Look. See. Imagine. Create. Photographing the moon

One of the great joys of my life is photographing the moon. I have been a lunatic my entire life, but my interest has only increased as I developed my photography skills. I know most people don’t walk around with a camera, but I can not remember ever seeing a good photo of the moon made with a cell phone camera. Here are some tips for making different kinds of moon photos.


Many professional photographers plan their photography workshops around the full moon.  Most times you get to experience a moon rise shot in the late afternoon and a moon set shot just before dawn, maybe twice in the month, the day of the full moon and maybe the next day, too. I plan my month based on the full moon schedule. If we can be on the road and make a moon photo, I plan for the composition and timing. If we are at home, I am lucky, as I can photograph the moon rise from my back yard and the moon set from my front yard. Moon sets from my front yard, below.

You can search moon rise and moon set times, pretty easily from various apps and websites. I use these two useful apps – “LightTrac” and “Sun n Moon” that give times for sunrise, sunset, moon rise and moon set, as well as where the sun and moon will be at any given time based on your location.

I always use a tripod and I am shooting with a Fujiflim X-T2. Most of the time, for wide shots I am using an 18-135mm lens and for the close-up shots, I am using the 100-400mm with a 1.4 teleconverter.


Foreground, foreground, foreground. This is what I am always looking for, as with most fine landscape photographs, it’s ideal to have a foreground, middle ground, and background interest that is pleasing, and then figure out how you want to include the moon.

Moonset and sunrise at Zabriskie Point inn Death Valley National Park.

Or sometimes, the moon is the subject and you might want to use a large telephoto to capture the details that you want. When I have no good options for composition, but I still want my full moon photograph, then I will just use a 400mm lens with an extender and get up close. The first photo below is a partial solar eclipse with the moon blocking the sun. The second photo is the full lunar eclipse on January 31, 2018 that turned the moon orange,

Beware of atmospheric conditions as clouds or haze can obscure the moon near the horizon. I know that few people use infrared cameras, but the infrared light cuts right through the haze and can make the moon pop in monochrome when you might barely see it in color. I usually try to shoot both in the field and chose my final image and processing at the PC.

Moonset and Tufas at Mono Lake, CA

Exposure can be a difficult for these types of shots, i.e., exposing for the details in the moon, but also have enough light to see the rest of the composition. Also, depending on the time of year, length of day, and celestial positioning, the moon may set before the sum provides enough light to see the foreground, and sometimes, the sun sets before the full moon is high enough to make a good photo especially when you have to deal with mountain ranges on either side of you. I also us neutral density filters to darken the sky and moon if necessary.

Furthermore, remember that we are spinning at 750 miles per hour, so to get a sharp photo of the moon make sure your shutter speed is fast enough and adjust your ISO and aperture as necessary. I am usually at ISO 200-400 and aperture of f/4.0 for direct moon photos and f/11 – f/16 for wider shots.

Moon set over Mammoth Mountain ski resort in CA.


I know you have seen many famous photos of moon rises and moon sets.  Galen Rowell, Ansel Adams, and many others have made beautiful and famous photos of this situation.  So, I use what memory I have of those famous photos, the rule of thirds, and the equipment I have to imagine what could be. Honestly, sometimes the final outcome is exactly what I imagined and other times the unplanned happens and something really special emerges organically. Sometimes the photo just presents itself with a little luck. I did not plan the photo below. We were in Death Valley and had already made quite a few moon photos the day before. We were walking back to the car after sunrise, below a big dune and I look up and see the dead tree, and then positioned myself to include the moon. This was a very happy coincidence.


I try to capture a landscape and a portrait orientation when we are in the field and then decide what is best while processing. It’s pretty straight forward using Lightroom, PhotoShop, Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro. My favorite moon photos tend to be morning moon sets and either wide angle with great sunrise skies or zooming in with a telephoto and compressing the moon and foreground to make the moon appear very large in the final photo.

To see more of our photographs, please visit our Flickr site – https://www.flickr.com/photos/pamimages/albums

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