How to Photograph Landscapes With the Moon

Photo by Steve Berardi

Photo by Steve Berardi

Including the moon in a landscape can sometimes add a nice sense of balance or contrast to an image, like in the photo above (taken in the Colorado Desert of California).

But, photographing a landscape with the moon is a little tricky and requires some patience.

One of the problems is that the moon won’t always be where you want it to be. And, since the moon is so far away, sometimes it’s hard to get both your foreground AND the moon in sharp focus.

So, here are a few tips for dealing with these problems:

#1 – Wait until the moon is nearly full

The best time to photograph a landscape with the moon is when the moon is nearly full. During this time, the sun will rise as the moon is setting (and vice versa). This is perfect because the moon will then be low on the horizon during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset.

To photograph a landscape to the WEST, plan your shot for the day AFTER the full moon at sunrise. The moon will set as the sun rises.

To photograph a landscape to the EAST, plan your shot for the day BEFORE the full moon at sunset. The moon will rise as the sun sets.

You can also plan your shot for the DAY OF the full moon, but you’ll probably need to take two exposures then, since the moon will be a lot brighter than the landscape.

#2 – Concentrate on distant landscapes

The trick to getting a nice big moon in your image is to concentrate on distant landscapes and use a telephoto lens to frame your shot. This way, the moon will be fairly large in relation to the rest of your landscape. If you use a wide-angle lens, the moon will be just a tiny speck in your image!

#3 – Take two shots if you have a near foreground

To ensure both the foreground and the moon are in sharp focus, you may have to take a couple of shots. Focus the first shot on the landscape in front of you, and focus the second shot on the moon. You can combine these two exposures later in post-processing.

For a detailed explanation of why this is important, check out this previous post about a failed sand dune photo.

What did I miss?

If you have another tip for photographing landscapes with the moon, please share it with us by leaving a comment below. Thanks! :)

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Learn by Example!

steveb2About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, computer scientist, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of Southern California.

Comments

  1. Love the article, here are a couple of suggestions

    *make it abstract – the moon is a big huge rock that orbits our big huge rock. We see it every day (well, almost), so try to give it a different look. The link I posted is qn example of mine with a purple appearing sky. You can technically consider it astrophotgraphy so why not add a little sci-fi fell to it?

    *telescope – why not switch out your telephoto lens for a telescope instead? With a cheap adapter you can turn about any telescope into a super-duper-telephoto lens. Obviously you lose aperture and autofocus cotrol, but a telescope makes for a fun challenge…because it is a challenge.

    *apps – one of my all time favorite applications for the iPhone is The Photographer’s Ephemeris. It really helps to answer those questions of what time the moon will actually rise (I live west of a mountain range so the moon rise time isn’t the actual time I see the moon rise from my house. This little application not only helps me to know the correct moon rise time (as well as sunrise and set) by calculating the heights of the mountains compared to my relative position, but it also gives me compass degrees as to where the moon will be at any given time of the day. So, all I have to do is find a location, see what time the moon rises, find out what degree it will be at during the rise and then frame my shot. It’s great to have the camera all ready framed knowing where the moon will rise.

    Those are just soom of the things I do when looking to get a good moon shot.

  2. Christa says:

    Thanks for the tips!:)

  3. Susan Black says:

    Thanks for the great and very clear instructions in this article! i plan to save it for future reference.

  4. George Purvis says:

    Use a graduated neutral density filter to darken the moon when it is a lot brighter than the landscape.

  5. I love the contrast in this shot.

  6. Some cameras have image overlay. That comes handy where you can take diff pictures for both moon and the landscape and then combine them in camera. No post processing headache. I did one such experiment here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/pankajsharma/5939280910/in/photostream/lightbox/

  7. Wow, Steve, you just made my day. I recently took a moon pic with autumn leaves in the foreground. I ended up taking two shots as you mentioned and combined them in PP. I felt like I was cheating and was rather disgusted with myself. I feel much better now, thanks.

  8. Spencer says:

    I am not a big fan of this post processing work. I challenge myself to capture an image in the camera body, not cut, paste, and otherwise doctor my images in post production ( I do tweek sharpness, saturation, and contrast just a bit, and now and then crop an image) There is no reason why you can not capture images with a camera on a tripod and stopped down to f28 to get sharp image from just a few feet to inf.
    Thanks,
    Spencer
    Ventura

  9. Asim dangol says:

    I love photographing landscapes, and always had a question in mind. “How do i photograph moon with landscapes?? ” i had never thought of using telephoto lens to take into account distant landscape and the moon.I must say i got what i was searching for.Thanks for the awesome post.

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