NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY

Moon photography tips: how to shoot out-of-this-world night sky images

Follow this step-by-step guide to creative moon photography and soon you'll be capturing timeless pictures of the Earth's celestial companion.
A close-up of the Moon, with only about a quarter of it visible, taken on a Canon EOS R8 by astrophotographer Mara Leite.

The Moon has always been a captivating subject for photographers around the globe, especially at those rare times when it appears as a supermoon or even a blood moon. However, it can be tricky to do it justice. It can be challenging shooting a bright subject that's very far away in low light, as well as framing and focusing at long focal lengths. But with the right photography kit and exposure settings, plus careful planning before you head out, you can shoot wonderfully detailed lunar photos and atmospheric moonscapes. Here, we share all the information you need to shoot the Moon with expert advice on settings and kit as well as tips on how to get the best lunar images from astrophotographer Mara Leite.

1. Understand the Moon

A sliver of a crescent moon visible between two pillars of a church, taken on a Canon EOS R10.

"Apps or websites can be used to track the different stages of the Moon," says Mara, an award-winning landscape and astrophotographer. "They include moonrise and moonset times for locations worldwide." Taken on a Canon EOS R10 with a Canon RF-S 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM lens at 100mm, 1/5 sec, f/6.3 and ISO 1250. © Mara Leite

Leaves on a branch silhouetted against a blurred full moon, taken on a Canon EOS R10.

"Specific apps can even track the Moon's movement in the sky and calculate how big your moon will look compared to your subject." says Mara. Taken on a Canon EOS R10 with a Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM lens at 400mm, 1/320 sec, f/9 and ISO 1250. © Mara Leite

The Moon's orbit of the Earth takes 27.322 days. This cycle is divided into phases: new moon, waxing crescent, first quarter moon, waxing gibbous, full moon, waning gibbous, last quarter moon, waning crescent moon and new moon once again. Not only does every phase give you a different perspective on the Moon, it also impacts the lighting conditions, from bright glowing full moon to barely-there new moon.

Some points in the lunar calendar are really special. When the Moon is closer to the Earth and this coincides with a full moon – the time of the month when the Sun, Moon and Earth are all in alignment – we're treated to an enlarged full moon or supermoon. A blood moon – when a regular supermoon coincides with a total lunar eclipse – is even rarer. This means the Earth completely blocks direct sunlight from reaching the Moon and only refracted light from the Earth's atmosphere remains, causing the Moon to appear a faint blood red.

2. Plan ahead

The crescent moon visible in the night sky behind a lighthouse, taken on a Canon EOS R8.

"Looking ahead at the weather is necessary for obvious reasons," says Mara. "Unlike rain or an overcast forecast, clouds aren't always bad. They can add drama and mystery to your moon photographs. I recommend checking the percentage of cloud coverage and the wind speed on weather websites or the local weather centre." Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM lens at 100mm, 1.6 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 6400. © Mara Leite

A full moon visible above a Portuguese monastery, taken on a Canon EOS R8.

"If possible, going in person to the shooting location before the planned shooting time is a must for me to verify that there are no obstructions in my field of view and that the place is open after working hours," says Mara. Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM lens at 325mm, 1/320 sec, f/8 and ISO 1600. © Mara Leite

Photographing the Moon is not only a fun test of your camera skills, it's also a fascinating way to get to know the movements of the Earth and its satellite. We can tell exactly where the Moon will rise, where it will arc through the sky and where it will set, every night for years to come. There are several useful phone apps that can help you plan your angles with precision. As a rough guide, a full moon will emerge directly opposite the setting sun.

Make sure you consider the time of day. The Moon is perhaps most impressive when it first appears on the horizon – this is known as 'moonrise'. Also, if you're photographing a supermoon, shooting then can be particularly impactful. The light has to travel laterally through the Earth's atmosphere to you, so the Moon takes on a warm reddish quality. It's also the moment when the Moon seems at its largest, although this is an illusion – the size stays the same throughout the night, but the curvature of the atmosphere acts as a magnifying glass.

It's also important to check the weather forecast before heading out. Clear conditions will give you optimum visibility. Scope out locations that will offer you a good view of what's happening and include visual interest – such as an engaging urban skyline – but minimal distraction. Ensure you are kit-ready. That means fully charged and all packed. The Moon moves fast so you don't want to be running home for something you forgot, or you'll miss out!

3. Moon photography settings

A person adjusting the vari-angle screen of their Canon EOS RP as they photograph the Moon.

Shooting such a bright subject surrounded by darkness can cause exposure issues, so try manually setting your exposure.

The screen of a Canon EOS RP showing peaking settings.

If you're struggling to lock on to the Moon, try manual focus. Use Live View and enable focus peaking to ensure the details are sharp.

Automatic exposure modes may not work consistently when shooting the Moon, so it's best to use manual exposure. Essentially the intensity of sunlight hitting the Moon stays the same, so there's a simple exposure rule we can use as a guide – the 'looney 11' rule. Set aperture to f/11 and match shutter speed to the inverse of the ISO, so at ISO 100 we use 1/100 sec, at ISO 200 it would be 1/200 sec, and so on. This isn't set in stone, though – you can vary your shutter speed and aperture around these values until the image looks right.

4. Best kit for moon photography

A sliver of a crescent moon peaking out from behind a lamp post, taken with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens.

The Canon EOS R10 is equipped with -4 EV low light focusing, enabling you to focus accurately in dim lighting. Combine it with the affordable yet powerful RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens to capture beautiful photos of the Moon. Taken on a Canon EOS R10 with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens at 105mm, 1/5 sec, f/7.1 and ISO 800. © Mara Leite

A first quarter moon visible in the sky, taken with a Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM lens.

With its 5.5-stop Optical Image Stabilizer, the Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM is a great lens for moon photography as it provides increased stability for handheld photographs – ideal for those fleeting shots when you don't have time to fiddle with a tripod. Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM lens at 400mm, 1/200 sec, f/8 and ISO 1000. © Mara Leite

A long lens is a must for close-up moon photos, but when you're only starting out, don't worry. A fast, expensive lens isn't essential because the Moon is so bright that you don't need the widest apertures of top-of-the-range long lenses. Even a standard zoom like the Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM or the RF-S 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM can work – it might not let you fill the frame, but you can always crop into the area later. This is where EOS R System cameras, with their high resolution, show their worth. The full-frame Canon EOS R8 gives you pin-sharp clarity even in low light, and the APS-C sensors on the Canon EOS R10 and EOS R50 give lenses a narrower field of view, providing extra reach from wider lenses.

5. Get up close

A close-up of the Moon showing features and details of its surface.

A waning or waxing gibbous moon (when it's around three-quarters full) is a great time to capture surface details. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM lens + Extender RF 2x at 1600mm, 1/50 sec, f/22 and ISO 100.

While a full moon is spellbinding, it may not actually be the best time to take photographs if you're interested in capturing surface features such as craters. In much the same way as a camera's pop-up flash lights a face, the frontal sunlight during a full moon eliminates a lot of the shadows. At other times of the month the sunlight is more side-on, which creates the highlights and shadows necessary to show off the contours and details of the lunar landscape. A great lens for close-ups is the RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM, which combines a long telephoto zoom with image stabilisation. Additionally, if you want to really fill the frame, pick a very long lens such as the RF 600mm F11 IS STM. The aperture of f/11 is perfect for moon photography as it fits the 'looney 11' exposure rule. If you want to extend the reach of your lenses, lens extenders such as the Extender RF 1.4x and Extender RF 2x can be useful.

6. Get a wider view

The Moon glows brightly in the dark sky, above a night scene of a river, bridge and boats with a cityscape behind.

For scouting new locations, Mara uses online maps and social media to investigate interesting subjects and foregrounds in the area she's photographing. "Asking locals can be helpful as well," she says. Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM lens at 19mm, 20 sec, f/22 and ISO 640. © Mara Leite

The Moon visible high up in the sky above light orange clouds and a body of water, taken at sunrise on a Canon EOS R8.

The f/4 aperture on the Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM lens stays constant over the full focal length range. This means that there is no change in shutter speed and ISO when zooming in on the Moon. Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM lens at 17mm, 1/500 sec, f/6.3 and ISO 2500. © Mara Leite

Experiment creatively using a wider lens such as the Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM. This will allow you to incorporate the Moon into an existing landscape. Though the Moon is often haunting when seen in isolation, bringing in familiar landmarks or a particular skyline helps to add context and lets you create interesting compositions. It also allows you to play with scale to powerful effect.

Take your moon photography to the next level with further tips and inspiration from professional photographer Andrew Fusek Peters*.


Written by James Paterson, Phil Hall and Rachel Segal Hamilton

* Available in selected languages only.

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