TECHNIQUES

Shoot for the Moon: 8 lunar photography tips

Always wanted to know how to photograph the Moon? From capturing a lunar eclipse to shooting time-lapse of the Moon's path, two photographers share their advice.
A white-hued Moon rises over the London cityscape in a photograph taken by James Burns.

Thanks to good planning, this shot by James Burns of the September 2015 Moonrise made newspaper front pages. He suggests drawing up a media strategy to help you stay one step ahead. Canny use of hashtags and tagging the right people mean your images could also get picked up by the press. Taken on a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II camera (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 349mm, 1/100 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 100. © James Burns

Full Moons and phenomena such as the Harvest Moon, Blue Moon, Blood Moon, Supermoons and eclipses often prompt a flurry of social media shots. But whether it's a glowing orange orb just above the horizon or the soft outline of a silver crescent set against a city backdrop, the Moon – the brightest and largest object in the night sky – has long held a fascination for photographers. British photographers James Burns and Andrew Fusek Peters are two of them.

James is known for capturing the Moon amid the London skyline in images that he shares on social media and sells as prints via his website, London from the Rooftops. Andrew, whose work regularly appears in national newspapers and magazines, also prefers to photograph the Moon as part of a wider scene, to tell a story. "I'm always looking for an interesting foreground – to put the Moon within a landscape or a built environment," he explains.

At a glance, viewers might assume that their images are composites. They'd be wrong. In fact, every element of each image is captured in-camera, in RAW. And this is no mean feat, involving a lot of planning, using the right kit, and being in the right place at the right time. Here, James and Andrew offer tips for capturing fresh and original photographs of the Moon, all year round.

The Moon rising over Manstone Rock on the Stiperstones Ridge in Shropshire, UK, taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens by Andrew Fusek Peters.

The Moon rising over Manstone Rock, the highest point on the Stiperstones Ridge in Shropshire, UK. "A lovely tip for Moon photographers is that you can photograph the Moon during the day, a few days before it's full, because it's still rising in late afternoon," says Andrew Fusek Peters. "If you've got good light, you can get some awesome shots." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/9 and ISO 100. © Andrew Fusek Peters

1. Right place, right time

The first step is to know where and when the Moon is going to rise. In the past, that involved a lot of tedious calculations, but these days software can do the work for you. Andrew uses The Photographer's Ephemeris 3D, a light visualisation tool for outdoor and landscape photographers. "This allows you to plan, within a 50-metre line, where you want to be, and see when the Moon will rise and what it will hide behind," he explains.

You might assume that the best time to shoot the Moon is when it's full, but that isn't always the case. "Get out a couple of days before," advises Andrew. "That means you don't have to do everything in silhouette: you can still get light on the landscape." He cites his shot of Clun Castle in Shropshire (below), as an example. "You can see that the Moon is three-quarters full, it's coming up at dusk, and the camera's been able to capture a lot of landscape detail," he explains.

A waxing gibbous Moon high in the sky behind the ruins of Clun Castle in Shropshire, UK, taken by Andrew Fusek Peters.

The Moon over Clun Castle in Shropshire, UK. "It was November, so you can see that amazing yellow blast," says Andrew. "There's a very rich autumnal feeling to this shot, and I just love that structure of the building with the Moon. That was me starting to think: 'It doesn't always need to be a big Moon, you can do something a bit more arty'." Taken on a Canon EOS 6D Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 1/80 sec, f/9 and ISO 100. © Andrew Fusek Peters

In September 2015, James, like many photographers, was gearing up for a spectacular event: a total lunar eclipse, combined with a Supermoon, due to be visible in Europe in the early hours of Monday 28th. But James had a plan. Instead of biding his time until the eclipse was at its peak, he got in early, shooting some stunning shots of the Moonrise, which show the celestial body glowing behind iconic London landmarks (main image). His timing was impeccable. Ahead of the competition, James was able to supply the press, hungry for great images of the Supermoon to run in the papers that morning, with exactly what they needed.

A Supermoon visible over Three Fingers Rock in Shropshire, UK, taken by Andrew Fusek Peters.

Andrew's image of a Supermoon behind Three Fingers Rock in Shropshire, UK, made the cover of The Times. "This was happenstance: I didn't know the moon was going to do that. But I responded very fast – the exciting thing was getting home and realising the image was uncropped and I didn't need to do anything other than a bit of processing," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS 7D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS R7) with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and a Canon Extender 2x III at 1/60 sec, f/8 and ISO 800. © Andrew Fusek Peters

However carefully you plan, when it comes to the actual shoot you have to think on your feet, says Andrew. "The Moon is like a species, like wildlife," he explains. "You've got to understand its behaviour. It's extremely shy, and never appears when you think it's going to appear. A bit of cloud can ruin the shot."

Andrew's 2016 picture of the Supermoon (above), which made the front page of British national newspaper The Times, very nearly didn't happen. The weather had worked against him, so he'd abandoned his shoot and was heading home. "Then suddenly, driving towards Church Stretton in Shropshire, I saw the clouds clear," he says. "The Moon was almost directly behind what I now know is a volcanic structure called Three Fingers Rock. I thought: 'Oh my gosh'.

"With my Canon EOS 7D Mark II, a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens plus a Canon Extender EF 2x III giving me 1600mm, I knew I had as much reach as I could humanly get. I used a hedge as a tripod, and fired off three shots in a row. And because I knew my focus point – rather than stick the Moon in the centre of your picture, it's better to have a leading line – the first shot was the one."

Andrew learnt an important lesson from The Times Supermoon shot. "As the photo came out, the Moon was all wavy and slightly blurred," he recalls. "And I thought 'Oh, that's because I'm a rubbish photographer.' But then someone said 'No, when the Moon is just rising, there's a lot more atmospheric pollution that you're looking through, the atmosphere of the Earth, and that's why the Moon appears wavy.' If the moon is high in the sky, you're looking at less atmosphere, and that's when the Moon appears sharp."

2. Best camera settings for Moon photography

When it comes to settings, "you always want to be going to the limits of your camera," advises Andrew. "So you want to be checking your highlights; that's where the electronic viewfinder really helps. You're wanting to think very carefully about exposure. And the general rule of thumb, particularly for these dusk shots where there's still some light on the landscape, is that you must expose for the Moon, not the landscape. If you expose for the landscape, the Moon will be blown.

"Obviously your goal is to shoot with as low an ISO as possible, but also your goal is to get the shot," he adds. "If that means you've got to shoot with a slightly faster shutter speed because you've got a long lens, for instance, then that's what you have to do."

James adds, "Do not overexpose the moon! Keep an eye on your histogram and reduce the exposure if in doubt. You can always brighten the image in post but you cannot bring back blown out highlights."

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A silhouette of a red-tinged Moon against a dark sky during a lunar eclipse taken by James Burns.

James has taken some striking photos of lunar eclipses at different stages – you may want to change locations to get the best viewpoint at different times. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm, 1/2 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 2000. © James Burns

The Moon is captured during a later stage of a lunar eclipse, bathed in white with a shadow across its right side in a photo taken by James Burns.

"In my opinion, you should absolutely shoot a lunar eclipse on a tripod," James recommends. "Because you're going to want to capture each stage as sharp as possible." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 800mm, 1/800 sec, f/11 and ISO 1600. © James Burns

3. How to photograph a lunar eclipse

During a lunar eclipse, the Moon's appearance changes dramatically over several hours. The principles of Moon photography remain the same but, according to James, photographing a lunar eclipse can be broken down into two stages. "Stage one is the Moonrise and the primary objective here is to juxtapose the Moon with a striking landmark that you have a clear, elevated view of, preferably from a distance of at least 1.5km. The further away you are from the landmark, the more you have to zoom in and the larger the Moon will appear beside it."

Identifying the exact timing of an upcoming lunar eclipse will enable you to determine your optimum location. It helps to know your area well – that way, you can have a few potential spots up your sleeve. "Choose your 10 best local viewpoints," says James. "There are apps that can show you the Moon's position in relation to a given location at different times throughout the eclipse.

"Depending on your timezone, the eclipse may coincide with the Moonrise, in which case, you can stay where you are, enjoy an incredible shoot and be home at a sensible time," explains James. "However, the eclipse may not begin in your timezone until after midnight, by which time the Moon will be high in the sky."

James recommends using the time while you're waiting for stage two to edit and share some images of the Moonrise on your social channels. "This is brilliant stuff for you to put out immediately because you've got a few hours until the event happens," he says. You could also use the time to change location for a different composition. "If you live in an area with distinctive tall buildings for example, you could consider setting up within 100 metres of one to include some element of the foreground in your composition," James says.

As James has demonstrated, there is scope for photographing every stage of a lunar eclipse, not just the penumbra, to show the changing appearance of the Moon as it transits across the sky, shifting from reddish to white. "The Moon moves deceptively fast, so make sure that your shutter speed is no longer than 1/4 of a second and you will need to adjust your exposure throughout. As the Moon enters the Earth's shadow, it will fade and you may want to crank up the ISO. The reverse being true as the Moon leaves the Earth's shadow."

4. Shoot time-lapse of the Moon's path

Not satisfied with only capturing still photographs of the Moon, James works with a second camera, his EOS 5DS R, to capture time-lapse videos using the Time-lapse movie mode. "Not only does this give you something like 700 stills to choose from but with the right software and skills, you have a whole other product," says James, who has sold multiple time-lapse videos of the Moon to clients such as the BBC.

For a lunar eclipse time-lapse, you will need to shoot wide enough for the Moon to still be in the frame as the event is concluding, so preparation is key. You can also use keyframes from the time-lapse to create a composite image. "My top tip would be to use two cameras if you can – that way you can more than double your creative potential from the event," says James.

Canon's latest EOS R System cameras feature a built-in interval timer for shooting time-lapse sequences, as well as the Time-lapse movie mode that produces video clips ready to share straight from the camera.

The Moon with a pinkish hue is captured nestled among Central London skyscrapers by photographer James Burns.

James shot this pinkish-hued skyline in March 2022. It shows the Moon nestled among skyscrapers in Central London, UK – although it was taken almost 13km away in Southall. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 1/8 sec, f/4 and ISO 100. © James Burns

5. Urban Moon photography

James specialises in shooting images that showcase the distinctive cityscapes of London. But what does he keep in mind when deciding how to photograph the Moon in the British capital? "Think about bringing the Moon into a composition that includes recognisable elements," he advises, such as an iconic skyscraper. These are the shots most likely to catch a picture editor's eye. "You've managed to capture this incredibly beautiful and rare event contextualised right next to something that feels very local. That blows people's minds." London is notorious for being rainy, so James always checks the forecast, but stresses that clouds aren't always a bad thing. "Take the chance, because actually by far the most exciting Moon images are those where the clouds are illuminated dramatically by the moonlight."

A night sky showing the twinkling Milky Way over the sea, with rocky outcrops on both sides.

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6. Post-processing

Capturing all the detail of your Moon and landscape in RAW is only one part of the equation, stresses Andrew; you also need to do a lot of work in post-processing. "If you've got the exposure right, the Moon will still look quite blown out," he explains. "So you pay attention to highlights, whites and shadows, you use radial filters [which allow you to make local adjustments], and you can bring out a ton of detail. And of course, you're going to do work on your foreground, which obviously involves work with shadows, but might also involve various graduated filters."

He adds: "You're doing everything you can to make that RAW file sing. Ansel Adams famously said 'the negative is the score and the print is the performance', and the same thing applies in Moon photography when it comes to your RAW and processed files."

7. How to sell your Moon photography

"There are several revenue streams for lunar photography," James explains. One is syndicating pictures to the media. "You won't get a lot of money by doing this, but it gets your images seen." Viewers can have a deep emotional connection to lunar eclipse images, especially if they tie to a significant event in their lives such as a marriage or birth. "In the paper, you will be credited. And if someone wants to find you, they will," says James. "It can lead to other things." For example, after his 2015 lunar eclipse photographs were published in the British national press, he received a call from a prospective client the next day – a client whom he still works for now. The most lucrative option, though, is shooting time-lapse. This can then be licensed for use on TV, where budgets are bigger than in print or web news outlets. By far the closest revenue stream to James's heart is selling Moon images as fine art prints via his website. "I'm not in this for the social media," he says. "Prints are what I care about the most."

A ghostly moon rises over a rocky outcrop on the Stiperstones Ridge in Shropshire, UK, taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens by Andrew Fusek Peters.

The Moon rises over the Devil's Chair, the largest and most imposing of the rocky outcrops on the Stiperstones Ridge in Shropshire. "The dynamic range of a camera such as the EOS R5 means that if the landscape is already getting dark you can bring it up in post," says Andrew. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/8 and ISO 100. © Andrew Fusek Peters

8. Best cameras and lenses for Moon photography

Canon EOS R3

"The Canon EOS R3 is a fantastic low-light camera, perfect when you're photographing the Moon and need a fairly high ISO to freeze the action," says Canon Europe Senior Product Marketing Specialist Mike Burnhill. "It's fast at focusing in low light, too."

Canon EOS R5

The "incredible detail" achievable with the Canon EOS R5 is the big draw for Andrew. "The 45MP full-frame sensor means you can just zoom in, zoom in, zoom in, crop, crop, crop, and there's still detail," he says.

Canon EOS R6 Mark II

"At a much lower price bracket than the EOS R3, the Canon EOS R6 Mark II offers many of the same benefits and a much smaller body," says Mike. "The low light AF isn't quite as good as the EOS R3, but it offers great ISO performance."

Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM

"A wide-angle lens such as the Canon RF 15-35MM F2.8L IS USM is essential if, like James, you're photographing cityscapes or landscapes where you want to include not just the Moon, but some of the surroundings to put it into context," says Mike. A fast shutter speed will eliminate any motion blur "so having a 2.8 aperture means you can keep ISO down, reduce noise and still have a pin-sharp Moon".

Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM

"The Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM is a great entry-level telephoto lens which gives you the same ability to compress the image but at a lower price point," says Mike. "Lighter than the 100-500mm, it's a good starter lens that can be adapted for use in shooting astrophotography too."

Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM

Mike highlights the versatility of the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM telephoto zoom, adding: "It's an easy lens to move around, with good stabilisation, allowing you to compress the shot to make the Moon look much bigger."

Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM

"The Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM is pin-sharp and focuses incredibly fast. The detail it resolves is unbelievable," enthuses Andrew. The 5-stop optical IS is also a big bonus when it comes to photographing the Moon. "I was able to get down to fairly slow shutter speeds," he adds. "I needed that because the Moon is moving so fast. I'm literally chasing it."

Írta: Rachel Segal Hamilton, Tom May & Phil Hall


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