Photographing the moon

What camera settings are needed for photographing the moon? Read all about how to take beautiful images of the moon.

Camera settings to be able to photograph the moon.

The first thought is: It is dark at night, the moon must be dark! Unfortunately, this is wrong. Logically speaking, the bright side of the moon is illuminated by the sun. The same sun that illuminates the earth during the day. In addition, the moon rocks reflect a lot of light. The fuller the moon, the more light reaches the earth. To expose the moon properly, you need camera settings like those used during the day.

Use the following settings for photographing the full moon:
  • Manual mode M
  • Aperture f/8
  • Focal length >200mm
  • ISO 100
  • Exposure time 1/200s
  • Manual focus
  • Tripod
  • Remote shutter release


For the exact procedure, just read on.

photographing the moon
(c) Stefan Liebermann

Photographing the moon: The focal length

If you only want to go photographing the moon as a cropped object, you need a very long focal length of more than 200mm. To make the moon appear large in your photo, you need a focal length of 600mm or more. Otherwise, the moon will only occupy a small area on the image sensor.

If you want to photograph the moon as part of a landscape, you can use a wide-angle lens. The problem here, however, is that the moon is much brighter than the landscape at night. The contrast is the same as between the sun in the sky and the landscape in daylight. Therefore, you have to work with HDR in any case so that the moon is not overexposed. More about this later.

Take photos of the moon

Photographing the moon: The exposure time

To prevent the moon from becoming an overexposed spot in the photo, you have to shoot it with a much shorter exposure time than you are used to in night photography. The fuller the moon, the shorter the exposure time. When the moon is full, you will notice that it is not really dark at night. The luminosity of the moon is then much higher.

At aperture f/8 and ISO100 you need the following exposure times:
  • Crescent moon 1/50s
  • Half moon 1/100s
  • Full moon 1/200s


In contrast to these exposure times is the exposure time you are used to in night photography. There, 30s at an open aperture (f/2.8 or lower) is perfectly normal. The moon has an enormous relative luminosity compared to the foreground in your photo.

If you take a rather wide-angle photo at night with the moon and you want the moon not to be a white spot but to be visible with all its structures, you have to work with an HDR photo or deal with so-called luminance masks. It is not possible to capture the moon and a dark landscape at night with a balanced exposure in one photo!

the moon in landscape photography

The 29.5 day cycle of the moon

In landscape photography, it is even more important than understanding the camera settings that you know your subject. To do this, you need to take a closer look at the lunar cycle. The moon takes 29.5 days to circle the earth once. The moon is always a full moon when the earth is exactly between the sun and the moon. This leads to some interesting correlations.

At the time of sunrise, it is then full moonset. If the sun rises in the east, the full moon sinks into the horizon in the west. When the sun sets in the west, the full moon rises in the east. The interesting thing about this is that there is still enough daylight at the time that the foreground and the moon are about the same brightness.

If it is midnight, the full moon is at its highest point in the sky. At midnight, the sun is on the other side of the globe.

Plan for the weather

If you want to go photographing the moon, your biggest problem is clouds. Even though the moon appears as a full moon every 29.5 days, giving you the opportunity to photograph it 13 times a year, the weather is usually unsuitable. If you use a conventional weather app, you have the problem that it only takes into account the clouds at a selected location. The weather app can show you a clear sky for your photo spot, but there may still be clouds in the direction of the moon.

To make sure this doesn’t happen, we at VIEWFINDR have developed a weather forecast especially for landscape photographers, in which we record the clouds in the sky in 3D. If VIEWFINDR predicts clear skies for a location, then this applies to the entire radius, so that the horizon is also free of clouds and you can photograph the moonrise.

weather forecast for the moon