The Moon is a great target for photography, whatever your level of experience. Being bright and having a tangible size in the sky, it doesn’t call for specialised or expensive equipment.
Although it’s bright enough to photograph with a smartphone, the Moon may cause disappointment because, despite how it looks to your eye, it’s actually pretty small.
When fuller phases of the Moon are seen rising or setting, its proximity to the horizon makes it appear huge, an effect known as the Moon illusion.
Try taking a photo of a Moon like this and you’ll see just how small it really is.
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A bright, fuller-phase Moon against a dark sky may also cause exposure issues.
Attempting to capture the Moon against a foreground horizon, an automatic camera typically either favours the Moon, losing the foreground, or else the foreground, over-exposing the Moon.
One way around this is to try to catch the larger gibbous phases of the Moon during daylight conditions.
The waxing gibbous phases can be seen in daylight in the afternoon to evening period before sunset, while the waning gibbous Moon appears in the morning sky after sunrise.
The waxing and waning crescent moon phases are even better, as these can be caught under twilight conditions either after sunset or before sunrise respectively.
Being less bright than a full Moon, a humble smartphone can often capture the shape of these beautiful crescents well.
Zoom in to get a better view
More detail is gained by zooming into the Moon’s disc. Here it pays to know your phone’s spec.
Typical phone cameras have optical and digital zoom capabilities.
Optical zoom uses lenses to increase magnification; digital zoom uses software to stretch an optical result.
Consequently, digital zoom doesn’t really give you any more than the maximum optical zoom of your camera.
You’d be better off using the maximum optical zoom setting then downloading and resizing the image yourself with photo-editing software.
Greater magnification can be obtained by using a smartphone zoom lens, or by coupling your phone to a telescope.
The technique, known as afocal imaging, takes a bit of getting used to, but can produce surprisingly good results.
Take a look at our guide further below and try it for yourself.
You can also use a smartphone telescope adapter to help you.
Using a digital camera
If you’re really interested in phtotographing the Moon, it’s worth touching on the use of digital cameras for a bit.
Because, of course, another way to show lunar details is to use a more sophisticated camera.
A DSLR, MILC or equivalent is ideal for this because you can switch the lens out for something that will give you a better image scale.
Basically, the longer the focal length, the larger the image scale.
Use a lens beyond 200mm focal length and you’ll start to see convincing detail in the Moon’s disc.
With a 1,000mm telephoto lens you’ll see lunar maria, mountain ranges and, of course, craters.
If you have a telescope, it’s possible to couple your camera directly to the eyepiece holder to use the telescope as the telephoto lens.
All you need is to use an adaptor ring specific to your camera make and model that has a T-thread, into which you can screw a nosepiece.
Readily available from telescope stockists, these inexpensive adaptors will open up all sorts of photographic adventures for you.
Find out more in our guides on how to photograph the Moon or how to do astrophotography with a DSLR camera.
Gallery: smartphone images of the Moon
Photographing the Moon with a smartphone, step-by-step
Have you captured a beautiful image of the Moon, with a smartphone or otherwise? Send us your images! We’d love to see them.
This guide originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.