Shooting a Moonrise

Photos by Michael Maloney

Once a month, there is one day where the full moon rises at close to the same time as the sun sets. What this means for you the photographer is that you can get a detailed shot of the moon and still have detail in your landscape. You need to shoot quickly however because as the moon rises and we go into twilight, our perfect shooting conditions change at which point we need to decide if we want detail in the moon which is lit by the sun, or detail in the landscape which is now plunged into darkness. Choose to expose for the moon, and your landscape becomes pitch black. Expose for the landscape, the moon will lose all detail and look like a white dot.

The best way to determine when this one day occurs is to use The Photographers Ephemeris (TPE). This app is all you need to determine exactly when and where the sun or moon will rise or set on any day, past, present, or future, from any place in the world. I even use TPE to plan vacations! It is absolutely an essential app for landscape shooters.


  • Camera with an assortment of lenses. Longer lenses will show more detail in the moon.
  • A sturdy tripod
  • A remote shutter release or you can use the shutter delay function on your camera.

Camera Settings

  • I recommend shooting in the RAW mode. You can get much more out of your image in RAW – rather than JPEG.
  • Set your white balance to 3200 – 3800 K or Tungsten if you want a blue, colder tone…otherwise use Daylight balance. (If you are shooting in the RAW mode, it doesn’t matter where you set your white balance as it can easily be tweaked in post production)
  • Turn off your image stabilization (IS/VR). This is recommended whenever your camera is locked to a tripod
  • Set your ISO to 100 – 400. Do not use AUTO ISO. Since we are on tripods, and the moon is lit by the sun, we can get by using a lower ISO which will give us a better quality image.
  • Use single point auto focus. Recommended because with single point focus, we will know precisely where our focus will be. Once focus is set, turn auto focus off. Now you can arrange your composition and not worry about focus shift. You need to be very careful however not to move your focus ring. I often use tape to lock the focus ring in place.
  • If you are not comfortable shooting in the manual exposure mode, then use aperture priority (AV on Canon, A on Nikon). Aperture priority is recommended because we want control over our aperture. We want a small aperture (f8, f11, f16) for deep depth of field, especially if you are using a long lens. For those of you comfortable shooting in manual mode, bracket your exposures. (changing your settings for at least 1 stop over and 1 stop under). By bracketing, you are sure to get the perfect exposure.
  • Keep in mind that you will be changing your exposure settings as the moon rises and your scene gets darker. You don’t want exposures that are too long however, because the moon will appear as an elongated blur. You can get away with a 5 second or so exposure with a wide-angle lens, but with a telephoto you need to keep exposure times to no slower than 1 second.
  • Choose a small aperture if using a long lens (200mm +). The depth of field the smaller aperture gives you should allow both your landscape and the moon to be tack sharp. If shooting with a wide angle lens, you can get by with a wider open aperture.
  • A graduated neutral density filter (2-3 stops) will extend your shooting time as twilight turns your foreground dark.
  • Last but not least, to assure tack sharp photos, lock your mirror up if you are using shutter speeds slower than 1/30th of a second, or better yet, use Live View mode.

Tripod Tips

  • Make sure your tripod is set up properly – on sturdy footing, all leg sections firmly tightened, camera secured tightly.
  • Try not to raise the middle column. You will get better stability just extending the legs.
  • Always have one leg of your tripod aimed at your subject. Forget doing this with a long heavy lens in the wind can be a costly mistake!
  • Secure your camera strap so that it is not flapping in the wind. Better yet, take it off your camera.
  • If windy, use your body to protect the camera from the wind.
  • If using long lenses with big lens hoods in the wind, take the hood off. The hood can catch the wind, causing slight vibrations that will ruin your shots.

Shooting Through Fences

Meet Ginger a beautiful tiger who resides at the Oakland Zoo with her three sisters. I was fortunate that she was in a posing mood while I was there leading our Camera West Photo Walk this morning. (more on the photo walk in a future post)

Ginger was quite photogenic…only problem was, she was behind this pesky chain link fence which was about 5 feet from me.

I had no other options but to shoot through the fence. But where is the fence in my photos of Ginger? It’s there but just not visible as I used a long lens and a wide open aperture, plus my subject, Ginger was about 30 feet from the fence. The long lens, in this case about a 300mm and wide aperture of F4-5.6 allowed for a shallow depth of field so the fence was invisible. Had I shot this with a wide angle or a small aperture, the pattern of the fence would show.

In the photo above, Ginger was quite intrigued by a baby crying and came up closer to the fence to investigate. Note now, the fence is more visible, causing some irregular patterns on her back and on the cement wall, ruining my photo. The fence was now about 5 feet from Ginger rather than the 30 feet in the first photo. Ginger btw is crouching behind a cement wall that you see running just below her eyes.

Now Ginger is right up to the fence. no way to make the fence disappear here unless you are a Photoshop genius with too much time to spare.

So, if you are ever in similar situations shooting through a fence, No worries! You can make it magically disappear if you can get close to it with the subject far away while using a wide open aperture on a telephoto. The longer the telephoto the better, also the closer you can put the front of the lens to the fence, the better your image will be. And one final tip, you need to use single point auto focus, or go to manual focus to avoid the camera from locking focus on the fence.

One last photo for you. Check out the teeth on Ginger! I’m sure glad that fence was there!

Painting with Motion

Shooting sports usually calls for a super fast shutter speed to freeze peak action or capture reaction/emotion. Sometimes however, it’s good to do just the opposite – something I like to call painting with motion – using a very slow shutter speed and following the movement. This is more commonly called panning, or dragging your shutter.

I wanted to challenge myself this past weekend at a local bicycle race, using this technique. And to make it even more of a challenge, I chose to stick with a super slow shutter of 1/2 of a second.

What I like about painting with motion is that you never know what you’ll get. The motion of the camera following the motion of the racers creates unusual results that you can’t predict and that’s what I love about this technique. Trying to follow the racers as they speed by at 30-35mph can be quite a challenge, especially with a 1/2 of a second shutter. You just do the best you can, and sometimes your mistakes can actually work in your favor, producing an interesting effect that you couldn’t predict.

To get proper exposure with a shutter speed of 1/2 of a second in bright daylight, a neutral density filter is needed. I used a B+W 3.0 – 1000X ND filter which allowed me to shoot at 1/2 second at F5-5.6 at ISO 200-320 in bright daylight. This filter gives you 10 stops of light reduction. Shooting through such a filter with a DSLR however offers a challenge – it’s so dark that you cannot see your image! Hard to follow movement when looking through a black viewfinder! Easy fix however if you have live view capability on your DSLR.

50mm, .5 second, f5.6, ISO 250

50mm, .5 second, f5.0, ISO 320

35mm, .5 second, f5.0, ISO 200

A few more tips for a more successful shoot :

1. Shoot in RAW mode as you will have some color shift with the filter.

2. Use the center focusing square to target your subject and try to keep it on your subject as you make your long exposure.

3. Auto focus will not work if you are using the 1,000X ND filter so you need to manually focus before attaching the filter or use the live view mode.

4. It also helps to lock on to your subject way before you shoot, moving your body from the waist up with elbows tucked to your sides as you trip the shutter. Trying to time your movement to the action is the challenge.

5. Change your background for different effects. Sometimes a cluttered, contrasty background works better.

6. Shoot a lot and try different shutter speeds for different effects. For this outing I kept it at .5 second just for the challenge.

I will be leading a sports photography workshop in May. See the post in our Upcoming Events column located at the top right of this page and for more info, contact me at