Have you ever noticed that a gorgeous moon that looks stunning on the horizon looks tiny and unimpressive in your photos of it?

Taking pictures of the moon is something most of us want to do at some point or another, and it’s something that leaves most of us feeling disappointed.

The reason this happens is pretty basic if you stop to think about it. The moon looks smaller in photos for the same reason my forehead looks huge in this photo:

Moon photography tips

Ugh. Sorry to subject you to that. What you see in this photo is wide angle distortion. When you are shooting with zoomed out on your lens, whatever is closest to the camera looks larger than what is farther away. My camera was close to my forehead when I shot the photo above – that’s why my forehead looks so much wider than my chin. (I really don’t look like an anime character in real life!)

The same holds true even shooting zoomed in with a telephoto lens if that subject is very far away. That’s what happens when we take photos of the moon. That effect is magnified when you have something in the foreground whose perspective makes it dwarf the moon.

Ok. That’s WHY the moon looks small when you photograph it. Here are some moon photography tips to help you take better nighttime photos.

Moon Photography Tips: On Camera

  • Exposure is tough if the sun has set and you have anything other than moon and sky in your photos. In order to see the detail on the moon and avoid overexposing it, you will need to set the exposure for a dark subject. This will force the rest of your photo into silhouette. You have a couple of options for avoiding this exposure issue in your final photo:
    • Shoot using a tripod using exposure bracketing or take a series of photos quickly that expose for the highlights, the midtones and the shadows of the photo.  Merge these files together using the HDR Photomerge feature in Lightroom, Photoshop’s Merge to HDR Pro, or Photoshop Elements’ Photomerge Exposure.
    • Take one photo in Raw. Expose for the moon and make it as bright as possible without blowing it out. Use Lightroom to brighten the foreground in your Raw image.
  • Focus is tough too. Ideally, you’ll focus on infinity and use a small enough aperture that most of your frame will be in focus. Don’t know about infinity focus? Keep reading!
  • Lens choice is the only moon photography tip that isn’t tough. The longer the better. You might have a dream of capturing a gorgeous vista with a huge moon looming over the scenery. But remember – the more you have in the foreground, the smaller the moon will look. And remember, when we are talking about taking photos of the moon, the foreground is anything on the EARTH that appears in your photo!

Moon Photography Tips: Post-Processing

  • Brighten some combination of Exposure, Shadows & Blacks in the editing software of your choice.
  • If your sky has blue in it, darken the sky’s luminance and increase its saturation.
  • And now for the secret to making the moon look larger in your photos. Make it larger! That’s what you have Photoshop for, right? Now, this wouldn’t be allowed in some photo competitions or for certain publications. I personally have no problem making the moon looked AS LARGE AS it looked to me when I took the photo. I wouldn’t go larger. But these are my own guidelines – in your photos, you get to do whatever you want!
    • Option 1: To make the moon larger in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, select a round area that includes the moon and the halo, or bright area, around it. Copy that select (command/control C) and paste it (command/control V). Take this new layer into Free Transform (command/control T), turn on Constrain Proportions in the tool options bar and stretch the moon out to taste. Click and drag after stretching to make sure it’s in the correct place.
    • Option 2: Copy and paste the moon from another photo: You’ll follow the same steps as in option 1, except that your copying will happen in a different photo.

Watch this video for a start-to-finish edit of the photos you see in this lesson.


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