Photographing the Moon

It may not seem like it at first, but photographing the moon is nothing like photographing the Milky Way.



The right gear is important. Photographing the moon with a 14mm lens will make it just a tiny spec in the sky. Photographing it with a 1200mm lens will make it dominate the image and partially remove the landscape around it that may tell a story otherwise.

A 200mm lens is needed at a minimum. More is better. A good lens for photographing the moon would be the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm PF, the Canon EF 100-400mm, or the Sony "G Master" FE 100-400mm. A super-zoom like this is a good choice because it can be adjusted quickly without having to replace lenses as well as being able to perfectly frame the shot. The only exception is if wanting to photograph just the moon in which case an 800mm or greater lens will be needed and then expect to crop the image after, in post.

A digital camera is recommended. Also consider using cropped-sensor cameras because they are able to get more out of a telephoto lens. They have smaller, higher pixel density sensors which are useful for distant subjects like the moon.

Getting Distant

300mm APS-C/DX lens, heavily cropped

Long lenses have very narrow viewing angles, like 3-5°, and because such long lenses are required to enlarge the moon to a satisfactory level, there must be great distance between the camera and the foreground subject. And, obviously, there can't be anything between the foreground and the camera which may be hard to achieve in a forest or nature park.

Consider the hyperfocal distance. Focus on the foreground to know the distance to it, and then focus about a third of the way between this and infinity. Use the Depth of Field Calculator to figure out where exactly the lens needs to be focused based on the distance, sensor, focal length and aperture. Sometimes the foreground and moon cannot be in acceptable focus which means the camera needs to be farther from the foreground.

500mm lens, heavily cropped
detail of above
1000mm lens, APS-C/DX crop (detail)

Timing is Everything

If photographing the moon with foreground subjects (and not alone in the sky) then, as noted above, a long lens is necessary so catching the moon when it is just above the horizon is paramount. This means timing it perfectly to catch the moonrise or moonset. Be sure to look-up this information for the specific locale. Don't expect to be able to get the shot whenever you want. It may take months of planning for the spot you are looking at/for.

Just take a lot of pictures until the moon is too high to be in the shot or below the horizon. And, make sure to nail the exposure by using the camera's spot-meter aimed right at the moon.


If photographing the moon at night, be sure not to blow out the highlights. The highlights are the moon itself. Expose for the highlights and then overexpose little by little until there is clipping in the moon. This should result in a few usable shots. Don't forget to shoot in RAW because this will allow the recovery of details that would otherwise be lost with JPEG.

If the camera does not have the option to expose for the highlights, the use the camera's spot meter and aim for the brightest part of the moon.

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