One of the most fascinating photos you can take is a crystal-clear shot of the full moon. Pictures like this 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 even attempt a moon shot. Getting a picture is just the beginning, though. If you want to make your shot stand out, it helps to follow these simple Lightroom moon editing tips.
Shoot in RAW
The benefits of RAW over lossy formats like JPG are well documented. While there are certainly times where JPG is useful, RAW is essential when taking shots of the moon. You need all the editing leeway you can get to adjust colors, exposure, and other parameters.
For example, the photo below might not look like much, but it’s fairly typical of the types of moon shots most people would get with some basic camera gear. I shot this with a crop-sensor camera, which is much more common than expensive full-frame models. I also only zoomed to 200mm, 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 way too small, and the power lines cut right through the frame. Also, the sky has a weird blue tint to it that’s a bit unnatural.
However, hope is not lost! Thanks to the power of RAW files, and a little bit of editing prowess in Lightroom, this photo can be turned into a frame-worthy image.
Back in the early days of digital photography, people often debated the importance of megapixels. A common, though incorrect perception was that more megapixels equal better photos. While that is not necessarily true, having a higher megapixel count does allow you to have significant room for cropping, which is great when your subject is far away – 239,000 miles, to be exact.
Most cameras today have upwards of 20 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 into individual moon craters, use Lightroom instead. Crop your image until it’s nice and tight with the moon right in the center.
In this example, I cropped the image tight enough to get rid of everything but the moon and the sky. Gone are the power lines and trees, and what’s left is just the moon in all its glory. Even cropped in this much, the resulting image is 4.3 megapixels – more than enough to get an 8×10″ print made.
At this point the picture is better, but still has a long way to go.
The next step is to adjust the white balance. The reason I recommend doing this after you crop your moon photo is that it helps you focus on just the important part of the image. If you adjust the white balance before cropping, you might be focusing 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 want a starting point, here are two options I recommend.
- Use the Daylight preset
- Use the Eyedropper and click on the moon.
Both of these produce vastly different results. You can also play around with the 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 the best of both worlds. Click the eyedropper tool on the moon, but then use the Brush tool to change the white balance of the moon. This will give you rich, deep blues for the sky but a yellow tint for the moon. However, this can be a little tricky. If not done right, you will see a weird color halo around the moon. So just make sure to use the Brush tool as precisely as possible.
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 rules don’t apply. I usually prefer to under-expose the moon and then adjust it in Lightroom. That way you preserve your highlights, but even if your picture is a little overexposed you can still salvage it if you shoot in RAW.
In this example, my shot is overexposed by about one stop. To fix it, I entered a -0.75 value in the Exposure slider in the Basic panel. This darkens everything: the moon and the sky. If you want the sky to stay the same level of brightness but just adjust the moon, use the Highlights slider. Drag it left to lower the exposure of the brightest portions of your image – in this case, the moon.
Adjusting the exposure isn’t one of the most mind-blowing moon editing tips, but it’s an essential step in the process of getting your final shot to look good.
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. From earth, 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 got your zoom lens as part of a camera kit. Lightroom can help fix these issues with a few simple sliders.
Normally, I would recommend starting with the Sharpening slider, but not when shooting the moon. In this case, you want to bring out the moon’s texture and surface details, so the texture slider is a great place to start. You can find it at the bottom of the Basic panel. Alternatively, you can use the Brush tool to adjust the texture if you want a little more precision in your editing.
The Sharpening slider is great 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 show some unwanted noise in the sky as well.
At this point, you have several options to polish your image. While you can use any number of editing tools, some that I recommend trying are:
- Adding a vignette
- Use the Brush tool to reduce noise in the sky
- Adjust the tone curve to have a very slight S-shape
- Raise and lower the blue saturation
- Convert your picture to Black and White. Click “Black and White” in the top-right corner of the Basic panel
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.
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 favorites in the comments below!
Table of contents
- ADVANCED GUIDES
- CREATIVE TECHNIQUES
- Lightroom Moon Editing Tips for Awesome Moon Photos