Photographing the Moon: Tips and Tricks

The Moon is Earth’s only permanent natural satellite and is the largest and brightest object in the night sky. Guarding our nights, waxing and waning in an endless cycle, our Moon is a familiar and comforting sight for many of us and has long inspired a sense of curiosity and wonder. It has come to represent many things for different people and cultures here on Earth and we want you to think creatively when taking your photographs.

We regularly host popular Astrophotography sessions led by Jodrell Bank’s Anthony Holloway. We’ve put together some his tips and tricks to help you take your best photograph, along with a series of inspirational pictures to really kick-start your creativity. Of course, these tips are for aspiring photographers and require the use of specialist cameras and equipment but you can take your pictures with any camera or even your phone, click here for tips on how to #CaptureTheMoon with a phone…

Guide to photographing the Moon

As the brightest object in the night sky, you might be surprised how small the Moon appears when trying to photograph it. The examples on the left show the size of the Moon in the frame when taken with different focal length lenses on a full-frame DSLR camera.

The easiest thing to do is to include the Moon in your landscape images. It can light up the land as if in the day, be part of the illuminations, or provide a dramatic backdrop, like these examples below.

As the Moon is so bright, the exposure time to capture it can be short. For example, for a full Moon image with a 500m lens, use just 1/500 second at f/8 and ISO 800. At a thin crescent phase, the Moon is far less bright and in this example (below left), the exposure was 1/10 sec., on a f/8 and ISO 200. A 1 second exposure of a thin crescent Moon reveals the rest of the surface illuminated by Earthshine – sunlight reflected off of the Earth and into the shadowed region of the Moon. This exposure time means a tripod and use of a remote release or timer delay will help you avoid camera shake.

The illumination of the Moon changes through the lunar month and the region where the Sun has just risen (or set), called the terminator, reveals detail on the surface as the craters and mountains cast long shadows. Using a long lens or telescope (500mm+) enables these details to be photographed. The image below, centre was created with -1/40 sec., 900mm focal length telescope, ISO 640.

When using a telescope the exposure times are typically short enough that a camera body can be held at the prime focus or a camera or camera-phone can be used to look through the eye-piece. Adaptors can also be used to steadily hold the camera in place. The image below right was created with 1/250 sec., 1200mm focal length telescope, ISO 120.

Webcams can also be used on telescopes to record video. You can then extract the sharpest frames. And, with digital images, the colour and contrast can be increased to exaggerate the differing colours of the lunar surface.

To check when the Moon will be full, new, waxing or waning, and the best times to take your photographs,  you can use this website here.

Words and images by Dr. Anthony Holloway, Jodrell Bank.

#CaptureTheMoon Inspiration Gallery

With tips to help you take a great photograph, feel free to interpret the challenge in any way you wish. Get creative, get technical, use photoshop if you like, and see what you can do with your photos. Here’s a gallery of images to kick-start your imagination… Have fun!

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#CaptureTheMoon was first launched in 2019 as part of a year-round celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing. It formed part of our First Light at Jodrell Bank project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.