If you’re in a hurry you can ignore the discussion and skip straight to the summary
Since a couple of people have requested this, here’s the Stop Shooting Auto! lesson in shooting the moon.
Back in the olden days, when cameras were carved out of stone and didn’t have whizbang light meters and dozens of confusing exposure dials, photographers had to choose their settings manually. In fact, my first 35mm camera, a Kodak Pony IV, had printed inserts that went into a slot in the back of the camera to help you pick your settings. For bright sunlight you used this, for cloudy bright you used that, etc. And horror of horrors, there was no Photoshop– if you screwed up the exposure, you had to try to fix it in a (gasp) darkroom. And that was if you were lucky– most people just lived with whatever bad photos they took.
Back in these dark, dark days, photographers often relied on rules of thumb to help them choose their exposures. The most common of these was called the Sunny f/16 Rule. The rule went like this: for objects that are brightly lit by the sun, set your aperture to f/16. Set your shutter speed to 1/ISO of the film. (Film? Do you remember that?) So if you were shooting with ISO 100 film, you’d set the camera to f/16 and 1/100 sec, or as close to that as you could get. At ISO 200, it was f/16 and 1/200 sec.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s great, Patti. Thanks for your little stroll down memory lane, but someone has been spiking your Geritol. I want to photograph the moon, and I want to do it at night when it’s dark out. Why would I care about sunny days?
Here’s a little secret. The moon is nothing more than a bright object lit by the sun. Sure, it’s in a dark sky and everything around you is dark, but the moon is surprisingly bright. However, it’s also pretty far away, and that makes it look pretty small in the sky and even smaller through your camera’s lens. Unless you have a very long telephoto lens, your camera’s meter just won’t know what to do with the shot. If you’ve tried to take a picture of the moon in automatic mode, you probably got a small white dot on a dark but washed-out background. We can fix that, but it will mean putting your camera in manual mode. I hope that’s not as scary to you as it would have been before you started reading this blog.
Let’s go back to that telephoto lens thing for a moment. The first thing you want is the longest telephoto lens you can get, so that the moon looks like something other than a white dot. 200mm is about the shortest, 300mm is better, and 500+ is even better than that. If you don’t have a long lens, a teleconverter is a useful accessory to have. In a nutshell, a teleconverter is kind of like a magnifying glass added to your lens. With a 1.4x teleconverter, a 200mm lens acts like a 280mm lens, and with a 2x teleconverter, a 200mm lens acts like a 400mm lens. There are some serious downsides to using teleconverters, but they can also be useful tools.
[Update: I’ve recently added an article titled What lens should I use to take a picture of the moon? It has examples of moon shots at focal lengths from 200mm to 2240mm.]
OK, so you have your longest lens out. You might want to use a tripod too, lean the camera against a wall or something to stabilize it. What settings should you use?
First off, use manual focus. Because the moon is pretty small in your viewfinder, many cameras have trouble focusing on it. If yours works in autofocus that’s great, but if not just switch to manual focus and do it the old-fashioned way.
In my experience, the Sunny 16 Rule is close but not quite right for the moon. The best settings I’ve found seem to be around ISO 100, f/11, and 1/100 sec. However, sometimes something a little slower or faster does a better job. Because of this, I recommend doing something called bracketing. Bracketing is just a fancy term for taking a bunch of shots at slightly different exposures so that you can pick out the best one.
Set your camera for manual mode, ISO 100, f/11, and 1/100 of a second. Take a picture. Now without changing any other settings, set the shutter speed to 1/200 and take another picture. Do the same thing at 1/400. When you’ve done those three, go the other way. Set the shutter speed to 1/50 and take a picture, then 1/25. If you aren’t using a tripod, don’t forget to brace the camera against something solid like a wall or a pole, so you don’t get camera shake. And voila! One of those is probably a pretty good shot of the moon.
- Manual mode, at f/11 and ISO 100
- Focus manually
- Use a tripod or stabilize your camera against a sturdy object like a wall
- Start at 1/100 sec and take a shot
- Bracket a couple of shutter speeds faster and slower (e.g., 1/60, 1/30, 1/200, 1/400, or whatever speeds are closest to those on your camera)
- Look at the images on your computer and pick out the best one
The next time you have a clear, dry night and the moon is in the sky, try it yourself.
And here are a few products that may be useful in shooting the moon:
Tamron 1.4x Pro Teleconverter for Canon cameras
Tamron 1.4x Pro Teleconverter for Nikon cameras
The Tamron pro series of teleconverters are optically quite excellent. Their physical geometry makes them work with most telephoto lenses (at least on Canon… I’m less familiar with Nikons), and they give you a fair bit of extra focal length to bring the shot in closer.
Canon RC-1 Wireless Remote Control
This little gizmo is amazing. It lives on the strap of your camera, completely out of your way, but just waiting until you need it. When you do, pop it off and voila– you have a wireless infrared remote. It works with most Canon dSLRs, it’s inexpensive, and it’s incredibly useful.
108 responses to “How to take a picture of the moon”
I have a Kodak 812 IS…What I want to know are my pictures of the moon suppose to come out blue.
No, your pictures probably shouldn’t come out blue. Your camera is probably trying to do some funky white balance adjustments. I’m not familiar with that camera, but try setting it to manual white balance and daylight (or around 5000K if that’s how your camera does white balance.)
How about showing us an example?
thanks for the tip ,,, I have a Pentax k10d .. going to try manual more often ,,,
I took pictures of the moon but when I try to enlarge them on my iMac in iPhoto the picture becomes blurred when I try to enlarge or zoom in on it. Otherwise it looks great!
I have finally got off auto to do the moon and doing prettygood even hand held I have a Nikon D80 with a Tamron 18-250 lens. I did find out that when the moon is not full, it is better to use a different ISO of 400. The smaller the moon, the larger the iso or am I doing something wrong?
Denise, you’re doing something right and wrong, but 95% right!
When the moon is not full, it’s less bright. Because of that, you need to find a way to get more light into the picture.
You have three choices– you can use a faster ISO, a slower shutter speed, or a wider aperture. I would probably try to use a wider aperture or a slower shutter speed first, and only increase the ISO if those don’t give good results. Increasing the ISO is usually my last choice, since it introduces more noise into the image, but it’s always a viable option.
Hi, I just successfully took a picture of the moon thanks to your advice. I notice you mention the Tamron 1.4 converter for the canon. While looking into them I came across one by canon that is a 2x converter. What is your opinion on that one?
I have the Tamron Pro 2X teleconverter as well as the 1.4X.
There are two problems with a 2X teleconverter. One is that you lose two stops of light rather than one. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s worse than it sounds– your f/4 maximum aperture lens suddenly becomes f/8 maximum aperture. On nearly all Canon dSLRs, that means you’ll lose autofocus capability.
Second, 2X teleconverters affect image quality more than 1.4x.
Having said that, a 2X teleconverter isn’t a bad tool– it’s just not as good as it sounds at first. Having said that, I’ve been known to stack my 2x and 1.4x teleconverters. Do that with a 200mm lens, and you wind up with 560mm of reach. The image quality gets pretty bad, and I’ve never gotten any really usable shots that way, but it’s a fun party trick.
Ok, I am finally going to pull the trigger on buying one of these tamron 1.4x teleconverters but just as I get ready to I notice they have a pro version and a regular version. I have been unable to find out if there is any real difference between the two and was hoping you might be able to answer this for me.
Get the pro version. I’ve used both, and the image quality on the pro is better.
Your photos look amazing compared to my feeble attempts to capture the moon. Mine are always slightly blurred and discoloured.
I’m using a Samsung L60 digital compact. I can’t do much about the auto-focus or the shutter time, but you’ve inspired me to give it another try! :-)
Without being able to control the exposure, you’ll probably find it frustrating to shoot the moon with a compact camera. If that’s what I had available, I’d probably try to shoot moonlight instead– catch light and shadows in tree branches, reflection off of a window, something like that. Be creative!
Thanks for your wonderful directions on how to take a picture of the moon. They first helped me get my pictures, then enabled me to write a nice little post about it, where I directed my readers here to see for themselves. I thought I had found the limits of my camera, now after just reading a few posts here I realize that I’m just beginning. You’ve given me new excitement about my old camera.
Yay! Congrats! I’m glad I could help get the shots that you wanted.
Good morning. Yesterday I tried to take a picture of the moon, with some clouds in between. Unfortunately there where a green spot that disappears only when the moon was exactly in the center of the frame. I was using a Canon 40D with a 24-70 F2.8 lens, then I tried changing lens, and even with a polarized filter, but the spot didn’t disappear. I wonder if you know what I am doing wrong? Thank you.
Is the spot actually in the photo itself? Do you see it when you download the image to your computer and view it there, or is it only on the camera’s LCD display?
If you don’t see it on the computer, it’s probably the camera’s autofocus indicator. If you do see it on the computer, send me a link to the image and I’ll take a look at it.
I have been reading all of this and i cant wait to try! I have a D90 and i am in Iraq right now. the moon is soo huge sometimes here… I hope i get good results! If I do I will post another note here…..
Good luck! And stay safe over there.
Nice article, but you made one obvious mistake:
“The rule went like this: for objects that are brightly lit by the sun, set your aperture to f/16. Set your f-stop to 1/ISO of the film.”
… This should read:
“Set your SHUTTER SPEED to 1/ISO of the film.”
You’ve already set your f-stop to f/16.
Thank you! I knew exactly what I meant, but my fingers typed something other than what my brain was thinking, and the error got past my proof-reading. I appreciate it when readers catch my errors.
Should have read this great advice yesterday! Full moon in the Netherlands last night and at last a clear sky. I shot with Canon 50D, 1.4 TC and a 70-300mm zoom at 300mm handheld but my back braced against a wall. Pic was my best so far but stll soft. Will try again. Thanks for this advice.
I shot with an 800mm last night, and a 1.4x teleconverter. Unfortunately, it was hazy here so it was just a test shot, but I got to experience just how awkward and annoying an 800mm lens is to work with.
Awesome! I am vacationing in Cabos and trying out my new Pentax K-x SLR. I struggled on my own and simply kept getting a white fuzzy dot. I then searched the internet and found this site. After reading your brief and excellent instructions, I immediately took my first great shot! Thanks so much!!!!
Please help, I have just bought a Cannon 550D with a 18-55mm and a 55-250mm EFS lens,what setting and which lens must I use? i just cant get it right! In South africa.
Use the 55-250 at its longest length.
If you look at my section called “to summarize”, you’ll see exactly what settings to use.
Thanks so much! I was just able to take a great shot of the full moon. So nice to be able to enjoy the nice South Georgia weather outside, and get a nice shot of the moon too! Thanks!
Yay! Can I see?
I just received a GE X5 Pro Series (14MP 15X Optical Zoom) for graduation and am frantically trying to figure out the settings for getting shots of the total lunar eclipse tonight. Any advice??
I’ve my setting for my camera too, wish this can help.
I have bought a Nikon D3100… i have the normal 18-55 lens and got an extra with the camera. 70-300 lens. Could you suggest me how to take the picture of full moon….
Awaiting yr reply
Easy! Use the 70-300 at the 300 end of the spectrum, and follow the instructions in the article above.
this is the most useful info ive read so far, clear and simple. For film, whats the setting when taking pictures in dark surroundings, e.g. bonfires, street lights, etc?
I use Olympus om-20.
I honestly don’t know!
Film is no different from digital, though– ISO 100 is still ISO 100, and if the shot is 1/30, f/5.6, ISO 100 on digital it should be the same on film.
The big advantage of digital is that you can try things out and get results quickly. If you have access to a dSLR at the start of the shoot you can test out your exposure until you get the image that you want, then use those settings for the film camera.
anyone managed to capture a shot of the blood red moon?
Thanks for the notes! The get off my lawn opening was well worth the content :)
THANK YOU FOR THIS INFO …
I made my very first moon picture; with amazing details …
Credit to you and to Nikon …
Yay! Show us?
I followed your advice and got some great shots of the full moon last week using a Nikon D5100 and 70-300mm lens. Really glad I happened onto your site. Thanks!
Awesome! Got a link?
im very very new to the DSLR game and very interested in this project. The only problem i have is i have no idea about the terminology! I have an old 350d with instructions but it may as well be written in Martian. Do you know of any websites that give “idiots guides”?
Well, my goal is to be an idiot’s guide to exposure.
I don’t know of any websites that specifically do what you want. There are several camera-[specific books out there. I took a quick look through this one looks like it might be pretty friendly.
This is a very good book, It is easy to read and covers many areas of fotography. In Amazon it has a “look inside” feature so you can see if it is what you want.
The Betterphoto Guide to Digital Photography (Amphoto Guide Series) by Jim Miotke
Thanks! ill take a look and keep my eyes peeled here too…the more i read it the more i understand even if its trial and error!!!
Reblogged this on Brett's Bits and commented:
For those of you who might want to take a photo of the “super moon” at Perigee tonight
How good a shot should I expect with a Panasonic DMC-ZS8? what settings should I use?
I’m unfamiliar with the camera, so I have no idea what kind of focal length it has. Use the same settings that I’ve described above.
Thanks for the easy to understand advice! I took the best moon picture I’ve ever taken tonight! Beautiful “super moon”!
I m having Canon 550D, with 18-55, 55-250 & 100-400 lens. Which is the best option and settings? Please anyone can help me..
Use the 100-400 lens at 400mm, or as close thereto as possible.
As for the rest of the settings, they’re all right here in this article.
Do you have any suggestions for taking a picture of a crescent moon? I tried taking a few pictures tonight with little to no success. I think it might be cause the crescent moon reflects much less light in our direction.
It’s not like I haven’t taken a picture of the *full* moon before (I got some really fancy pics last year that I’m proud of) but then again I don’t really have much experience/equipment (What did I use for my telescopic lens? A telescope. That’s right! I put the camera up to the telescope eyepiece. Pain in the butt to keep it stable but it really did get a nice view of the craters on the moon.)
I think the fact that I got pics of the moon last time I tried was just sheer dumb luck…I didn’t even know how to change my shutter speed until I came here.
Camera: Canon Powershot A590
Sorry I didn’t see this sooner… it got buried in some unapproved comments and I completely overlooked it.
I can’t recommend specific settings, but what I would do is start with the settings for a full moon, then start bracketing down– use a slower shutter speed, a wider aperture, or a higher ISO– until you find the right exposure.
Thank you so much for this blog! My husband bought me a FujiFilm S440 and it has a manual setting that I want to use but have no clue. The moon is full tonight and I tried taking a few pictures, but it came out like a white dot on a black canvas. I followed your instructions and now I can beautiful pictures of the Moon!
Yay! Feel free to link to an image if you have one online.
Thank you for the help! At the time, I didn’t have a tripod, so that’s why the Moon is off to the side a little. I just ordered one, so next time I’ll be prepared and steady!
what setting should the camera be on (as in) Tv , Av, M, etc
Definitely M! “Set your camera for manual mode, ISO 100, f/11, and 1/100 of a second. “
Hi there, I have Fujifulm DSLR, and have appreciated all this advice… only my camera stops at f/8, so I guess that’ll have to do!
Really? That seems weird. Aperture limitations are usually a function of lenses rather than cameras. What lens are you using?
Thats great info, thanks for sharing, here is my attempt:
What lens did you use?
I used a 75-300mm lens, not too bad i thought :)
Not bad at all! You have a little bit of chromatic aberration from the lens, though– it’s the magenta fringing you see at the top, and the (less visible) cyan at the bottom. Most lenses do that, though, so it’s not your technique. It’s easy to correct in Photoshop.
and another of the moon and jupitor (top left speck!) lol
I just go a Rokinom F 650-1300 to take picutures from the moon . I ahve a Nikon D5200. I tryed every single set on manual settings and I can not have a a perfect picuture of moon like I expected. The lens is very difficult to focus,but I got a nice tripod and it better now. I take nice shots during the day/down.
Is there any setup you sugest I can do to get a long waited picture of the moon?
What kind of problems are you having?
Did you try shooting at f/11 and ISO 100, and then bracketing a few shots on either side of 1/100 sec?
Long lenses can have issues with stability. Definitely put the camera on a tripod, and use a cable release so that you’re not shaking the camera when you take a picture. You can also crank the ISO up to 1/800, and then bracket around 1/800 sec.
After reading your post, I as able to take a perfect shot of the moon…FINALLY! Thank you!
Now, how can I capture the moon, but still be able to get the right light balance with it behind the trees to see the branches in the forefront? In other words, being able to see the moon as a “circle” and not a big white blob behind the tree branches? I hope you understand what I’m talking about. lol
Thanks for your help, not just for myself, but everyone!
No, I’m not really sure what you mean. Can you post or send me (pattib AT pattib DOT org) a sample of a “bad” image?
Can you post pics in here?
No, I don’t think you can post pictures directly in comments. You can post a link though. If you’d like to mail it to me, I’ll put it on Flickr and post a link to it myself.
I emailed you one. I joined Flickr, but it keeps timing out every time I try to upload a pic.
Here’s your photo:
What’s happening here is that you’re massively overexposing the moon. You shot that at ISO 100, f/5, and 1.6 seconds. For contrast, the moon shot that I have at the top is ISO 100, f/11, and 1/100 second.
For your shot I think you want the moon a little bit brighter than mine. Try ISO 100, f/8, and 1/100 second. Start there and then make adjustments if it’s too bright or too dark. I think you’ll still get some shadows of the branches, although perhaps not quite as much.
Strangely, this might be a good time for flash! I’m not sure how it will work out, but you might get an interesting effect using the settings I specified above, and then using your camera’s flash to light up the tree branches. I’m just guessing here since I’ve never done that, but it might be a fun thing to try.
Thanks, I’ll give it a try. I sent you another email with the moon shot I’m hoping to get in the background.
I have just read this article and feel inspired to take photos of the moon tonight (dont even know if it is full). It is amazing that this was posted in 2007 and is still helping people today. (and your still replying)
Great article thanks.
I bought a new tamron 18mm-270mm lens for my canon my questions is what fstops and Iso I would use to take for the supermoon tmwr? Thanks
You just commented on an article that explains exactly that. Scroll up and read the article and it will explain what you’re looking for.
Got it and anoher question with the 1.4 telconverter works with tamron 18mm-270mm?Thanks
The Tamron ones I linked to should. Others might or might not– it depends on their design, and the design of the lens.
Thanks so much! Got a perfect shot of the moon tonight!
Have you posted it online? If so, share a link!
i have a canon rebel EOS T3i camera. i have the 2 lenses the camera came with, 1 is : EFS 55-250 mm and the other is:: EFS 18-55 mm.. … which lens should i use ? and what should my setting be at? to best “shoot the moon”???
Look up at the top of the screen, and you’ll see the answers to both of your questions right there. That’s what the entire article is about!
I just bought a FujiFilm sl240 and I cant figure out how to change the settings as I bought it from a friend and didn’t come with the manual.
Googling fujifilm sl240 got me to this page, where you can download a manual:
hey, I have a Konica Minolta digital and a af 75-300 with a 2x tele-converter. please tell me what settings I need to take a picture of the moon. thanks
Look up! There’s a whole page of information right there that will tell you exactly what you need.
I have a Nikon Coolpix S2700,it is not a DSLR,So can I these settings in them?
I’ve never used the Coolpix S2700, but I just looked at the manual for the camera. I couldn’t find anything that made me think the camera had a manual exposure mode, so I think (but I’m not certain) that the answer is no. Sorry!
Hmmm Maybe I should get a DSLR then.. :)
Thank you, thank you, thank you! I took a group of shots of the 2013 Harvest moon (09/19/2013), and they came out washed out and very low contrast. I googled “dslr take picture of the moon”, and I believe your link was the first. I read your instructions, set my Canon EOS Rebel T3i, went back out and got a spectacular group of pictures! I have bookmarked your site, thanks you so very much!
Yay! I’m glad I could help.
ALOHA, Oahu will have a full moon visible on November 17th, 2013. I’m using a NIKON D5100 , with a AF-S NIKKOR 70-300mm 1:4.5-5.6G lens, on a tripod. To get the best full moon shots should I use SCENE , night landscape setting? Or? Area mostly dark, a few park lights, provide pale lighting in area some palm trees in foreground. Thanks. Always trying to learn. Dale Or message at Leslied@hawaii.rr.com
I wouldn’t recommend using any of the automatic modes, since they’re all going to be confused by a smallish bright moon against a black background, and you’ll wind up with massively overexposed shots.
Look up above, and there’s a recipe of sorts for the settings you should use. You should do this in manual mode.
This summer I found your blog and used your instructions to take a picture of the moon. I even gave you a link and you left me a comment (I believe it was “Hooowwwwllllll!). Tonight I wanted to take a picture of the moon (I’ve since bought a tripod) and forgot what settings to put the camera in. Found your blog again and followed the instructions.
How did I do? Better? I think I did better :)
Nicely done! That’s pretty much a perfect exposure.
I am new to using my Nikon D3100. My husband always takes the pictures. I learning how to take it off Auto and with your wonderful settings and instructions, I captured a great photo of the moon. I kept changing settings as you suggested and after reviewing them, got a great one on the 3rd try. Now I wish I remembered what setting it was. Thank you for sharing this!
The cool thing about shooting digital is that the camera actually writes its settings into the picture as you’re taking it. You can use the software that came with the camera, or other software,to look at the picture and see what settings you used.
Thanks for the advice. I have been told to use a SRB filter or what other filter can I use? I have a Canon eos 1000d DSLR. Yours Richard
I’ve never heard of an SRB filter, but SRB appears to be a company that makes filters rather than a type of filter.
You don’t need any filters to take a photo of the moon. Perhaps people were telling you about taking photos of the sun?
Thanks for that maybe I meant an ND filter, I do use a filter with my reflector 130mm telescope which takes the glare off the moon, I have yet to try astrophography so will let you know how I get on. Richard
I’m using a Sigma 70 – 300mm lens and I followed your settings. I got the photo of the moon okay but I’d love to have a photo of the moon with whatever is around it like tree or clouds…Are those done via Photoshop? I mean to put them together?
I haven’t done a lot of moon-and-surroundings photography, so I’m not an expert on doing that. Having said that, a lot of those shots can only be done at a very specific time of day, which is right after the moon has risen, or just before it sets. You should be able to get a photo of the moon with a silhouette of (for example) trees just by timing it right, getting yourself into the right position, and then shooting in exactly the way I’ve described above.
If you want well-exposed surroundings and also a clear picture of the moon then you’ll either need to find the magical combination of light that allows that to happen, or most likely resort to Photoshop. I’m a big fan of experimentation, though, so just go out at the right time of day and start trying things. I’ve learned more about photography by doing that than I have anything else.
And thank you!
PS. Thank you for the info by the way :-)…one professional photographer commented that my moon looked like a rockmelon
Trying to take a picture of the blood moon tonight. Using a NikonD3200. This was very helpful thank you!
Remember that the full moon is far brighter than tonight’s blood moon will be. Remember to stabilize the camera, on a tripod if you have one. To capture more light you can either use a higher ISO or open the aperture wider or both. Experiment until you think you have about the right shutter speed and then bracket your exposures as described here.
Thank you so much for this! Ive been looking for help online but yours is understandable for the people who are new to photography and its straight to the point! Thanks again! :)
Hello just wanted to say thank you so much for this! Because of your article i got some FANTASTIC shots of the Christmas Moon! Thanks again:)
Thanks so much for this quick and easy-to-follow post! Took a great picture of tonight’s supermoon!
The following settings worked great for my Canon Rebel T3i with a 55-250mm lens: f/11, 1/400, ISO-100.