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Essential Tips for Editing Your Moon Photos in Lightroom

How to edit your moon photos (in Lightroom)

One of the most compelling photos you can take is a crystal-clear shot of the full moon. Beautiful moon images don’t require a lot of fancy gear, but you do have to be in the right place at the right time. To make matters even more tricky, you only have a handful of opportunities each year to attempt a moon shot (assuming you want to capture a luminous full moon, that is!).

Getting a picture is just the beginning, though. If you want to make your moon photos stand out, it’s important that you spend some time processing each file. You don’t have to do a lot of tweaking, but even a few small adjustments can go a long way. In this article, I share simple Lightroom moon editing tips to make your photos shine!

1. Shoot in RAW

moon editing tips
Nikon D500 | Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 | 200mm | f/4.8 | 1/200s| ISO 640

This isn’t technically a tip for editing your moon photos in Lightroom, but it’ll make such a difference when processing your files that it bears mentioning.

The benefits of RAW over lossy formats like JPEG are well documented. While there are certainly times when the JPEG format is useful, RAW is essential for taking shots of the moon. You need all the editing leeway you can get to adjust colors, exposure, and other parameters, and that’s where the uncompressed RAW format stands out.

For example, the photo below might not look like much, but it’s fairly typical of the moon shots most people would get with some basic camera gear:

moon editing tips
This is an unedited moon photo (i.e., straight out of the camera).
Nikon D500 | Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 | 200mm | f/5.6 | 1/200s | ISO 720

I shot the photo above with a crop-sensor camera, which is much more common than expensive full-frame models. I also only zoomed to 200mm – that’s where my lens maxed out! – and a lot of kit zoom lenses can easily reach this far.

At first glance, it probably looks like there’s not much that I can do here. The moon is overexposed and a little blurry. It’s too small, and the power lines cut right through the frame. Also, the sky has a weird blue tint that’s a bit unnatural.

However, all is not lost! Thanks to the power of RAW files, combined with a little editing prowess in Lightroom, this photo can be turned into a frame-worthy image.

2. Don’t be afraid to crop

Back in the early days of digital photography, people often debated the importance of megapixels. A common claim was that more megapixels equals better photos. And while that is not necessarily true, having a higher megapixel count does allow you more room for cropping, which is great when your subject is far away (239,000 miles, in the case of the moon!).

Most cameras today have upwards of 24 megapixels, which gives you a huge amount of freedom to crop your photos. If you don’t have a huge telephoto zoom lens to zoom in on individual moon craters, use Lightroom instead. Crop your image until it’s nice and tight, with the moon right in the center, like I’m doing in this Lightroom screenshot:

moon editing tips lightroom crop
Go ahead and crop your moon photos! If you have a modern camera, you have plenty of leeway, and it’s very easy to make this adjustment in Lightroom.

In the example above, I cropped the image tight enough to get rid of everything but the moon and the sky. Gone are the power lines and trees, leaving just the moon in all its glory. Even with such a significant crop, the resulting image is 4.3 megapixels – more than enough to make a decent 8×10 print, especially when you take viewing distance into account.

Here’s my cropped image:

moon editing tips
There’s still a lot of work to do, but cropping already helped a great deal.

3. Tweak the white balance

At this point, my example moon photo is better, but it still has a long way to go. (And if you’re following along with one of your own photos, you’re likely in the same boat!)

The next step is to adjust the white balance. The reason I recommend doing this after you crop your moon photo is that cropping helps you focus on just the important part of the image. If you adjust the white balance before cropping, you might focus your edits on parts of the image that you discard after cropping.

There’s no right or wrong way to adjust the white balance on a moon photo. It all depends on how you want the final image to look and what you want your viewers to feel when they see it. If you’re not sure how to proceed and you’d like a good starting point for white balancing your moon photos, here are two options I recommend:

  1. Use the Daylight preset, or
  2. Use the white balance eyedropper and click on the moon.

This next image shows the effects of these two white-balance techniques:

moon editing tips white balance

And as you can see, these approaches produce vastly different results.

You can also play around with the Temp and Tint sliders until you get a look that you like. One thing to remember is that the moon itself produces no light; it’s just a ball of rock falling through the sky. The light you see is sunlight reflecting off the surface, which is why some people prefer to use a white balance suited for sunlight. The choice is yours, though, and you can set the white balance however you want.

Another option is to combine multiple approaches. Click the eyedropper tool on the moon, then use a mask to change only the moon’s white balance. This will give you rich, deep blues in the sky but a yellow tint on the moon.

With a standard Brush, achieving a natural look can be a little tricky. If not done right, you will see a weird color halo around the moon’s edges. However, Lightroom’s Select Objects option can be very effective for masking the moon and nothing else!

moon editing tips
You can use a Lightroom masking tool to change the white balance of the moon while leaving the rest of the image unmodified.

4. Adjust the exposure

Nailing the exposure when shooting the moon is tricky. It’s a giant bright ball against a dark sky, which means a lot of the conventional exposure advice doesn’t apply. I usually prefer to underexpose the moon and then adjust the tones in Lightroom. That way, I can preserve the highlights.

You can also use this approach. However, if you prefer to try to get the exposure spot-on in the field, it’s worth remembering that if your picture is a little overexposed, you can still recover the details if you shoot in RAW.

In the example I’ve been displaying, my shot is overexposed by about one stop. To fix it, I’ll enter a -0.75 value in the Exposure slider in the Lightroom Basic panel. This darkens everything: the moon and the sky. If you want the sky to stay the same level of brightness while only reducing the exposure on the moon, use the Highlights slider. Drag it left to lower the moon’s brightness while leaving the sky intact.

moon editing tips
Raise or lower the exposure in Lightroom to get just the right appearance. After reducing the exposure by 0.75, detail on the moon is much more visible!

Adjusting the exposure isn’t one of the most mind-blowing moon editing tips, but it’s an essential step in getting your final shot to look good.

5. Apply texture and sharpening

When you take a picture of the moon, you have to contend with all sorts of variables that can lead to a soft or fuzzy appearance. We see the moon through miles of atmosphere, which often contains dust and other particles. Your lens might not be tack-sharp, either, especially if you’re using a zoom lens that came as part of a camera kit.

Happily, Lightroom can handle these issues with a few simple sliders!

In most post-processing scenarios, I’d recommend starting with the Sharpening slider, but not when editing the moon. In this case, you want to bring out the moon’s texture and surface details, so the Texture slider is actually the better place to start. (You can find it at the bottom of the Basic panel.)

Alternatively, you can selectively add texture to the moon using a Brush if you want a little more precision in your editing.

moon editing tips
Raising the texture slider makes the moon’s surface look clear and crisp. I used a value of +80, but while it’s a bit extreme, I wanted to illustrate the impact of the Texture slider.

The Sharpening slider also comes in handy, but for fine-tuning your image after adjusting the texture. However, I do not recommend using the Clarity slider. That will result in a false, unnatural look with moon shots and can reveal some unwanted noise in the sky, as well.

Add your final touches!

At this point, you should have a beautifully edited moon photo. You can choose to export the image for sharing, or you can apply some extra adjustments to polish your image.

If you’re looking to add some finishing touches, you have a lot of options. Here are a few adjustments that I recommend trying:

  • Add a vignette
  • Use a masking tool to reduce noise in the sky
  • Adjust the tone curve to have a very slight S-shape
  • Raise or lower the blue saturation
  • Convert your picture to black and white
moon editing tips
My final moon shot. I added a vignette and brushed some noise reduction onto the sky.

When it comes to moon editing tips, the sky is quite literally the limit. These should be enough to get you started, but I recommend spending time just experimenting with some of the sliders in Lightroom to see what you can do.

moon editing tips
I used the editing tips in this article to process this shot!
Nikon D7100 | 200mm | f/8 | 1/180s | ISO 640

What about you? Do you have any other moon editing tips you’d like to share? Do you have any favorite shots of the moon? Share your thoughts and photos in the comments below!

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Simon Ringsmuth
Simon Ringsmuth

is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.

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