clear the sky is and how much of earth’s atmosphere there is between you and the moon. There is more when the moon is low on the horizon than when it is directly overhead. (See Atmosphere and Sunlight for an explanation.) If you are at a high altitude, you'll need a little less exposure than if you are at sea level - a one stop decrease if above 7,000 feet. Water vapor during a night of high humidity can also be a factor in reducing the intensity of light reflected by the moon, and there might be dust in the air cutting down the light.

The camera's built-in spotmeter was used to obtain this exposure.
The camera's built-in spotmeter was used to obtain this exposure.

The moon will usually appear as a featureless white disk when you use your camera's normal auto-exposure to meter its light.
The moon will usually appear as a featureless white disk when you use your camera's normal auto-exposure to meter its light.

The moon reflects around 7% of the sun's light. Theoretically, like any object illuminated by bright sun, you should be able to apply the "Sunny 16" rule to calculate what exposure to use. It is possible to rely upon it to obtain a properly-exposed image of a full moon on a clear night when the moon is well above the horizon, however it's a good idea to bracket your exposures no matter what method you use, to be on the safe side.

Some photographers recommend shooting the moon when it is just rising and still close to the horizon. The greater amount of atmosphere that the light must travel through causes the moon to appear larger.


Some experts say your exposure for a full moon (only the moon itself, not an earthly landscape illuminated by the moon) should be ƒ/11 at a shutter speed equal to your film’s ISO. That’s ƒ/11 at 1/125 sec when using ISO 100 film or setting your digital camera's sensitivity to 100. We find this "Luney 11" rule works pretty well.

PHASES OF THE MOON

The brightest part of a half moon or quarter moon is not as bright as the brightest area of a full moon. Try shooting the half moon at ƒ/8 at a shutter speed equal to your film’s ISO or your digital camera's sensitivity setting.

The lunar surface appears lighter due to a one-stop exposure increase.
The lunar surface appears lighter due to a one-stop exposure increase.

Although this rising moon itself is over-exposed, the image is still interesting but only because of the illuminated clouds and silhouetted foreground.
Although this rising moon itself is over-exposed, the image is still interesting but only because of the illuminated clouds and silhouetted foreground.

CHOICE OF LENS

The moon is almost always much smaller in a photo than it appears to your eye. The moon takes up about half of one degree of our field of view of the skies. If you divide the length of your lens by 100, you'll get an approximate idea of the image size of the moon on your film or image sensor. A 50mm lens will record the full moon’s diameter as half a millimeter; it will look like a dot. However, a 300mm lens will record it as 3mm across. Use the longest lens you have. 200mm is about the minimum; a 500mm lens will reveal good detail. Whatever lens you use, be sure to use a tripod to steady your camera.

You may find that you can hand-hold (i.e. no tripod) your camera if the shutter speed number is equal to or faster than the length of your lens in millimeters. For example, a shutter speed of 1/200 sec or faster when using a 200 mm lens will produce a sharp image.


FILM OR DIGITAL SENSITIVITY SETTING

A sensitivity setting of 400 in your digital camera, or fast film with a speed of ISO 400 in black and white or color, should be more than adequate, permitting you to employ relatively fast shutter speeds. But, film speed/senitivity in a range from ISO 200 to ISO 800 might also do the job, depending on atmospheric conditions and how much of the moon's light is penetrating. If conditions are ideal (you are at high altitude on a crystal clear night with a very bright full moon that is fairly high in the sky and almost no moisture in the air), ISO 100 film/sensitivity is probably a safe bet, permitting you to shoot at either f/8 or f/11 at a shutter speed of 1/125 sec. Since depth of field is not a problem because of the great distance of the moon from Earth, you can select a much faster shutter speed and aperture combination, say 1/500 sec and f/4. No matter which film speed or digital camera sensitivity setting you use, bracketing exposures is always recommended when shooting the moon.

Further information...

Lunar eclipse

Daytime long exposure photography
Related topics...

Atmosphere and sunlight

Sunny 16 rule