How do they make the sun or moon appear so big in backgrounds of some images?

A Spectacular image


As per Era's link in the comments above, photographers have been fooling people with trick photography for over a hundred years now, and your included photo is a classic example.
If you see a photo that doesn't seem quite right for any reason, it probably isn't.

It is entirely possible to create a larger-than-life image background like this in camera by using a very long lens and taking advantage of the tele compression effect. To do this, you need your foreground subject (the person and tree in this case) to be just the right distance from the camera so that their relative size compared to the background (moon) is what you want. The formula for the camera-subject distance depends on the focal length of the lens, but the constant factor is the moon - it will always be the same size in the frame, since you can't get (significantly) closer or further from it.

In other words, if the subject is too far away from the camera, their relative size will be too small and they will appear as a small speck in front of the moon; too close and they will appear larger than the moon and more 'normal'.

EDIT: Speaking of being fooled, I was mistaken in my initial answer; upon closer inspection this image does indeed appear to be taken in camera, as opposed to being collaged later.

... however, your example image appears to use the common technique of collaging two or more images to achieve much the same effect. In this case an image of the moon has apparently had a silohuetted image of a man and tree superimposed in front of it, probably using Photoshop or a similar editor.

How do I know this? I don't, but if you spend enough time editing digital photos you can sometimes see the telltale signs of manipulation. In this case the two things that strike me as unlikely to be natural are:

  • The moon shows no sign of atmospheric haze, as would be visible in most parts of the world with the moon near the horizon (assuming the moon is near the horizon).
  • The tree leaves block all of the bright moonlight except for a few tiny spots. Although it's possible the foliage is dense enough to do this, it is unlikely in my opinion.

These observations are not a criticism, and for all we know the silhouette could be a complete fantasy - drawn by hand. In which case, kudos to the photographer; this is a great image.

  • All that is needed is long enough focal length and enough shooting distance. – Michael C Apr 16 '16 at 4:10
  • Basically, sure. But if you want a crisp moon like that you'll have to shoot it high in the sky with a superb optic. I suppose you could achieve this entirely in camera if you took the shot of the subject 1km away up on a high ridge, with the moon directly behind them, but this one is 'shopped for sure. – HamishKL Apr 16 '16 at 4:14
  • How do you know it wasn't in the middle of winter and the human wasn't high on a ridge at 10,000-12,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains? You don't. Assuming the man is facing north the moon is at the correct angle to be rising in the winter months for the northern hemisphere. – Michael C Apr 16 '16 at 4:18
  • That's just my opinion, but in part because of the leaves on the tree. They appear to be too dense considering the bright light source that should be shining through from behind them. The low resolution makes it hard to tell for sure. – HamishKL Apr 16 '16 at 4:39
  • So perhaps you should write both halves of the answer instead of only one half? – Michael C Apr 16 '16 at 4:42

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