Suppose you’re out and about one night, then you look up at the sky and catch a glimpse of the Moon. The Full Moon is so big and luminous that you decide to take a picture. But when you look back at your photo, you see that the full moon in your image is the size of speck dust!
How did this happen? How do photographers take beautiful pictures of enormous moons with breathtaking landscapes? A professional and even an amateur photographer can use some tricks of the trade to create stunning moon photos.
In this article, we answer the question, “Are pictures of a huge moon real?” We’ve also outlined how to take a photo of moonrise and even a full moon worthy of National Geographic.
Are pictures of a huge moon real?
In some cases, not all the photographs you see of big, gigantic moons are real. A few photographers would use some trade tricks to create a fake super moon in their photos.
Photographers can use the process of creating a composite photograph. This process combines a photo with a large moon with a landscape photo. Usually, the photographer will use two images taken at different times and locations.
How does the Moon look so big in photos?
In most cases, photos, where the moon dominates, will have been altered or taken with cameras with a longer lens instead of a normal lens. This is because when a longer focal lens, the Moon looks bigger.
So if you try to take a picture of the Moon with an ordinary camera with a normal lens or even your cellphone camera, you will end up with a picture of a tiny moon. It might be confusing when looking at the Moon with your own two eyes; it seems a lot bigger.
And no, it’s not because your eyes added an extra ten pounds to the Moon. The reason for the change in size is called the Moon Illusion.
The “Moon Illusion” refers to a trick of the mind that makes the Moon look bigger when it’s closer to the horizon and smaller when it’s up in the night sky. But taking a photo of the Moon will show that it is the same size whether it’s in the sky or at the horizon.
Photographers can create the “Moon Illusion” by taking a photo of the Moon when it’s low on the horizon with a long lens. The shot can also be a landscape image with trees, buildings, and mountains.
Using a compression of a telephonic lens will also work. The longer lenses will make the objects in your photos look bigger. If you want the other objects to look smaller, you can always move further back. The Moon will stay the same size no matter your far your vantage point is.
So, for instance, you’ve taken a photo of the Moon, and you took the picture from a distance with a 500mm lens. However, the image looks like you took it at a shorter length with a 50mm lens.
The photo you’ll end up with be the Moon looking enormous, but the objects in the foreground will look the same. So both the moon and other objects will look the same.
How do photographers get big moons?
There are different tricks that photographers can use to get big moons in their photos. As we mentioned above, photographers can create a composite photograph.
Creating a composite photograph means that the photographer combines two photos to create one image. With this technique, the photographer will have taken the pictures at different locations and other times.
The photographers need to use photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop to combine these photos. Below we’ve outlined the basic steps you need to create a composite photograph.
Step One: Select your photo elements
The first step is deciding which elements in your photos you want to combine in your composite photo. You can do this by opening an image as a different file in your editing software, such as Photoshop.
To get the best results, you should select elements with a similar pixel count and lighting so the images will perfectly blend.
Step Two: Make your layers
In the second step, you can open a new file for your composite photograph. Then you can make and label a new layer for each image element you chose. Creating new layers will make it easier to change and manipulate each layer independently.
It would help if you ensured that the background you’ve chosen for your composite photograph is your first layer. Then you can use exact selection tools such as Photoshop’s Magic Wand tool or the Lasso tool.
With these, you will move the various elements in your composite image. Having different layers will also allow you to move the other elements independently.
Step Three: Blend or hide elements
In the third step, you can use the mask button to make a new layer mask for a single layer. The mask layer makes it easier to use the brush tool to hide, fade, and even show parts of your photo element in the composite photo.
If your composite photo needs a fading gradient to blend two elements together, you can use blend modes in editing software such as Photoshop.
Step Four: Adjust the colors of your photo
The final step involves adjusting the colors to change the color temperature, contrast, saturation, and brightness to create a beautiful image. It’s best to start with photos that have similar colors and lighting. The similarities will ensure that there aren’t any drastic changes to the original images to create the composite picture.
Crop the photograph
Another way photographers can get a giant moon in their photos is by cropping their photos. Digitally cropping an image means choosing pixels you want to keep in the digital picture file.
When talking about the size of a digital photo, it’s best to use pixels as a unit of measurement. Otherwise, it can be a bit confusing. A pixel is a tiny light-detecting photosite that can capture the intensity and the color of the light that reaches the camera.
To get the illusion of a giant moon in your photograph, you can crop the photo and then enlarge the dimensions of the cropped picture. Using this method, you insert information that was already in the image and create a higher image pixel density.
Angular Field of View
In some cases, photographers will use a longer focal lens, and their photos will have a narrow angular field view than our eyes. The longer lens will capture a smaller area than the area captured with a shorter lens.
Our eyes give us a more extensive field of view than a camera sensor. The field of view is approximately 130 degrees, including peripheral vision. But the area where our eyes can take in details and color is around 55 degrees. This equates to a 43 mm focal length lens.
How do you take a picture of the moonrise?
Here we will outline some tips and tricks for taking a moonrise picture. We’ll include what you need to do to prepare for taking your shot, what you need, and some tips for taking your photo.
Basics of moonrise photography
When taking a photo of the Moon rising or if you’re planning any lunar photography excursion, there are some basics that you’ll need to follow to make sure you get beautiful photos. Below we’ve made a list of some essential tips for you to follow:
Tip One: Think about if you want a Close-up with Foreground.
Before you go out exploring with all your gear, you need to decide if you want a close-up of the moonrise with plenty of details? Or do you want just a tiny part of the Moon in your photo?
This decision will affect what equipment you’ll need. Taking a close-up photo of the Moon will need more high-tech equipment and camera technique. On the other hand, if you’re photographing a small part of the Moon, it won’t take a lot of skill or advanced gear.
Tip Two: Keep track of the Moon Phases
Now that you’ve decided what kind of photo you’ll be taking, you’ll need to decide what phase of the Moon you want to photograph. The Moon will be different during the different phases and have deep shadows on its surface.
Photographing a full moon is a popular choice for photographers, but sometimes a full moon is not the best choice because it might appear “flat” in photos.
Tip Three: Test your camera equipment
Before you go out to take your moonrise photo, you need to test and prepare your camera equipment thoroughly. This preparation will help you figure out what kind of moon photography you can do with your camera and lens.
Tip Four: Use proper settings
While having a good DSLR camera is essential, using the correct camera settings for lunar photography is also necessary. The settings are extra crucial if you’re using a long telephoto lens and telescope.
Tip Five: Take your time with the Post-Process
If you look at your moon photo without any post-process work, the Moon could look flat and uninteresting. This flat appearance is why taking your time with the post-process work.
Taking your time is especially important if you’ve taken your photos in the RAW format. To show the Moon’s details, you might need to use blending, sharpening, and stacking techniques in your post-process work.
Tip Six: Be meticulous when creating composite photos
In some cases, photographers might create a composite photo from different images. Photographers took these photos in various locations and times. If you’re not careful when doing this, your composite photo could end up looking fake and unrealistic.
Preparing to photograph a moonrise
When taking a moonrise photograph, preparation is critical. Some factors will affect the way your photo comes out. Below, we’ve outlined what you need to check when preparing to take your shot of a moonrise.
It should be obvious that before you go out, taking photos of the moonrise is to check the weather forecast to make sure you’ll have clear skies when you go out if you’re planning on taking a close-up shot of the moonrise.
If you live in an urban area, such as a big city, air pollution can cause a big problem. Another source of problems when using a long-length focal lens can be a heatwave. You can also end up with a blurry picture of the Moon if there are high moisture levels and haze.
Use Apps and Websites to help you plan
There are plenty of handy apps and websites to assist with planning for your moonrise photoshoot. They can help you find out a moonrise and the best place to take your photograph.
Some examples of these helpful apps for moon photography include:
When you are on location, you should use similar apps to these to check precisely where and when the moonrise will happen.
Work on your Composition
If you want to take a moonrise photo with a unique foreground or include an exciting subject in the picture, you should focus on your composition. The composition you need will depend on the size of the moonrise relative to the foreground.
If you’re using a wide-angle lens to take your photo, the Moon is going to take up a small part of your photo. In this situation, the moonrise will become an element that will add something interesting to the picture.
On the other hand, if you plan on using a telephoto lens, you should keep in mind that the moonrise will look more prominent. A bigger moonrise will become the primary or secondary subject in your photo. In this case, the other objects in your image will help accentuate the natural beauty of the Moon.
Test your camera gear
Once you’ve scouted your location and know precisely where the Moon will rise, you should test out your camera gear. You will need to make sure all your equipment needed is ready. Your kit will include your cameras, lenses, chargers, and memory cards.
You will need to test all your gear ahead of time. If you’re taking a photo of an ordinary moonrise, you can test your equipment at any time. But you’re looking to photograph a particular moonrise, then you need to plan ahead of time.
As for the type of camera and lens you’ll need, you’ll need equipment that offers plenty of zoom. Needing a lot of zoom usually means that you might need a telephoto lens or a specific lens for interchangeable lens cameras or a lens that’s part of a point-and-shoot system.
Some experts recommend that you use the Nikon Coolpix P900, which has a super-telephoto lens with 83x optical zoom if you want equipment that’s both powerful and compact.
With the camera’s P900 bridge system, you will be able to zoom in very close to the Moon, but you’ll still be limited by generally small 1/2. 3” sensor that’s inside the camera.
When it’s at its smaller, the F/6.3 aperture of the lens won’t take in plenty of light. This limit means you’ll need to up the ISO or decrease your shutter speed.
So when you’re taking a moonrise photograph, you should think about using a Mirrorless DSLR camera with a Full-Frame (FF) sensor or APS-C sensor. These sensors are must bigger than the sensors on point-and-shoot cameras.
Use Tripod and other accessories.
When using a camera with a long focal lens, your camera could shake when you take your shot and end up blurring your photo. The blurring in your image can even happen with the slightest of moves. Having a stable tripod will help you take a clear picture.
You can also prevent your camera from shaking by using a remote camera trigger. If you’re using a DSLR, there is a Mirror Lock Up (MLU) that you can use with this trigger to decrease the mirror vibrations.
On top of a stable tripod, you also will need a good quality tripod head to make it easy to adjust your camera’s position for when the Moon moves.
Summary of taking a moonrise photo
Below is a quick guide on the basic steps you need to follow when taking a moonrise picture.
Step One: Use a Long Zoom Lens
When taking a photo of moonrise, the longer the focal length of your lens, the better your chances of making a good shot. You can use an interchangeable lens camera with a lens with a focal length of at least 300mm.
Step Two: Use manual mode
It’s recommended that you use manual mode because your camera won’t have proper exposure for the Moon.
Step Three: Set ISO to 100
Before you take your moonrise photo, you should set your camera’s ISO to the base ISO, which usually is 100.
Step Four: Set Aperture to f/11
This step is based on the Looney 11 Rule. This rule states that for astronomical photos of the Moon, you should set the aperture to f/11. You should also set your shutter speed to 1/100 or 1/125 seconds.
Step Five: Shutter Speed should be 1/100th
When taking a photo of a moonrise, you should have your camera shutter speed set t0 1/100th of a second. This speed will enable you to take a picture of the moonrise without blurring your image.
Step Six: Use manual focus on your lens
It’s recommended that you shouldn’t use your camera’s autofocus system to try to focus on the moonrise. What you can do instead is activate your camera’s live view, then zoom in as much as you can.
When you’ve zoomed in, you can focus manually, and then you can altogether disable the autofocus function.
Step Seven: Snap your moonrise photo
Take your picture of the moonrise and check how it looks on your camera. If you’re not happy with how it looks, then you can adjust your settings to get the best photo of the moonrise.
When it comes to taking a decent picture of the Moon, it can be frustrating and challenging. It can be incredibly disappointing if you don’t know what tricks and gear you need to create a decent photo.
But once you know that you need a long focal lens and the post-processing work required to make a beautiful photo, then it’s easy-peasy.