How To Photograph The Super Moon


On the morning of Wednesday January 31st we will be treated to yet another “super moon”! Not only that, but there will also be an eclipse! However, it’s only visible for certain parts of the globe.
Here are some tips on how to get great photographs of the super moon. If you want to try for the eclipse, tips for that here.


You’ll want a location that is as high up as possible, facing west.

To show off the size of the super moon, you will want to find a building or structure that can show the scale nicely. If possible, it would be better to have something that is very brightly lit up, like a building, or something that has a nice shape that could be silhouetted against the moon.

To find out the exact position the moon will be in the sky as it rises, use an app like Sky Guide (iOS) Sky View (iOS or Android) or the Photographer’s Ephemeris  (iOS or Android or web based). These apps can show you the position of the moon when it rises.

The best time to shoot the moon is when it is full and as it begins to rise or set, since it appears larger and will be nice and colorful.  The super moon is expected to rise just after 5pm Atlantic time.


The bigger the lens, the better. Even though the moon will be larger than normal, you most likely won’t be able to get it very large in the frame with your regular 70-300mm lens. A 200-500mm or 150-600mm lens would be preferred. If you don’t have a big lens, just zoom in a close as you can and make sure your camera quality is set to the highest megapixel setting so you can crop in.


Since you will be using a larger lens, I would recommend using one. Make sure you turn off the image stabilization(IS), vibration reduction(VR) or optical stabilizer(OS) on the lens, as when you use it on a tripod it can actually CREATE blur.


Use MANUAL focus. It’s possible your camera might be able to focus on the moon if you move your AF point onto it, but it’s just easier to do manual focus. If you are having a hard time focusing, try putting the moon completely out of focus and pull back.


If you’ve tried to take a photo of the moon, most likely you ended up with a photo like this:

Exposure: 1/2 second at F16 Meter is balanced

Even with the moon being super, it’s not really possible for your camera meter to get the proper exposure for the moon. A spot meter can get you sort of close, but the moon is really far away.

However, there is a generic exposure for the moon.
Think for a second…why can we see the moon?
Answer: Because it’s being lit by the sun.
That sun light is the same light that is shining on you during the day, so you can use the “sunny 16 rule” to figure out the exposure.

For the “sunny 16 rule” you will need to use Manual (M) shooting mode and:

-set the ISO you wish to use
-set the shutter speed equal, or just slightly slower, than the ISO you just set
-set the aperture of F16
-ignore the fact the meter is in the minus…that is where it should be

So for example, using 400 ISO, set 1/400th/s as your shutter speed and select f16 for your aperture and you will get a nice detailed man in the moon…like this:

Exposure: 1/400th at F16

Now, that is for when the moon is high in the sky. As the moon rises and sets, the light from the sun gets filtered through our atmosphere, which cuts down the light, but also makes the moon look nice and warm yellow/orange. So you will need to use a different exposure for moon rise and set.

From my experience, I would start with exposures of 1/200th of a second at 5.6 ISO 400 and adjust if necessary.

As always, I would recommend over and under exposing (bracketing) to see the effect.


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The only problem exposing for the moon is that anything else in the frame will not get enough exposure, as the exposure to get good moon detail is probably a thousand times brighter than the light in the rest of the scene.

Exposure 1/125th at F4

If you use long shutter speeds to get a good exposure for the rest of the scene, the moon will become a glowing disk.

Exposure 1/4 at F8

Occasionaly you might luck out and the ambient light matches the moon light.

Usually the only way to get a properly exposed moon and land is to do a multiple exposure in camera, take two exposures and combine them in photoshop, or use photoshop to lighten up the landscape or darken the moon down to balance them out.

Exposure 1/250th F5.6 McDonalds sign was lightened in photoshop
Noel Chenier/Telegraph-Journal The full moon rises above the lit Saint John sign on Fort Howe on Wenesday night
The full moon rises above the lit Saint John sign on Fort Howe. Exposure: 1/125th at F16 ISO 400. Sign was lightened in Photoshop


Sometimes the moon will rise when there is still sunlight shining on the subjects, resulting in an equal exposure.

Exposure 1/50th at F4.5. I exposed more for the colorful clouds, letting the moon become a glowing circle
Exposure 1/250 F9 ISO 100
Exposure 1/250 F9 ISO 100

The other issue with using a large lens to record the moon is that even if you can get another subject in the frame, unless they are very far away there is no way to get them both in focus. Focus on the moon, subject is out of focus. Focus on the subject, moon is out of focus.

Focus on the moon, subject out of focus
Focus on the subject, moon is out of focus


Two images merged into Photoshop

The only way to get them both would be to combine the images in Photoshop, which actually works pretty well since the subject will most likely be surrounded by darkness and makes it easier to blend them.

Good luck! I hope you have clear skies and this post helps you get great photos of the super moon.

Happy Shooting!





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Noel Chenier
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