How to photograph the supermoon

About The Author

CNET Editor

Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.

When the moon orbits the Earth at its closest point, coinciding with a full moon, a supermoon occurs.

(Supermoon image by Robin Ohia, CC2.0)

In 2013, the supermoon will occur on Sunday, 23 June. It will be be 356,991km from Earth , the closest the moon will be for the entirety of 2013. It's a great excuse to get out, take some photographs and experiment, as the moon may appear bigger and brighter than usual.

On the east coast of Australia, the moon will rise at 4.50pm AEST. The full moon will appear at 9.33pm AEST. For other areas in Australia and across the world, use this site to work out the appropriate time.

Switch out of automatic, use a low ISO

Automatic mode probably won't achieve the results you desire from moon photography. Instead, switch out of automatic mode and flick to manual or shutter priority exposure mode. Set your ISO sensitivity to a low level, such as 100 or 200, in order to minimise noise from a longer exposure. Your chosen shutter speed will depending on the ambient light and the effect you want to achieve.

For example, at the beginning of the supermoon phase when there is still a small amount of sunlight and reflected light, a shorter shutter speed will be required. Try using the Sunny 16 rule in this case: at f/16, shoot at the reciprocal shutter speed to your ISO. For example, if you're shooting at ISO 100, try 1/100 second (or 1/125, depending on your camera).

Later on in the evening, an exposure of several seconds may be needed to gather enough light. Experiment with different shutter speeds depending on the result you want to achieve and the time at which you are photographing.

The sharpest results will be achieved when using a narrower aperture, upwards of f/8.

Use manual focus

Autofocus and low light generally don't work together very well, unless you have a high-end SLR or interchangeable-lens camera (ILC). Using manual focus will help pinpoint exactly where you want to achieve focus.

Switch into MF mode on your lens or camera body. Activating expanded focus on your camera screen in Live View mode will help find the exact point you want to target without needing to squint through the viewfinder. If the situation is too dark to see well, you can temporarily boost the ISO to a higher sensitivity, such as 3200 or 6400, to see more clearly. Once focus has been achieved, dial the ISO back down.

For tack-sharp photos, focus stacking is another technique that can come in handy for photographing the moon. Read up on how to get started with focus stacking in this tutorial.

(Supermoon image by Johan J Ingles-Le Nobel, CC2.0)

Use spot metering

Want to get a shot of the moon all on its own against a stark black sky? Spot metering will help you achieve this look, as it measures the light from only a very small portion of the scene — usually the centre of the viewfinder, but this can vary from camera to camera.

Spot metering will work best when using a long lens. The exposure will not be affected by the other areas of the frame, such as any ambient light from the sky surrounding the moon. If there are other elements in the frame, evaluative or matrix metering will work best unless you are trying to achieve a silhouette effect. Bracketing your exposure a few stops either side will also be valuable, especially if you are in a hurry and want to ensure that one photo will be usable.

There are no guaranteed hard and fast exposure rules for photographing the moon, as its luminosity and position always change. However, the tips above should help you get started to achieve the photo you're after.

Get close with a telephoto lens

A telephoto lens or long optical zoom on a point-and-shoot is an absolute must for getting in close to the moon. With such a long lens, you will also need some sort of stabilisation device, like a tripod. It's best not to try taking an image handheld, as shake will undoubtedly be a problem.

If a new telephoto lens is out of the question, a teleconverter can turn a humble zoom into something a bit more far reaching. While teleconverters give you an effective focal-length boost, many also exacerbate any issues with the lens you attach it to — so the final result may not be as sharp as you expect.

Mobile phone photographers don't need to feel left out. Consider investing in a telescope adapter such as the SteadyPix for iPhone. Naturally, you need a telescope as well.

Take out any form of shake

Apart from using a tripod to stabilise the camera, the way you trigger the shutter can also introduce shake into photos. A remote shutter release is one option that can be used to take the photo that avoids you having to physically touch the shutter button.

Alternatively, simply set up the camera on a tripod, and use a self-timer mode to take the image. Set everything up in terms of exposure and focus, then press the shutter button to start the self-timer.

In SLR cameras, the simple movement of the mirror flipping up and down to let light hit the sensor can introduce shake. Using mirror lock-up mode will help alleviate the vibration by holding the mirror up on the first shutter press, then exposing the image on the second shutter press and subsequently releasing the mirror. Your SLR may operate slightly differently, though, so do check the manual.

Play around with composition

The moon against a dark sky is beautiful in itself, but you may want to try a more creative composition. Think about capturing the moon at the beginning of the supermoon phase, picturing surrounds such as buildings, trees and people in the photo as well.

For inspiration, this full moon rising video shows just how effective silhouetting against a full moon can be.

Feel free to share your moon photography tips in the comments below, as well as your best shots.

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CherryC posted a comment   

Thanks for the tips Lexy, I played around with everything around settings, ISO, speed etc and was pleased with my 1st moon shots. Have a couple of compressed images on my page. Thanks again.


JonD66 posted a comment   
United States

The top, lead-off image is likely a composite. See the comments on this image in the photographer's flikr page for a convincing argument why it's probably several images blended together in Photoshop...


GregorS posted a comment   

The Moon has an albedo (reflectiveness) of about 0,09. That is about as dark as black granite or almost as dark as coal. The illuminated portions of the Moon are in full bright sunlight. So when the moon is high in the sky to expose it's illuminated portions correctly: expose as you would if taking a picture of a piece of coal in sunlight. When close to the horizon the light from the Moon is of course significantly attenuated by gases and dust in our atmosphere (scattering, absorption) etc.


ZhengP posted a comment   

You can't get both moon and the stars properly exposed. The picture in this page has to be a result of photoshop.


JohnG10 posted a reply   

It is at least two images combined, possibly three.

In order to get a foreground exposed, you'd overexpose the Moon. Same goes for stars.

Her advice concerning several seconds exposure later in the evening is a bunch of baloney too; that will SURELY overexpose the Moon, not to mention have it end up blurred because of the Earth's rotation.


JohnG10 posted a comment   

"Later on in the evening, an exposure of several seconds may be needed to gather enough light."

Ummmmm... really??? Where the hell do you get THAT from; I photograph the Moon on a regular basis and later on in the evening, the Moon is just as bright, in fact BRIGHTER when it's not filtered through the atmosphere. Several seconds???? You'll get a burned out blur.


JackieW posted a comment   

The moon is moving so if your exposure is to long it will be blurred.


offtheback posted a comment   

An exposure of several seconds will result in a blurred moving moon.


LeeN posted a comment   

Try bracketing also. multiple exposures to combat the different exposure of the moon and foreground.You will need HDR software. Or use your focus to take two images one of the foreground properly exposed and one of the moon and overlay the images in Photoshop, blending the images with the black sky.(don't enlarge the moon though, that's cheating.

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