Brady Cabe Photographer Central California photography | Behind the Shot - Capturing the Full Moon in a Single Exposure

Behind the Shot - Capturing the Full Moon in a Single Exposure

July 30, 2015  •  2 Comments

Capturing the Full Moon in a Single Exposure

Full Moon Rising - AvilaFull Moon Rising - Avila

A Note About The Next Full Moon (Sunday, September 27, 2015) Moon Rise

Here is the rough schedule of the eclipse according to online sources:

Partial umbral eclipse begins: 6:07 p.m. PDT
Sunset: 6:52 p.m. PDT
Total eclipse begins: 7:11 p.m. PDT
Greatest eclipse: 7:47 p.m. PDT
Total eclipse ends: 8:23 p.m. PDT
Partial eclipse ends: 9:27 p.m. PDT

Take note that the eclipse is peaking just after sunset, which means we have the chance to photograph the eclipsing moon with some ambient light from the setting sun spilling onto our foreground.


The best time to capture the full moon and also be able to photograph your surroundings in a single, balanced exposure, is when the full moon is rising before sunset or setting just after sunrise. This allows for the moon to be positioned high enough above the horizon to be photographed, and also provides enough ambient light from the sun to illuminate your foreground subjects, allowing for even exposures of the moon and foreground captured in a single shot.  The moon will become more vibrant almost immediately after the sun has dipped below the horizon behind you for evening attempts, or just before it rises in the morning for sunrise. This moment of the sun being just below the horizon is the critical moment for capturing both a vivid, bright moon, and also having the most amount of ambient light from the sun possible for an even exposure. Quickly after these critical moments, the light from the sun will fade and your foreground will become silhouetted by the bright moon. If you miss the sunset time window, try back the next morning just before sunrise to attempt capturing the setting Moon. A note about sunrise: The final minutes before the Moon sets on the water is very difficult to capture a sharp image of the setting moon, due to moisture in the air either partially obscuring the moon or causing visual anomalies that make the moon appear to be a flat basketball in need of an air pump.



Find a location that is high in elevation, and/or free from obstruction of the eastern horizon for best results during sunset, and a clear western horizon for sunrise. For locations on the Central Coast of California, try Avila by the Harford Pier; from this angle the moon will be rising roughly over Pismo/Shell Beach area. For the moon set the next day, try any coastal location approximately South of Cliffs Resort in Shell Beach, you will be able to observe the setting moon contacting the Western horizon.

(As seen on 500px)

Blood Moon SettingBlood Moon Setting


As far as shooting techniques go, you will need a telephoto lens to best capture a detailed moon photograph. I typically use my 70-200 lens, and make sure the foreground subjects are far enough away that both the moon and foreground are in acceptable focus. Knowing your gear, and learning about hyperfocal distance and depth of field is helpful. Your best bet for exposure settings is to keep your aperture closed down, f/11 or smaller, to maximize depth of field. Keep your ISO low (to help control digital noise), and your shutter speed fast. Use spot-metering to expose properly for the moon. Use a tripod for best results, and turn on mirror lock-up to reduce camera vibrations. If your tripod needs more support, try shortening the legs and adding a weight to the weight hook, or use your body weight to hold down the tripod legs to prevent unwanted vibration.

The photo below of a recent Blood Moon was captured using an off camera flash to light the foreground, rather than a single exposure as discussed in this post. This is also a focus stacked image of two frames of the same exposure settings for maximum depth of field.

Blood Moon DuneBlood Moon Dune


Keep in mind, especially when referring to locations, that the position of where celestial objects rise and set changes throughout the year. I use a variety of apps on my iPhone to plan shooting my landscapes images. For the Sun and Moon rise/set times, as well as tide data, I highly recommend the app Tide Graph. For planning the location of your shoot based on where the Sun or Moon will rise or set on the horizon, LightTrac is a great app to have as well. Don't forget to check the surf report for coastal locations, and be safe!

Interested in learning more about photographing the night sky? Check out my Summer Astrophotography workshops coming soon!



Brady Cabe Photographer Central California photography
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