157 Shooting the Moon with Kirk Keyes

Photographing the moon is a bit of a challenge. With all the phases and opportunities available it can be a daunting task to break it all down. Kirk Keyes joins me in breaking it all down. This is the Great Outdoors Photography Podcast, episode 157 for Sunday February 5, 2023.

Main Topic:

Introduction –

  • Why I like photographing the Moon.
  • You can shoot the Moon nearly any day of the month…

Equipment –

  • Cameras – want a camera with manual settings and interchangeable lenses.
    • Most any camera from the last 5 or even 10 years will work.
  • Lenses – Any lens will do.
    • The focal length choice determines how large the Moon will appear in the final image.
    • Unlike MW photography, Fast lenses are not needed.
    • Super telephotos can give awesome results.
  • Teleconverters – extend the view of your lenses. But sometimes not as sharp
  • Tripods – Sturdy!!! Especially for long lenses.
  • Tripod Head – 3 Way or Tilt/Pan heads are the best choices.
    • Ball heads are often too wobbly and finicky to get set up, especially for long lenses.
  • Cable Release / Intervalometer – great with shorter lenses, indispensable with long lenses.
  • Filters – Polarizers – add saturation to sky at the right times – quarter Moons.
  • Lens Hoods/ Dew Heaters – useful when shooting into the night.
  • Star Tracker – super helpful for long lenses, especially when zoomed way in on the Moon.
    • Help Maintain your Framing.

Basic Camera Settings –

  • RAW – Probably the Most Important setting of all!
  • Manual Exposure Mode –
    • The Meter can be fooled by bright Moon surrounded by a dark foreground/background.
  • Auto Focus – Generally OFF
    • But may use it on some occasions.
  • Live View – helps preview your exposures.
  • Live View Settings Effects – ON
  • Blinkies/Zebras – Warns of overexposure.

Basics of Exposure –

What is Proper Exposure?
  • The one that achieves the desired effect of your photographic intent.

Several concepts that can help us make better images – for all our photography.

Dynamic Range –

  • How much exposure your camera sensor (or film) can handle and still record useful detail.

Digital Camera Exposure –

  • Only two exposure settings determine how much light is captured for exposure –
  • shutter speed and aperture.
  • ISO is internal to the camera – think of it as a “gain” or Volume setting.

Scene Luminance – may be determined by the landscape, the Moon, or both combined.

  • Generally want to match the camera exposure to the scene luminance.
  • But – Shortly after sunset – the Moon can be much brighter than the landscape. Creates a large luminance range – high contrast situation.
  • Art – so we may make adjustments that are not literal representations of the scene in front of us.

Exposure Latitude –

  • Related to dynamic range, but it’s the amount a sensor can be over or underexposed and still yield and acceptable image.
  • Most sensors can’t handle too much overexposure, but some sensors, like ISO-invariant ones, can handle some under exposure – up to several stops.
Exposure Triangle –
  • Be more than familiar with it – Know it – know it intuitively.
  • Use it to visualize the relationship between changing shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.
Program Modes –
  • Program vs Shutter Speed vs Aperture vs Manual 
  • Want to use Manual, generally.
  • There are times when Shutter and Aperture are good choices
    • Like for controlling Motion when hand holding
    • Need to Maintain Depth of Field in changing light. – think timelapses
  • Determine Exposure Settings –
  • Since the Moon is always moving, I take the following approach:
  • Shutter Speed – Determine this first, as I use it to control the sharpness of the Moon.
  • Aperture – Control the Depth of Field
  • ISO – I use it to set the overall exposure of the image.

Determining Shutter Speeds –

  • Generally, we want sharp images of the Moon.
  • Use shutter speed to control the Moon’s motion.
  • Longer focal-length lenses require shorter exposure times than shorter lenses.
  • How to Calculate Shutter Speeds –
  • 500 Rule –
    • Antiquated, designed for photographing stars on film.
    • Exposure time in seconds = 500/focal length.
  • 500 rule variations
    • For sharper images and crop factors.
    • 600, 400, 300 250 Rule
Rule of 4 –
  • Designed for photographing the Moon with a telephoto lens.
  • Exposure time in seconds = 4/focal length.
  • Much shorter than the 500 rule,
  • But may give shorter times than truly needed.
NPF Rule –
  • For sharp stars –
  • Complicated to calculate,
  • Use an app like PhotoPills Sharp Stars pill.
Looney 11 –
  • Calculates overall exposure for the Moon for detail on the Moon’s surface.
  • Shutter Speed, in seconds, equals the ratio of 1/ISO at f/11.
    • Set your ISO
    • Set the Aperture to f/11
    • Shutter Speed is 1/ISO
    • So at ISO 100, you’d use f/11 and 1/100th second.
Focal Length Considerations
Wide Angle Lenses
  • Little detail is visible on the Moon.
  • Since there is little detail, longer shutter speeds can be used
  • Up to 30 seconds or longer
  • Longer exposures can be used for special effects – Moon Trails
  • Use Bulb setting or external timer for longer exposures.
Normal/Short Telephoto Lenses
  • Not as much detail is visible with a normal/short telephoto.
  • Shutter speed doesn’t need to be as short as for telephotos.
  • No longer than around one second generally.
Telephoto Lenses
  • Lots of detail visible on the Moon
  • Longer Lenses need shorter shutter speeds to capture this detail
  • Often around 1/100th of a second

The Motion of the Moon –

Understanding how the Moon Moves will help us make better photos.
Basic facts
  • 29.5 days to orbit the Earth.
  • The Moon moves eastward almost 15 degrees across the sky each day,
  • Rises about 50 minutes later each day,
  • And at mid-latitudes – it sets just over 12 hours after it rises.
  • As the Moon orbits the Earth – the phases change
  • New to Crescent,
  • Quarter,
  • Gibbous,
  • Full,
  • Gibbous,
  • Quarter,
  • Crescent,
  • and back to New.
  • Waxing – as it goes from New to Full
    • meaning it increases in size.
  • Waning – as it goes from Full to New,
    • meaning it decreases in size.
  • It takes about a week for the Moon to move from New to Waxing Quarter,
    • one week from Quarter to Full,
    • one week from Full to Waning Quarter,
    • and another week back to New.
Moon’s Path
  • Moon follows a path that is tied to the Sun.
    • Imagine a stick that runs from the Moon, through the Earth, and then out to the Sun.
  • When the Moon is New, it’s near the sun’s position in the sky, and it’s usually within 5 degrees away.
  • The Full Moon will always be in the opposite part of the sky from where the Sun is setting. 

In the Northern hemisphere

  • During Winter,
    • the Sun sets in the SW, the Crescent Moon will also be in the SW,
    • Full Moon will rise in the NE.
  • Spring and Fall,
    • the Sun sets in the West and rises in the East.
    • The Crescent Moon and Full Moon will follow that pattern as well.
  • In the Summer,
    • the Sun sets in the NW, so Crescent Moons will be near the Sun in the NW.
    • Full Moons rise in the SE.
  • For the southern hemisphere,
    • swap all the norths with souths and souths with norths.
    • East and West are still the same.
  • After you get used to these concepts, you’ll be able to roughly predict where and when the Moon rise, and sets will occur and in which direction.
  • This is especially true if you see the Moon the day before, you should be able to determine where the Moon will generally be the next day or so.
  • And of course, there are apps for that!
  • PlanIt Pro for Photographers, PhotoPills, and Photographers Ephemeris

Best Times to Shoot –

Crescents –

  • Capture them within a few days after New and a few days after Last Quarter (that is before the New Moon)
  • After New Moon – thin crescents set between one to two hours after sunset.
  • Before New Moon, they rise within an hour or two before sunrise.
  • Look for Earthshine. It’s light reflecting off Earth and onto the shade side of the Moon.
  • Don’t sweat overexposing the sunlit part. Go for detail in the shadow part of the Moon.
  • Age of the Moon – measured in hours. Takes about 20-24 hours old until visible.
    • Record for naked eye is 15h 32m,
    • Binoculars 11h 40m at 7.5 degrees from the sun.
    • Telescope record – 4.4 degrees.
    • Winter and Spring for the northern hemisphere is best time to spot young crescents after the new moon (in the evening) –  due to the angle of Earth’s orbit.
    • Summer and Fall for before New Moon (in mornings).
Quarter Moons –
  • Waxing – Rise about Noon and set around Midnight.
  • Waning – Rise around Midnight and set at Noon.
  • Often not impressive as they rise during the day
  • Washed out by sunlight and atmospheric haze,
  • but they can look awesome as they set.
Full Moons –
  • Rise near sunset
  • Set near sunrise.
  • They are low in contrast and look somewhat flat.
  • They can often look better when photographed one, or even two days, before they are Full.
    • The exact time a Moon is Full can vary throughout the day. You look on a calendar and it says today is the Full Moon, well it could have happened at 12:01 AM or 11:59 PM.
    • So when trying to shoot the full Moon – you might want to check and determine if one or maybe two days before are going to be better.
    • Ideally, check an planning app and see what time the Moon rise is relative to the Sunset
  • Look for times when the Moon rises sometime just before or just after sunset.
    • Too early before, and the Moon gets washed out in the atmospheric haze
    • I like it best when the Moon rises with the Belt of Venus – the purple-pink color in the sky that appears a few minutes after sunset.
  • The day after full then can be too bright against the dark landscape.
Super Moons and Micromoons –
  • Only about 7% larger than an average Full Moon.
  • There are also “micro” Moons that are about 7% smaller than average,
  • Micromoon is about 14% less than a Super Moon.
  • It’s nothing you’d really notice if someone hadn’t told you it was a super Moon….
  • But there is a 30% difference in brightness between the super and micro moon.
  • But it’s not enough to cause one to change exposure settings.
Moon higher in the sky looks smaller than at the horizon
  • Optical illusion.
  • Actually the same size
  • Moon Illusion if you want to investigate that fascinating effect!


Round Moon in various landscapes. The shape contrasts nicely with the lines found in many landscapes with buildings.
Crescent and quarter moons can act as “pointers” towards something on the land.
Rule of 3rds –
  • or Rule of 4th to get less landscape and more sky.
  • Invite Brent talk more about this!

Tips for shooting

DO everything to keep your camera from shaking with long lenses.
  • Stable Tripod –
    • Solid ground,
    • Tripod spikes,
    • Don’t stand near tripod feet when shooting on some soils
  • Weight your Tripod – rock bag
  • Weight your Camera –
    • I use two 2.5 lb ankle weights around my 200-600mm lens to add mass to it.
  • Lens support – Use a lens bracket
    • One kind connect to camera and then supports the end of the lens
    • Another connects between camera body and lens foot
  • Remote release              
Determining Exposure For the Moon with the Landscape
  • Daylight hours – use an exposure suitable for the scene.
    • You’ll typically capture detail on the Moon;s surface with longer lenses during the daytime and into the blue hour with this approach.
    • use your camera meter and histogram.
  • If after sunset –
    • use histogram and blinkies.
    • Make sure Moon doesn’t get too bright.
    • Underexpose if needed – know your camera’s dynamic range
    • My Sony can handle about one stop of overexposure for when the Moon has activated the blinkies
    • But it can recover about 3 stops of underexposure in the shadows without too much issues.
  • More than about 30 minutes after sunset –
    • The Moon will overpower the landscape with natural lighting
    • Either shoot for the Moon and let the land fall where it may
    • Composite/HDR – but be careful – easy to look fake.
  • Solitary Moon in the sky – higher than 15 or 20 degrees.
    • Start with Looney 11 Rule –
    • It generally gets you close
    • You can still make adjustments from the Looney 11 setting as needed
  • Check your histogram, and don’t trust your LCD.
  • Look closely at the histogram – 
  • If the Moon is small, it may be a blip on the histogram compared to all the black sky.
  • Atmosphere
    • Moon is about 4-5 stops dimmer when low on the horizon.
    • It increases in brightness as it climbs over the next hour or so.
    • Smoke, Haze, Humidity all decrease the brightness of the Moon.

Important Links

Moon Photography Workshop  –

  • Brian Chamber’s Photography website.
  • Also inquire about the Feb 5 playback to see if it’s available (Plan It Pro was discussed)

Get in touch with Kirk  –

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  • Podcast episode releases.
  • Tips and stories about recent images I’m working on or recent trips.
  • Expanded thoughts on a topic covered in recent Podcast episodes.
  • Other resources about The Great Outdoors.

Today's Dose of Inspiration

God made two great lights–the larger one to govern the day, and the smaller one to govern the night. He also made the stars.

—Genesis 1:16, NLT

Moonlight drowns out all but the brightest stars.

—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

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