NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY TECHNIQUES

How to photograph the supermoon: 8 tips for out-of-this-world moon photography

Use these expert moon photography techniques and discover how to take pictures of one of the most stunning sights in the night sky.
Canon Camera
The Moon continues to be a captivating subject for photographers around the globe, especially at those rare times when it appears as a supermoon or even a blood moon. However, it can be tricky to do it justice. It can be challenging shooting a bright subject that's very far away in low light, as well as framing and focusing at long focal lengths. But with the right photography kit and exposure settings, you can shoot wonderfully detailed lunar photos and atmospheric moonscapes. Here, we show you how.

1. Moon photography tips – keep an eye on the calendar

The Moon on a clear night with tree branches in the foreground.

The movements of the Moon may run like a clock but the weather is unpredictable. A clear night is best for lunar photography, so check the forecast before you head out. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM lens at 400mm, 30 sec, f/11 and ISO 100.

A full moon rising high above a line of trees.

Between 2021 and 2025, there will be four supermoons per year, so there are plenty of opportunities to capture this stunning event. A blood moon will occur in May 2021 and 2022, November 2022, March and September 2025 and March 2026, some of which will require travelling to see. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM lens + Extender RF 1.4x at 700mm, 2 secs, f/10 and ISO 1000.

At certain times during the Moon's 27.322-day orbit, it's closer to the Earth. When this coincides with a full moon – the time of the month when the Sun, Moon and Earth are all in alignment – we're treated to an enlarged full moon or supermoon. A blood moon is even rarer. This is when a regular supermoon coincides with a total lunar eclipse. This means the Earth completely blocks direct sunlight from reaching the Moon and only refracted light from the Earth's atmosphere remains, causing the Moon to appear a faint blood red.

2. Plan ahead

An EOS RP on a tripod with a telephoto lens, set up to photograph the Moon rising above the tree-line around a lake.

Whether you're keen to get a shot of a bright full moon high in the sky or a sliver of a crescent moon, you can plan out your dates in line with the lunar cycle to get exactly what you're looking for.

The Moon photographed through the trees, the reflected light illuminating strips of a lake in the foreground.

Planning ahead also means you can choose your composition beforehand, whether you want the Moon high above a local castle or reflected in a lake. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM lens at 300mm, 1/40 sec, f/6.3 and ISO 500.

Photographing the Moon is not only a fun test of your camera skills, it's also a fascinating way to get to know the movements of the Earth and its satellite. We can tell exactly where the Moon will rise, where it will arc through the sky and where it will set, every night for years to come. There are several useful phone apps that can help you plan your angles with precision, and you can track the phases of the moon online. As a rough guide, a full moon will emerge directly opposite the setting sun.

3. Moon photography settings

A person adjusting the Vari-angle screen of their Canon EOS RP as they photograph the Moon.

Shooting such a bright subject surrounded by darkness can cause exposure issues, so try manually setting your exposure.

The screen of a Canon EOS RP showing peaking settings.

If you're struggling to lock on to the Moon, try manual focus. Use Live View and enable focus peaking to ensure the details are sharp.

Automatic exposure modes may not work consistently when shooting the Moon, so it's best to use manual exposure. Essentially the intensity of sunlight hitting the Moon stays the same, so there's a simple exposure rule we can use as a guide – the 'looney 11' rule. Set aperture to f/11 and match shutter speed to the inverse of the ISO, so at ISO 100 we use 1/100 sec, at ISO 200 it would be 1/200 sec, and so on. This isn't set in stone, though – you can vary your shutter speed and aperture around these values until the image looks right.

4. What lens for moon photography?

A photographer adjusting his EOS RP camera with an RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM lens on a tripod.

A zoom lens like the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM gives you lots of options for wider moonscapes as well as detailed close-ups.

A moonscape over a motorway with traffic trails caused by a long exposure.

Foreground elements can also be a way to capture another light source, like this shot with traffic trails caused by the long exposure, which is a great way of adding contrast to your images. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM lens at 100mm, 8 secs, f/10 and ISO 250.

A long lens is a must for close-up Moon photos, but a fast, expensive lens isn't essential because the Moon is so bright that you don't need the widest apertures of top-of-the-range long lenses. Even a standard zoom like the Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM can work – it might not let you fill the frame, but you can always crop into the area later. This is where cameras with a high resolution like the 26.2MP Canon EOS RP show their worth.

5. Extend your reach

A photographer adjusting his Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM lens on an EOS RP camera on a tripod.

With unique lenses like the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM, you don't need to break the bank to capture highly detailed lunar photos.

A close-up of a nearly full moon on a clear night.

Here we combined the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM lens with a 2x teleconverter, which gives an incredible reach of 1600mm for highly detailed Moon photos. Taken on an EOS RP with a Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM lens + Extender RF 2x at 1600mm, 1/50 sec, f/22 and ISO 100.

6. Time your moment

A bright yellow full moon peaking through the trees.

If you want to frame objects against the Moon with a long lens, you'll need to be half a mile or more away from them to match the proportions. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM lens at 500mm, 0.5 sec, f/8 and ISO 100.

An aircraft silhouetted as it flies in front of a full moon.

Timing your moment precisely means you can capture striking shots like this aircraft flying in front of the moon. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM lens at 1/1000 sec, f/11 and ISO 1600. © Tibor Szövetes

A supermoon is perhaps most impressive when it first appears on the horizon. The light has to travel laterally through the Earth's atmosphere to you, so the Moon takes on a warm reddish quality. It's also the moment when the Moon seems at its largest, although this is an illusion – the size stays the same throughout the night, but the curvature of the atmosphere acts as a magnifying glass.

7. Photograph the moon with foreground

A Canon EOS RP camera set up on a tripod to photograph the Moon over a lake. An old diving board rises high above the water.

Incorporating foreground details into your Moon photography can help to frame the Moon, making for a more interesting image.

The Moon reflecting out over a lake. An old diving board rises high above the water.

By using a tripod and slowing your shutter speed to a second or more, you can shoot moonscapes and ethereal landscapes that look almost as if they were taken in daylight. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens at 46mm, 2.5 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 800.

We can get creative with our lunar compositions by including eye-catching details on the horizon. You need to be in place and act quickly, though – in a matter of minutes, the Moon will have cleared the horizon and arc upwards into the sky.

8. Forget the full moon

A close-up of the Moon showing features and details of its surface.

A waning or waxing gibbous moon (when it's around three-quarters full) is a great time to capture surface details. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM lens + Extender RF 2x at 1600mm, 1/50 sec, f/22 and ISO 100.

While a full moon is spellbinding, it may not actually be the best time to take photographs if you're interested in capturing surface features such as craters. In much the same way as a camera's pop-up flash lights a face, the frontal sunlight during a full moon eliminates a lot of the shadows. At other times of the month the sunlight is more side-on, which creates the highlights and shadows necessary to show off the contours and details of the lunar landscape.

Take your moon photography to the next level with further tips and inspiration from professional photographer Andrew Fusek Peters*.

*Available in selected languages only.


Written by Phil Hall

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