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Shoot for the moon: 10 lunar photography tips

Andrew Fusek Peters is always on the lookout for new and exciting ways to capture the moon. Here he shares his tips for standout moon photography and explains how having the right kit helps him realise his creative vision.
The moon rising over Manstone Rock on the Stiperstones ridge in Shropshire, UK.

Andrew Fusek Peters paired a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens to capture this shot of 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," he explains. "If you've got good light, you can get some awesome shots." Taken at 1/500 sec, f/9 and ISO100. © Andrew Fusek Peters

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. Full moons and phenomena such as the Harvest Moon, Blue Moon, Blood Moon and eclipses often prompt a flurry of social media shots. These are mostly close-ups of the moon on its own, but photographers on the hunt for a greater creative challenge can take inspiration from Andrew Fusek Peters' moon photography tips and techniques.

The British photographer, whose work regularly appears in national newspapers and magazines, 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.

He's developed this approach to such a level that people sometimes mistakenly assume he's used composites. 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, Andrew offers his tips for capturing fresh and original photographs of the moon, all year round.
A full moon behind the radar station and telephone mast on Titterstone Clee Hill in Shropshire.

Try capturing the context within an interesting foreground, such as this shot of the moon behind a radar station and telephone mast on Titterstone Clee Hill in Shropshire, UK. "I could see the moon rising behind the tower, but I wasn't aware until I started processing that there's an amazing mirroring of the grey circular dishes on the mast and the moon's surface," says Andrew. Taken on a Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/4 and ISO320. © Andrew Fusek Peters

1. Be in the right place

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.

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2. Choose the right time

You might assume that the best time to shoot the moon is when it's full, but Andrew says that isn't always the case. "Get out a couple of days before the moon is full," he says. "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.

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 ISO100. © Andrew Fusek Peters

3. Think on your feet

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 (below), 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 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."
A supermoon visible over Three Fingers Rock in Shropshire.

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 with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens + Canon Extender 2x III at 1/60 sec, f/8 and ISO800. © Andrew Fusek Peters

4. Take account of atmospherics

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."

5. Don't use a tripod

While tripods are central to star photography, shooting handheld is better when it comes to the moon, says Andrew. "The issue with setting up a tripod is that the moon might not appear exactly where you want it to," he explains. "You need to be able to respond very quickly, and move your position so you can place the moon exactly where you want it in the frame – just like with the distant sunset over hills. You don't have a lot of time, because the light that you want is the last light of the day: dusk light. So to get your shot, you just have to go handheld."

6. 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."
Rocky outcrops in Zion National park, Utah, USA, pictured at night. Blurred lights run along the road and the Milky Way can be seen in the sky above.

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A silhouette of a thrush sitting on a branch in front of the blurred moon.

"This was taken at dusk, at about 6pm in January, in my garden," recalls Andrew. "I climbed on the roof of our conservatory, and it was one of the rare times when the bird didn't fly off. You can see the moon through the bird's tail wings and its beak; it's one of the best photos I've ever taken." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 1/640 sec, f/8 and ISO1600. © Andrew Fusek Peters

7. The best lenses to photograph the moon

When you expose for the moon, the amount of landscape detail you can capture will depend, in part, on the quality of your lens and on your camera's low-light performance, so that it captures detail you can recover in the shadows.

One question regularly asked is how photographers make the moon look so big. A major factor in this is often the way a telephoto lens compresses perspective. Andrew uses the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM and the EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM with the Canon Extender 2x III, which suit his purposes perfectly thanks to their high magnification and pin-sharp accuracy. "If you want a big moon," he reasons, "you want big lenses."

Recently, though, he's had the chance to shoot with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens paired with a Canon EOS R5. "It's pin-sharp and focuses incredibly fast. The detail it resolves is unbelievable," enthuses Andrew. The 5-stop optical IS system in the lens is also a big bonus for Andrew when it comes to photographing the moon. "I was able to get down to fairly slow shutter speeds," he says. "I needed that because the moon is moving so fast. I'm literally chasing it, so I needed it to work for me, and it absolutely did."
A ghostly moon rises over the Devil's Chair, a rocky outcrop on the Stiperstones ridge in Shropshire.

The moon rises over the Devil's Chair, the largest and most imposing of the rocky outcrops on the Stiperstones ridge in Shropshire, UK. "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 ISO100. © Andrew Fusek Peters

8. The best cameras to photograph the moon

Canon's full-frame mirrorless EOS R5 and EOS R6 offer excellent low-light performance, and Andrew was most impressed by the EOS R5 when he paired it with the Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM super-telephoto lens. "It's a substantial step forward," he says. "It was resolving really incredible detail. The 45MP full-frame sensor means you can just zoom in, zoom in, zoom in, crop, crop, crop, and there's still detail."

For photographing the moon, the EVF was another huge bonus for Andrew: "The EVF is just brilliant because you want to expose correctly for the moon and it enables you to see that," he says. "As I'm shooting handheld, I need to be able to see what's going on through the viewfinder, which I was able to do very, very quickly."
A close-up of the surface of the moon taken with a super-telephoto lens and an extender.

Andrew was particularly impressed by the 5-stops of image stabilisation in the new Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens, which enabled him to shoot his night moon images handheld, even when using an extender. The Canon RF 600mm F11 IS STM and the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM super-telephoto lenses are also compatible with Canon's RF extenders. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens + Canon Extender RF 2x at 1,200mm, 1/200 sec, f/10 and ISO400. © Andrew Fusek Peters

9. How to shoot stable moon images at long focal lengths

While the latest telephoto lenses such as the Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM (and the Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM) have incredibly sophisticated image stabilisation systems that can compensate for camera shake by up to 5-stops, you still need some good fieldcraft if you're going to be photographing the moon handheld.

"There are a couple of ways you can do it," explains Andrew. "First, you can use your head as a balance – you're literally balancing your camera against your forehead and using it as a fulcrum. Second, if you've got a chance when you're running around in the landscape, fence posts are the best monopods I've ever come across. Third, you can use your knee. Knees are wonderful: you can sit down very quickly, rest your left elbow on your knee and you've got a bit of extra stability."

10. Spend time on 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."

Written by Tom May and Phil Hall


Andrew Fusek Peters' kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Photographer Andrew Fusek Peters holding a Canon camera to his eye.

Cameras

Canon EOS R5

A professional full-frame mirrorless flagship camera offering photographers and filmmakers high resolution stills and 8K video.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Whether you want to shoot more ambitious projects, or you're turning professional with your photography, the EOS 6D Mark II gives you what you need to take those exciting next steps.

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