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All my attempts to get a good shot of the full moon with my DSLR result in an overexposed circle on a black background. I've used a tripod, remote shutter release, low ISO, and long exposure, but nothing has worked so far.

Is there some magical combination of ISO and exposure time that will produce good results?

I particularly want to catch a full moon with the reddish effect when it is close to the horizon.

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This has been answered many times here. For example photo.stackexchange.com/a/40293/7603. Basically ISO 200, 1/125 s, f/8, or equivalent. –  Olin Lathrop Oct 8 at 13:24

14 Answers 14

up vote 62 down vote accepted

The moon can be a tricky subject. It is a very bright subject compared to the rest of the night sky. It is also a moving subject, and it moves just fast enough that it can be problematic. Its luminosity changes depending on the time of the month. If you wish to capture any other elements in a scene with the moon, exposure can become fairly complicated.

alt text

The above shot was taken this past November 8th, at about 7pm...a fairly new moon. It was shot with a Canon EOS 450D using the Canon EF 100-400mm L series lens @ 400mm, f/7.1 and ISO 800 for 1/2 of a second. That exposure time was necessary to expose the clouds enough to create a silhouette of the foreground treetops, and not overexpose the moon itself. It was a fairly tricky shot, and in the end part of the crescent did get a little over exposed.

Determining which settings to use boiled down to a maybe two things. What I wanted to compose my scene with, and how much time I had to take the shot. At 400mm, the motion of the moon across the sky is heightened quite a bit, and at most you have about 0.8-1 second before that motion blurs detail. I wanted to expose long enough that the clouds obscuring the moon were bright enough to show silhouettes of the tree tops. I also wanted to get some earthshine on the dark part (a desire that was really pushing it...and, I ended up choosing an exposure that was a bit too high in this case, as 1/4-1/6th of a second would have probably been better, or perhaps ISO 400 rather than ISO 800.)

There is no single correct set of exposure settings that will always expose the moon correctly. Its luminosity depends on a couple factors, primarily its phase, its position in the sky, and what exactly you want to expose (i.e. just the moon, or the moon with some earthshine.) Here is a table of base exposure for digital cameras, assuming an aperture of f/8, based on some of my experience (note that the difference between each phase is not exactly one stop, the scale tends to get skewed a bit as you reach full moon):

Base Aperture: f/8

ISO  | Crescent | Quarter |   Half  |  Gibbous  | Full Moon |
-------------------------------------------------------------
100  |    1/2   |   1/4   |   1/8   |    1/15   |   1/30    |
200  |    1/4   |   1/8   |   1/15  |    1/30   |   1/60    |
400  |    1/8   |   1/15  |   1/30  |    1/60   |   1/125   |
800  |    1/15  |   1/30  |   1/60  |    1/125  |   1/160   |
1600 |    1/30  |   1/60  |   1/125 |    1/160  |   1/300   |

From that table, it is easy enough to make extrapolations for special scenarios. If you want some earthshine, you will want to expose for longer. I would say that getting even a hint of earthshine requires an exposure around 0.8-1 second. This often blows out the lit part of the moon, so its only really viable with a crescent.

If you want to capture any foreground details, you will usually also want an exposure time of around 1s for silhouettes, or longer for anything else (usually, you will want a double-exposure...one for the moon, one for the foreground.)

Blue moons, orange moons in crescent hung just above the horizon, etc. will all be dimmer than a white moon in the middle of the sky. Slightly longer exposures, maybe by a stop or two, will be necessary to compensate. When it comes to exposing the full moon, however, the reverse tends to be true...shorter exposures by up to a stop may be necessary.

To capture the full moon with that orange glow near the horizon, you will probably want to use the following:

ISO 200, f/8, 1/40-1/50s

Compensate as necessary for any other compositional factors.


UPDATE:

I've recently been photographing the moon a lot. Having taken numerous shots of the moon, in its crescent, half, gibbous, and full phases, during eclipses and perigee, I think it is important to make a significant note:

The moon does not follow any specific pattern, and there are, in the end, few rules that you can follow to take a good exposure. The table above is a good baseline, and can work as a starting point, however as you expand your efforts and target more dramatic moonscapes, exposing the moon is much like exposing anything else: You need to get a feel for it.

Below is a link to a small video I've been working on, a composition of some of my moon photographs and time-lapse videos taken over the last six months:

Moonscape


UPDATE 2:

Time for another update. Given my work week, and the amount of time I have to spend working on my house in one way or another while there is daylight, most of my recent photography has been of the moon. My previous update holds true, however I've learned another useful bit of knowledge regarding moon photography. The moon is a bright, white object. Outside of its crescent phase, it is possible to push exposure VERY far without actually overexposing, even though it may appear overexposed on a camera's live view. (Note: The histogram is not particularly useful when photographing the moon, so use it sparingly and only as a basic guideline.) To demonstrate what is possible with moon exposure, here are some images of the same exposure...one original, and one auto corrected and one manually tuned in lightroom:

Original exposure: enter image description here

"Auto-Tone" in Lightroom: enter image description here

  • Exposure -> -0.05
  • Recovery -> 1
  • Fill Light -> 50
  • Blacks -> 0

Manually tweaked for best detail in Lightroom:
enter image description here

  • Exposure -> -2
  • Blacks -> 100
  • Contrast -> 50
  • Curves:
    • Highlights -> +51
    • Lights -> -12
    • Darks -> -14
    • Shadows -> -44
  • Sharpening -> 78

The original photo was pushed about as far as I could in-camera, such that it appeared as a nearly uniform white disc in my 450D's live view. Lightroom's histogram feature that shows overexposure displayed the following for the original image above:

enter image description here

From the manually tweaked image, you can see that the only "actual" overexposure is a small spot just above Tycho crater (bright spot surrounded by a very light gray, lacking any detail.) When it comes to moon photography, excluding crescents, don't be afraid to push exposure. You will capture more detail, with less noise, and corrections during post-processing are quite simple. While it may not look like much in-camera, the amount of detail you can extract from a bright white disc can be astonishing.

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5  
Wow! That is a spectacular picture. –  BigEndian Jan 19 '11 at 20:52
2  
I wonder, without taking the foreground bokeh into account, whether it would have been more optimal to halve or quarter the ISO and open up the aperture 1 or 2 stops to achieve a less noisy raw file to work on the shadow detail? (purely speculation on possible gains in PP). –  Nick Bedford Mar 22 '11 at 1:57
2  
@peter: Photographing the moon with dramatic cloudcover is quite a bit more difficult. There is no definitive exposure scale you can really use to get the right exposure. One thing I have learned is that you can push exposure pretty far to the right of the histogram without blowing out any moon detail. On your LCD, the moon might look nearly entirely white, but during RAW processing, you can recover 100% of the detail. That fact is critically important when it comes to photographing the moon with clouds...you need enough exposure to capture at least some cloud essence. –  jrista Aug 15 '11 at 18:25
1  
Most good moon shots that include cloud cover require a fair bit of post processing. You need to bring down the highlights and recover the detail in the moon itself, as well as bring up the shades to enhance the detail in the clouds. Sometimes, you might also need to drop the black level a bit to restore some necessary contrast. I'll see if I can expand my answer a bit with more detail about photographing more dramatic moonscapes. –  jrista Aug 15 '11 at 18:26
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@PaulCezanne: Thanks much. :) Getting an artistic shot of the moon is definitely a difficult endeavor. I have never been able to replicate that November shot so far, or even get something moderately close. –  jrista May 30 '12 at 16:24

If your using any cheap model P&S camera trying to do this that is non DSLR and a basic zoom lens please try using ISO 200 and max zoom with tripod. My camera is a Fujifilm Finepix T500 and sucks kinda for "IS" so a tripod is mandatory for this and many other shots. The camera doesn't have manual mode for adjustments on f-stops or a ring, just white balance and ISO's up to 3200 which anything past 200 is pretty much noise and useless... but I usually always shoot at 200 because 100 is to blury.

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Awesome pictures. I have found that f5.6 ISO 100 and 1/100 actually works quite well as a base to start at. I use my Panasonic FZ200 with teleconverter so I shoot at 1,025mm and usually can get some very nice detail at all moon stages. Good luck.

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I took this with a Sony A57, 300mm and digital zoom, no tripod. I set the camera to aperture control and closed it until I had enough detail.

Sont A57

And here are my settings.

Settings

I was so impressed with the results considering the conditions (slightly cloudy, just after dusk, holding the camera and lens by hand).

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How did you find those exposure settings? –  Imre Jan 30 '13 at 6:26
    
I right click on the image file and looked at the properties. –  ja72 Jan 30 '13 at 6:32

I took this one with a Canon 7D & EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USN lens at 200mm. Manually exposed at ISO 200, 1/125 sec, f/8. Tripod mounted, mirror locked up, and shutter released via wired release. Using Canon Digital Photo Professional I cropped it to 1024X1024, selected the monochrome picture style, and applied a green filter. Exposure was boosted 1/3 stop. Contrast +1, Highlights -2, Shadows -1. Minimal noise reduction (Luminance 1, Chrominance 3) was used and heavy sharpening (Strength 8, Fineness 8, Threshold 3) was applied via the unsharpen mask.

waning moon

This one was taken with the same camera/lens plus a Kenko C-AF 2X Teleplus Pro 300 teleconverter. Exposed at ISO 200, 1/125 sec, f/8. Tripod, mirror lockup, and cable release. Digital Photo Professional. Cropped to 2172X1448, Monochrome Picture Style, 5200K, -1/3 exposure, Contrast +1, Highlight 0, Shadow -1. Luminance NR 2, Chrominance NR 3. Unsharpen mask: Strength 8, Fineness 8, Threshold 3. Then downsized to 1536X1024 for web viewing.

That is Jupiter to the right of the Moon. At 100% the major atmospheric bands are just visible. Focus was manual using 10X live view with Jupiter as the focus point.

Moon + Jupiter

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I took this picture with a Nikon D5100. I tried different automatic and semi-automatic settings first and could only get a white disk. Then I switched to M mode where I could manually change exposure. I finally got this.

Nikon D5100, Lens: Nikor 55-300 @300 Hand held (dont remember the exact settings)

Full moon with

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I answered this in bullet points over on another post here. Check it out for details. It seems like a lot of work, but really isn't :-)

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All these moon pics always look wrong to me as I am from the southern hemisphere. I took these two moon rise pics a few years ago to prove the point. Both were taken with a tripod mounted D70, Nikor AF-D 80-200 set at 200mm. For some unknown reason I shot both of these in jpg, and these are straight crops as shot (no idea what the WB was)

Not the best exposures, but they show what the moon should like for me!

Southern Hemisphere, 23rd April 2005, f8 1/800 ISO ??

Moon

Northern Hemisphere, 18th August 2005, f6.3 1/125 ISO ??

enter image description here

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I took this picture of the moon with a DSLR in 2008. This photo was shot at 280mm with a Canon 70-200mm and a x1.4 extender. My settings were:

f/8, 1/8 s., ISO200

Photo below a 100% crop out of 21MP. I'm not sure what you meant by "nothing has worked so far", but that's how close I could get without spending too much time on it. Not super sharp I know. No filter was used, only some minor white balance adjustment in post.

Besides the settings you were inquiring about, I would suggest you try to be as stable as possible, especially at the long end of the zoom. A few tips:

  • use a solid tripod of course,
  • use a remote trigger if possible (either wireless, or a cable release), or even a timer to avoid vibrations,
  • enable mirror lockup to reduce vibration-induced motion blur during exposure.

alt text

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Using an extender is like your aperture is f16 or something (if it reduces 2 points of EV) –  dstonek Apr 12 at 0:23

As a thought: check the ISO, f stop, & exposure settings of a picture you want to emulate on flickr. At the top of the page, where it says "This photo was taken on using a " click the camera brand. That'll give you all the exif info that that photographer used to get the picture you want.

That'll at least give you an idea of how & where other's have had success.

Good luck!

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The moon is still lit by sunlight -- I've had success around the 1/60 second at f/5.6 at ISO 100 in the past -- you'll need to fiddle around there to get settings that work for the amount of high cloud in the way etc.

Changing the metering mode can help too - if you can use spot metering, then that should help and if your camera supports exposure compensation, you can tell the camera that the scene needs to be under exposed by around 2 stops

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+1: very good point about the spot metering. You only care about the moon not the rest of the night sky. –  Marc Jul 19 '10 at 20:21

Haven't used it, but try this moon exposure calculator: http://www.adidap.com/2006/12/06/moon-exposure-calculator/

I agree with Roger - bracket.

Also, a Google search for "moon exposure" yields many good-smelling hits.

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Remember, the moon is in daylight...

You can go ISO200, but 100 should work.

Then you actually want a pretty fast shutter speed.

Edit: I should note, in my experience, this is if you want just the moon. If you want the moon + foreground features, then it's pretty much always going to end up with an overexposed moon. Compositing two pics in post is one option to overcome that.

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Further to that, many DSLRs allow fast bracketing capture in manual mode when using the timer, automatically taking all three (or more frames). Granted the moon will shift ever so slightly depending on camera fps and shutter speed. –  Nick Bedford Mar 22 '11 at 2:01

If your moon is overexposed, you've gone too far in that direction – back up a bit. Use bracketing to sample a wide variety of settings and narrow down on what you need for your conditions. With experience, and a lightmeter (though conventional metering won't work on the moon), you will more easily get it.

Unfortunately, there's never a silver bullet or magic combination.

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