How to Photograph the Moon with a DSLR

Last Updated June 6, 2023 by . First Published in 2014.

1,167 words, estimated reading time 4 minutes.

How to Photograph the Moon with a DSLR

Find out how to photograph the Moon with your DSLR camera and/or a small telescope and capture amazing views of the Moon and its features.

There is nothing quite like the sight of a waxing crescent Moon hanging in the evening twilight sky - the classic Moon shape loved by filmmakers and artists alike. Photographing the Moon is certainly one of the most simple targets you'll be able to find in the night sky, however, this guide will show you the way to get the very best photographs with your DSLR.

Moon Southern Pole
Moon Southern Pole

The moon can also be a difficult subject to photograph. It is a very bright subject when compared to the rest of the nighttime sky. It is also a moving subject, and it moves just fast enough that it may be problematic. Its brightness changes depending on the time of the month.

The very best areas of the Moon to photograph are along the terminator - the line that separates lunar day and lunar night. Along with this line, lunar features are most visible due to the low angle between the Moon and the Sun which creates long shadows over the lunar surface.

There isn't any single correct set of exposure settings that will all the time expose the moon appropriately. Its brightness is dependent upon a couple of things, primarily its phase, its place in the sky if the Moon is at perigee (closest to the Earth) or apogee (farthest from the Earth) and what precisely you want to capture in the photos (just the moon, or the moon with some Earthshine.)

Camera Settings to Photograph the Moon

Here is a table of exposure settings which assumes an aperture of f/8. The data is based on a few of my photos and from experience. The difference between each phase is not exactly one-stop, the scale tends to get skewed a bit as you reach the full moon. These are just some settings for you to start experimenting with. You may well find you need to adjust them for your camera, lens and seeing conditions.

ISOCrescentQuarterHalfGibbousFull Moon

Blue moons, orange moons in crescent hung just above the horizon, and so on, will all be dimmer than a white moon in the centre of the sky. Slightly longer exposures, maybe by a stop or two, will be required to compensate. When it comes to exposing the full moon, on the other hand, the reverse tends to be true. Shorter exposures up to a stop could also be required.

If your camera does not support manual mode, or you are not at ease in manual mode, you can still use auto exposures. Simply set the metering mode to "spot metering". That should help your camera with the correct exposure for the Moon. If your camera supports exposure compensation, you can tell the camera that the scene needs to be underexposed by around 2 stops which should also help.

Photograph the Moon with a Telescope

You will need a T-mount adaptor to couple your DSLR to your telescope to photograph the Moon. These are fairly inexpensive and can usually be got for around £15. They are specific to certain brands of cameras, so if you have a Canon DSLR you will need an adapter ring for Canon cameras. You will also need a barrel that will slide into your telescope focuser. These are generic and screw into the adaptor ring. You can also add a neutral density or variable polarizer filter to the barrel as you would an eyepiece. Adding a filter also has the benefit of sealing the insides of the camera from dust and moisture.

If you don't have a DSLR you can use several other options, even for smartphones, which involve a bracket or adaptor to hold the camera up to an eyepiece.

Once you have your digital camera set up and in a position to go, you need to do the same on your telescope. This includes polar alignment if you are wanting to track the Moon for any period.

Now that everything is set up, insert your DSLR into your telescope and tighten the restraining screws. I feel it's also a good idea to wrap the camera strap around the guide scope, just in case the camera should fall loose.

Moon in Live View
Moon in Live View

Once secured, set the camera's ISO to a low setting, say 100-200 and focus the camera as accurately as possible. I find it helpful to use a Hartmann mask and a high magnification to help focus.

The exposure setting will vary depending on your telescope, but as a place to begin try 1/200 second. Take a test shot and look at the image. The Moon should be bright, but not overexposed and not contain any pure white. If the shot is overexposed decrease the exposure time if it's not exposed enough increase it.

Moon Exposure Settings
Moon Exposure Settings

When you have found the optimum exposure setting, you want to either use a remote shutter release or the digital camera self-timer. This is because when you release the shutter, you introduce tiny vibrations into the camera and telescope. These are magnified through the optics and introduce blur to the image. The remote shutter release or self-timer will allow you to take a picture without physically touching the camera.

Take quite a few photographs as atmospherics can affect the quality of the images. The more you are taking, the better the chance of a great shot. Once you've gotten some favourable photographs of the moon, why not try increasing the exposure to 0.25 or 0.5 seconds and see if you can capture some Earthshine?

Photographing Earthshine


Earthshine is reflected earthlight visible on the Moons night side. It is observable when the Moon is a thin crescent, one to five days before or after a New Moon. Twilight is the best time of the day to capture this phenomenon, which is sometimes called 'the old Moon in the arms of the New Moon'.

With the right conditions, no particular exposure adjustments are needed. A moon with Earthshine is a beautiful addition to any twilight shot.

The Moon in the Landscape

The Moon can be part of the landscape or it can be used as a source of light to light up the surroundings at night time. With a full Moon and average exposure time, you'll be able to make a nighttime scene look like daylight - that is a great way to create and have an effect on a photograph. If you decide to include the moon in the landscape you could find it tricky to balance the exposure. To get around this, shoot at twilight on a night when the moon is very thin, or shoot when the moon is low in the sky. This will help to balance the exposure.

View my Lunar Photography photo gallery!

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