How To Master Full Moon Photography

11 February 2022

The full moon has intrigued and mesmerised humankind for as long as has been recorded. To some, it is simply a visual marvel that draws them in with its glow, to others, it is a symbol for new life, and to others again, it will always be associated with phenomena and strange behaviour. Whatever the reason for your interest, we can help you with the right skills, settings and tools to capture stunning full moon photography; even if we are not going to weigh into the debate of whether it has a dark side or not.


What is a full moon?

First things first, what is a full moon? A full moon is one of several phases that the moon goes through each month, and it is recognisable by the moon appearing perfectly round and incredibly bright. The full moon is the fifth phase in the cycle of the moon, and it occurs when the moon is on the opposite side of the earth that the sun is on, causing the sun's light to illuminate its surface that is facing us on earth.

How To Master Full Moon PhotographyHow To Master Full Moon Photography

When is the next full moon?

How To Master Full Moon PhotographyHow To Master Full Moon Photography

As we mentioned above, the moon's appearance changes in stages, known as phases, with each stage being determined by the moon's position in relation to the sun and earth.

The new moon is the first of those stages, occurring when the moon is closest to the sun and positioned in between the sun and earth, which means the side of the moon that is visible to us is not at all illuminated by the sun; the full moon occurs about 15 days after the new moon.

We think it's cool to learn all about the phases of the moon, so you can enjoy viewing it as it changes night after night, photographing it in all of its different stages, and viewing it through your Astronomy binoculars or telescope. If you are not that way inclined and you just want to know when you should plan a night outside for some full moon photography, you can use one of a variety of incredibly accurate online resources and apps; they can even pinpoint the time that the moon will be at its fullest!


Putting together your own moon photography kit

So with this understanding of the moon under your belt, what do you need to take the best photographs of it? Here's a checklist!

High-resolution camera - Obviously the highest quality camera that you can get your hands on is going to take the best quality photos. Mirrorless cameras are all the rage these days, and there is a wide range of suitable cameras that can improve your astrophotography and moon photography. As well as larger image sensors and resulting in better imaging and low noise performance, mirrorless cameras feature manual adjustments for getting the best moon image every time and compatibility with suitable telephoto lenses.

Using a mirrorless camera with very high resolution is also excellent for cropping the image later on for a closer moon photo, without the image degrading in quality.

Telephoto lens - We don't need to tell you that the moon is very far away. While your standard zoom lens or wide-angle lens can capture a photo with the moon in it, it will be rendered as just an element of your composition and not the main subject. To achieve this you need a much tighter crop, which is provided by using a telephoto lens. These high-magnification lenses also make it possible to capture some of the details of the moon's surface, for a far more impactful image.

Basically, you want as much reach as you can harness, so purchase or rent a long telephoto prime or zoom lens, consider adding a teleconverter for increased magnification, and crop to your advantage (see above).

How To Master Full Moon PhotographyHow To Master Full Moon Photography
How To Master Full Moon PhotographyHow To Master Full Moon Photography

Tripod - No matter what camera you will be using, nighttime photography, such as moon photography, requires a sturdy and trustworthy tripod. As well as keeping your camera still and therefore, your shots free from blur, tripods are great for perfecting exposure.

Remote control - When image sharpness is paramount to your success, you should take every step to avoid camera shake. A great way to achieve this is to not touch your camera at all during capture, by using a remote control.

Top tip: Using a camera with WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity? In many cases, there will be a compatible smartphone app for your camera that provides remote control.

Other options: Wondering if there is a way to avoid purchasing these items separately? The Nikon Coolpix P1000 is a compact digital camera that is ready for top-tier moon photography out of the box. This camera features a high 125x optical zoom lens, which allows a very tight crop of the moon, as well as full manual controls and RAW image capture.

Another path a budding astrophotographer and moon photographer can take is to use a telescope for exploring the skies and then capturing what their telescope sees. There are options available for mounting a telescope to a DSLR camera, while it is also possible to use your readily-available smartphone to take a photo through your smartphone lens. To do this you need a telescope, smartphone, and the Celestron NexYZ smartphone telescope adaptor or similar.


Take a sneak peek into a moon photographer's camera bag


Ted's tips for the best full moon photography

Now that you have the next full moon circled in your calendar and your camera bag organised for the occasion, it's time to discover how you can make your next full moon photoshoot a success.

Start with these camera settings:

ISO - A low ISO results in lower noise levels. You can always raise it as you go if necessary, so start low with ISO 100.

Aperture - For maximum sharpness and detail use an aperture of around f11-16.

How To Master Full Moon PhotographyHow To Master Full Moon Photography

Shutter Speed - This will differ depending on the brightness of the sky, the lens being used and the other settings, but a shutter speed of around 1/60 or 1/125 is a good starting point.

Shoot in RAW - This makes it easier for you to fine-tune your image in the editing stage, utilising key editing steps such as brightness, contrast, white balance etc.

Focus - Seeing as the moon is not moving quickly to escape your frame, you can forego the autofocus and go manual, and focus your lens to infinity. If you want to be sure your focus is exact and you can make out as much detail as possible, most digital cameras allow you to zoom in on your focal point and use your LCD screen to fine-tune.

How To Master Full Moon PhotographyHow To Master Full Moon Photography

With your camera set correctly, here is a good you can follow to make sure you don't need to wait for the moon to go through all of its phases again, so you can reshoot.

Find a suitable location - Ideally, you want a place to shoot from that provides a clear view of the moon and is far away from artificial light sources.

Play the waiting game - Can't get a clear shot of the moon through the trees? Wait it out until the moon is overhead, which should give you an undisturbed view.

Use the Looney 11 rule - If you are struggling to get a good exposure of the moon's surface, there is a tried and true rule just for you. Set your aperture to 11, and your shutter speed to the reciprocal of your current ISO setting (ie: ISO 100 and 1/100th or ISO 200 and 1/200th of a second).

Play with composition - Not satisfied with the moon in the dead centre of your frame? Put your knowledge of composition to work and place the moon at different points accordingly. You can use stars and clouds to your advantage, use the night sky as negative space, and even explore using your surroundings to add an extra dimension. For example, shoot through the tree branches that we helped you to avoid earlier on or capture the moon's reflection on the surface of a body of water.

How To Master Full Moon PhotographyHow To Master Full Moon Photography

Full moon photography is deceptively tricky to master. While anyone can point their camera up at the sky and fire, it takes a mix of skill, camera gear, and practice to overcome the environmental factors and produce images that truly capture the mystique of this object that occupies our sky every night. Not satisfied with your results? Don't worry, there will be another full moon to keep you occupied in a few weeks time, and you can keep yourself busy scouring our photography blog in the meantime.


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