Beyond Full Moon Photography

Beyond Full Moon Photography


The rising full moon is a shot on many photographers’ bucket lists, but how many of us remember that the moon is even there on those other 28 days of the lunar month? Forget the moon no longer; there are many great reasons to keep shooting the moon throughout its phases.

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Better Craters and Contrast

Craters are a fascinating feature of the lunar surface, and they are easier to feature when the moon is no longer full. During a full moon, an entire side of the moon is visible and reflecting the sun’s light back to us. Craters, by contrast, look better in shadow, as this less direct light highlights the differences in elevation on the surface and bring better contrast and definition. A gibbous moon (the lumpy phase between full moon and the first or last quarter when the moon looks half full) is an excellent choice for craters. Along the edge where the moon fades into blackness, you will be able to capture the deep shadows of the craters in your moon photographs.

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As the moon continues along its progression, it will pass from gibbous through the first quarter, and enter the crescent phase. Before the moon reaches its classic, skinny crescent shape, there are also many opportunities to capture it that emphasize the craters. Because the moon is visible at different times of day and night during different phases, you will also be able to capture the different colors of its light.

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Crescents and Earthshine

The crescent moon is the phase between first or last quarter and the new moon, when the unlit side of the moon is facing the earth. The crescent shape is hugely significant in many cultures. It is often the version of the moon drawn by children, yet it can be overlooked by photographers. The crescent moon is generally visible during the daytime hours, which can make it more difficult to see and photograph successfully. But, as the crescent reaches its smallest size, you will be able to capture it setting in the early evening, against the brilliant deep blue skies that are well-suited to moon photographs.

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Another phenomenon to photograph with the crescent moon is known as earthshine. If you stare closely at a slim crescent moon, you should just be able to see the darkened outline of the rest of the moon’s surface. That surface is dark because it is no longer reflecting the light of the sun. The fact that you can see it at all is because that part of the surface is reflecting back light from the earth, hence the term “earthshine”.

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If you want to capture a shot of the crescent moon showing earthshine, you will need to shoot in manual and significantly overexpose the image. The crescent part of the moon will become overexposed (very bright) as you bring out details within the shadowed sections of the moon, which can result in a very unique moon shot. A tripod or a camera with good high ISO performance is critical, as is a longer zoom lens. Try to keep your shutter speed below a second or two, otherwise the moon will begin to move during the exposure and blur the image.

Timing and Backgrounds for Moon Photography

A moon photographed alone, however, is simply a shot of the moon. To really make an impact with your moon photography, regardless of the phase, you need to feature an interesting foreground or background. The two critical components here are knowing the timing of moonrise or moonset, and knowing the approximate location of the moon in the sky.

The Photographers’ Ephemeris is downloadable software (free for laptops and desktops but a paid app for Apple and Android phones and tablets) that lets you view the moonrise and moonset times (as well as sunrise and sunset times) against a map, which allows you to plot out exactly where the moon will appear in the sky, depending on where you are standing. Moonrise and moonset tables and times are also easily available and searchable online. You can use the ephemeris to determine exactly when and where to stand if you wish to photograph the moon rising or setting over a specific place or landmark.

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You are not limited to only shooting the moon at night. Depending on its phase and timing, you can photograph the moon during the daytime too, which makes it easier to experiment with interesting foregrounds. By walking around, moving up and down, and otherwise changing your perspective, you can ‘move’ the moon where you want it to appear in your final image. The longer the focal length that you can use, the larger you can make the moon look, relative to the other objects in the image.

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There are an infinite number of variations on moon photography. Do not let yourself be limited by the full moon, only shooting the moon at night, or only when it is rising or setting. Do not let clouds stop you from looking for the moon. Pay a little more attention to the moon throughout the month, and you will find many opportunities for moon photography.

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Have you got some great shots of the moon or some addition tips? If so please share them in the comments below!

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Katie McEnaney is an educator and photographer from Madison, Wisconsin. Read more tips on her blog, Boost Your Photography. Her first eBook, Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR, is now available for Kindle on Amazon.

  • CinnyWoo

    Thank you, PPL, I just shot it because I thought it was interesting.

  • PPL

    Some more playful variations to be seen here (french site) :

  • Mishaal Musthafa

    Here is my first try. F/10 1/800 (no tripod & super unsteady hands) ISO-800 300mm spot meter. After taking the pic I showed it my mom and said “See did you know there where these holes and stuff on the surface on the moon, I told you i needed that long lens now do you understand”. And then she asked me if there was water on the moon. She believes I am totally wasting time and money and that I am gonna wreck the camera somehow.

  • Elizabeth Seaver

    early morning cresent moon

  • Katie McEnaney

    Lovely little hint of the crescent moon!

  • Elizabeth Seaver

    Thank you

  • TheComputerGuy

    Moon is definitely one of my favorite thing to photograph

  • Ilia

    I need to check out that application, there is moon fun to be had! Thank you for the tip.

    It’s unbelievable how fast the moon moves. I saw the aerial just “entering the move and by the time I got the focus and settings right (only a couple of minutes), it nearly disappeared. I couldn’t move it into shot as there was a tree in the view then.

    The rest of my moon images are in this flickr album

  • Serena Ballard

    I love shooting the moon. It’s one of my favorite subjects.
    Here’s a link to my moon gallery.

  • Arvind Venkataraman

    Bigger the better 🙂

  • Guest
  • blue moon

  • Guest

    Full Moon

  • Guest


  • Ashan Musthakeem


  • Katie McEnaney

    Great craters and contrast, especially near that bottom edge!

  • Katie McEnaney

    indeed. As strange as it may sound, you really do need to pay attention to your shutter speed when shooting the moon, or you will get too much blur!

  • Ilia

    Funnily enough, I’ve been wondering whether I could use slow shutter speed to get (preferably funky and) interesting effect, the conditions haven’t been quite right yet for it.

  • joe yazzie

    on 6-14 on a partly cloudy night.

  • joe yazzie

    Taken 4-15-14

  • Arvind Venkataraman

    Tks Katie 🙂

  • White_Rabbit13

    This is one I took a few years ago using a 3 MP A510 and looking through one lens of a set of binoculars. Despite the hacked together approach, I like the feel of the photo.

  • Garnette Boggs

    the moom and clouds

  • Robinson Salvadi

    This picture was clicked in Broad day light ….

  • Saptarishi Pandey

    So one night I got lucky while studying and noticed this blood red moon which was descending so fast even at like 10:30 in the night going from a full to a crescent and I managed to get a couple of good shots of it. This one turned out quite good.

  • walleye1103

    Just bought my first full frame camera, Canon 6D. 10-08-2014 Lunar phases. Taking in Sabula,Iowa

  • Catherine Sproat

    An oldie but still a fav of mine 🙂

  • Rich Kirkby

    Canon 6D c/w EF70-200 @200mm, 1/200@f2.8 ISO3200

  • Rich Kirkby

    As below but 1/125@f3.5 ISO 100 on a tripod

  • walleye1103

    Trying my first full frame camera 10-8-2014.

  • Lily

    I personally LOVE to take shots of the moon, I’ve been taking a picture of it every time it’s visible for the past 6 weeks.

  • Jessica Murlock

    The moon is easily one of my favorite subjects to photograph!

  • Werner Kaffl

    A full moon… Canon 6d, at 600 mm

  • Gabi

    Took this around 4pm on a February in Riga. It’s my best moon shot so far with my Nikon d5200’s kit lens – hand held

  • Gayelene Blair-templeton

    My moon shot

  • Gayelene Blair-templeton

    Full moon just rising

  • Katrina Young

    Taken in May as the moon rose at sunset.

  • Roger Brown

    It’s amazing how quick the moon moves when trying to get a good shot. Bumping ISO helps keep the shutter speed up to hand held speeds. Captured this as the moon was setting and the sun rising behind me.

  • Johanna Antoine

    with canon zoom lense ef 75-300mm …i’m very new to the photography world, but i was amazed what can i get out of this baby so far 🙂

  • Duane Baker

    Moon photography has always been a fun hobby. Here are two of my recen t photos. The first is the almost supermoon taken on the evening of the 14th and the second is a color image of the moon one taken with my 8″ schmidt cassegrain telescope. Both images were acquired with a Canon 7d.

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