I just purchased a D5100 and I am slowly learning the basics. I mostly shoot landscape/scenery shots.

I have been trying to capture the full moon unsuccessfully. It looks focused in the viewfinder and I've experimented with slow shutter speeds and large apertures but the resulting image always comes out as a bright glare. I'm never able to see the details of the moon.

How can I improve my shots?


6 Answers 6


I have a D5100 as well and was out taking pictures of the moon last night as well :-) These are the steps I took:

  1. put your camera in manual mode

  2. focus and zoom your camera on the moon

  3. take a test-shot with a baseline configuration (ISO 200, F/8, 1/125s as per Olin's suggestion)

  4. observe the results and adjust accordingly: make the shutter speed shorter if the moon is too bright, make it longer if it is too dark.

It is also worth noting that the built-in light meter is pretty much useless in this situation. Even with spot metering it didn't work for me.

  • 7
    Something else to note is that when you are zoomed in as far as possible, the moon is actually moving across the sky faster than you realize. You need a fast shutter speed to prevent the moon from appearing blurred. Sep 4, 2012 at 2:16
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    Another trick I learned last night (this is for those of you with the Nikkor 55-300 kit lens) if you are battling like I did to focus on the moon, try focusing on the stars instead. I find the tiny dots of light much easier to see if they are in focus compared to the moon. Sep 4, 2012 at 2:18
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    Oh, and if you have a remote shutter release, use that. Camera shake is a pain. For more extreme astrophotography, the "shake" from flipping up the mirror/opening the shutter becomes a problem. In those conditions, use a remote AND a lens cover. Hold cover in front of camera, open shutter (manual), wait 3 secs for shaking to subside, move cover away. Return cover, close shutter, check result. Dec 5, 2014 at 0:34

I have experimented with this and according to my notes the optimum exposure was at ISO 200, f/8, 1/125 second. The maximum values were close to but a bit below 1. Here is a scaled down result:

Auto exposure doesn't work well on the moon with most cameras since it's a small and quite bright object in the middle of a large dark field.

  • What focal length was this?
    – Unapiedra
    Sep 4, 2012 at 9:34
  • @Unap: That is pointless question since there isn't a meaningful answer. The focal length does not effect exposure, which is what this question is about. Also, I've cropped the original and then shrunk it to post here. Focal length relative to the image sensor in my camera is rather unrelated to what you see here. Even with the full frame image it would be meaningless since I haven't said what the size of my sensor is. However, for photographing the moon with most cameras, you want more focal length than you probably have. Sep 5, 2012 at 23:41
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    thanks for being condescending. It might not matter for the original question, but it is of interest to me (and sufficiently minor to allow asking here). To rephrase this: What resolution was the camera, what sensor size (full frame, etc?) and what focal length did you take this picture at?
    – Unapiedra
    Sep 6, 2012 at 10:07
  • Best focal length for the moon has been discussed in other threads at this site. But it depends on whether you just want the moon alone (boring to non-astronomers) or with other subjects (varies widely). If you are an astronomer, use your telescope or buy an 800mm prime lens.
    – Skaperen
    Sep 6, 2012 at 14:50

The moon is bathed in full sunshine, so the Sunny 16 rule should give you a good starting point. That is, set your shutter speed to the reciprocal of your ISO (so 1/200th if at ISO 200) and aperture to f/16. That will get you close.

Update: Found that there is a Looney 11 rule

For astronomical photos of the moon's surface, set aperture to f/11 and shutter speed to the [reciprocal of the] ISO film speed [or ISO setting]."

  • The moon is an very dark object. Too dark for the sunny-16 rule to be valid. The moon-specific sunny-5.6 rule works better. Dec 4, 2014 at 20:15
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    Sunny 16 is based on incident light, so the relative brightness of the object should be irrelevant. Apparently there is a "Looney 11" rule too! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Looney_11_rule
    – MikeW
    Dec 4, 2014 at 21:27
  • In this particular case it’s relevant: if you expose the moon with the sunny-16 rule, it will appear as what it really is, i.e. a big and very dark stone. And that does not look natural, because we usually look at the moon in the night, and we (subjectively) perceive it as a bright disk. Dec 5, 2014 at 20:15
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    I guess it depends on whether you want a picture of the moon as it actually is, or how you subjectively perceive it.
    – MikeW
    Dec 6, 2014 at 8:27

Use ISO 100, higher f stop and faster shutter speeds, also it would be good to have a tele-zoom lens. If you are willing to crop the image a ~200mm lens would be enough. But details can't be assured. Put everything manual, shutter release should be less than 1/60 and aperture should be kept more tight, ideally an f stop greater than 10.

Try different settings, the basic idea is moon is throwing a lot of light and if you are giving your equipment to capture all those the image would be glare and over exposed, and nothing like moon... I think you got my point

  • My experience says that on a clear night, you select ISO100, full manual. With the kit 55-200 zoom zoomed to 200mm: f/8, 1/1000. This gives me the nicest contrast, very slightly under exposed. Forget about auto focus too. I hand hold since even when I bump up to f/11, I'm still in the 1/750 range on the shutter. Going from iso100 to iso200 doesn't seem to have any impact on noise. White balance, you have to mess with most. Sep 4, 2012 at 20:28

I posted this a while back on my methods to take photos of the moon. You might want to check it out :-)


If I take the quality of the shots, it can also depends on which focal length you will use.

My following examples shows that sometime it is better to have a shorter focal length and crop. It can produce better result than longer focal (ok the 500mm reflex is not known to be very sharp, not like a 500mm f/4).

When I began, my first error was to overexpose the pictures. It is better to make the measure with the spot metering or simply take multiple pictures in M (manual) mode.

Example 1 - Reflex 500mm f/8 @ 1/640sec (200 ISO): Moon500mm640

Example 2 - 300mm f/4 @ f/4 and 1/500sec (200 ISO) Moon300mm500

Example 3 - 300mm f/4 @ f/5.6 and 1/8000sec (400 ISO) Moon300mm8000


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