This weekend is a "Supermoon" (the largest full moon of the year, in perigee, the closest to Earth). Would someone please advise how I could make the most out of my Canon PowerShot to photograph this phenomenon?

  • What settings should I use?
  • What times are the best with respect to the exact times of moonrise and moonset provided by the U.S. Naval Observatory? In other words, is it better 30 min before it crosses the horizon? Or just at the crossing?
  • Are there any tips and tricks for a beginner to benefit from?
  • Are moonrises or moonsets generally better/easier to capture?
  • Are there different techniques for different phases of the moon?

I read that full moon tends to come out flat, but I also want to benefit from the perigee.


4 Answers 4


The best time to shoot the supermoon is when you can really show off it's size. Shot solo, up alone in the sky, a supermoon doesn't look any different than any other moon. It lacks any dramatic comparisons to other objects of well-known size. You want to shoot a supermoon when it is lower in the atmosphere, and in proximity to foreground object, with the right focal length, to make it look "super".

That ultimately means that the best time to photograph a supermoon is when it is rising. When it is half-way up the horizon is probably the ideal time to dramatically demonstrate how big a supermoon is. A supermoon hanging over trees, a lone telephone pole, in relation to some well-known mountains, metropolitan city buildings, etc. are also ways to accentuate the size of a supermoon. Moonsets are also plausible, however they often happen extremely late at night, or in certain areas after the sun has risen. You might be able to get some unique shots with a daytime supermoon, but moonrises are generally more dramatic.

Fundamentally, the relative size of the moon in a photograph has a lot more to do with how you photograph it than its proximity to hearth. The moon gets fractionally larger to our eyes (relative to any other moon, as seen when looking at it when it is directly overhead), but not significantly large enough to naturally see any real difference. To really accentuate the size of a supermoon, you also want to use at least a 50mm focal length, longer if possible. Depth of field compression is really what makes a moon get bigger, in the frame, relative to everything else. Shoot a supermoon at 14-17mm, and it will look tiny. Shoot it at 24-50mm, and it will look normal to larger. Shoot it at focal lengths over 50mm, and you can really make it BIG. I've often shot the moon at 100mm to 400mm.

It should be noted that the longer focal length you use, the farther away from any relative "foreground" subjects you will want to be. If you have a nice solo tree you want in the frame while a REALLY HUGE superperigee moon is rising, you will want to make sure you know how far away you need to be at 200mm or 400mm to compress your field, enlarge the moon relative to that tree, and still keep the tree, and any other foreground scenery, in the frame. Trees on moderately distant hills, buildings off a moderate distance, etc. are going to be much more useful for making a good "supermoon" photo than subjects that are much closer and require a wider field of view.

Regarding exposure settings, rather than repeat myself, I'll direct you to my existing answer on that topic: How do I set the proper exposure for nighttime moon photos? There are some basic starting points, however the brightness of the moon depends on a number of factors. Additionally, depending on your exact camera, my general recommendations are to "push" your exposure as far as you can without clipping (i.e. no highlight blinkies when previewing in camera, but exposed as much as possible otherwise.) Shoot in RAW, an with a bright exposure you will have a LOT of control over detail, contrast, and depth in post.

  • The moon rises and sets at any time day or night, depending on what part of its approximately 28 day cycle it is in. It rises and sets just as often during daylight hours as it does during night time hours.
    – Michael C
    Jun 23, 2013 at 9:23
  • @MichaelClark: Sure...but a full moon rises later and sets later...you would need to be up pretty late at night, or early in the morning, to catch a full supermoon's setting. Tonight should be the supermoon in full phase, so it would be a lot easier to capture it at the horison as it's rising.
    – jrista
    Jun 23, 2013 at 16:03
  • 2
    A full moon rises at the same time the Sun sets, since by definition the moon is full when they are 180º apart in the sky. Likewise, a full moon always sets at the same time the Sun rises. Minor variations will exist because the moon is only "full" for one instant each month and so if the moon is exactly full at a time when it is not visible for a particular location, then when it rises and sets will be slightly ahead of or behind the sun as it sets and rises.
    – Michael C
    Jun 23, 2013 at 23:30
  • This month the exact time of the full moon was around the time it was setting Sunday morning for most of the eastern half of North America. That means it was both fuller and closer when setting Sunday morning than when it rose Saturday evening. The exact time the moon was at perigee was only about 20 minutes before the exact time the moon was full. This means that the moonrise for Sunday night in most of North America will be almost as full and almost as close as the moonrise was on Saturday night, since they are both about 12 hours offset from the actual full moon at perigee.
    – Michael C
    Jun 23, 2013 at 23:37
  • Well, I guess "late at night" is about 9pm for me (when I go to bed)...so, you know...it's all relative. ;P I also don't like to be up and out early in the morning, like 5am (I have sleep problems, takes me hours to fall asleep, so...going to bed at 9pm still means I don't usually get up till 8am.) I usually aim to photograph the rising moon as a result, but it's entirely true that neither of those times are "late" or "early" for other people.
    – jrista
    Jun 23, 2013 at 23:50

I generally agree with jrista's answer, but I have one other thought to add - consider two distinct exposures, and rather than using any kind of HDR technique simply cut the properly exposed moon out and paste it into the image exposed for whatever subject you are pairing the moon with. The moon is a perfect subject for this technique, since it is a perfect circle is easy for even someone not used to much editing to properly paste and it will remain the same size between shots.

That is how I made this exposure of a past supermoon:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kigiphoto/5541740013/ enter image description here

Here you can see the un-edited version of the main photo with the moon over-exposed:

enter image description here

As you can see, I didn't copy the clouds over, just the moon. Plus I think a few of the neon signs I may have copied, though I don't remember how.

On a side note, why not use HDR? Because even with very brief pauses between shots, the moon will move - and you will end up with this from your HDR software:

enter image description here

  • Also see this question about how to cut out the properly exposed moon and how to paste it into the foreground image without pixelated edges.
    – BioGeek
    Oct 19, 2016 at 13:35

I did some tests on photographing the moon. I found that ISO 200, 1/125 s and f/8.0 resulted in using most of the sensor range without clipping the bright spots.

That image was taken with a 300 mm lens and using a tripod.

A useful equivalent exposure might be ISO 640, 1/400 s and f/8.0, for those with no tripod, and no image stabilisation.

  • It's funny how the exposure settings you've shared are what you'd expect in daylight, a big surprise when you first start taking moon shots, until you realise the moon you're looking at is in full daylight. The camera's exposure will generally try to bring the background up and end up blowing out the moon entirely, so pretty much always need to shoot in M mode with daylight-like settings. Mar 26, 2014 at 4:36
  • @dfrog: Normal "daylight" scenes with full sun here on earth are usually exposed well with shutter speed in seconds equal to 1/ISO and f/16. That's actually what I expected, but this image is more than 2 1/2 f-stops below that. That is probably because our daylight rule of thumb assumes there are a few white areas in the scene that should be at the top of the sensor range. The moon's brightest areas are well below that, so we can use more exposure and still avoid clipping. Mar 26, 2014 at 14:10

The only answer to this is when it is dark enough and cloudless enough to see the moon in it's full glory. You'll just have to keep checking.

  • I would entirely disagree about cloudless. Light cloud cover can add an extra sense of depth and drama to a moon scene. An example of this can be seen in my own shot of a supermoon a couple years back: Superperigee Moonrise
    – jrista
    Jun 22, 2013 at 21:43
  • yeah fair point. Jun 23, 2013 at 8:10

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