Moody Moon

By Phil Plait | September 24, 2009 8:00 am

My brother-in-law is a pretty good photographer (as you may remember). He just posted this lovely picture of the waxing gibbous Moon tucked in amongst the clouds at sunset:

Click it to embiggen. It’s not hard to get nice shots of the Moon, even during the day, though to get one this nice it does take a bit of experience and work. But it’s not all that technically challenging, and since it’s IYA 2009 anyway, I encourage everyone to give it a try. The Moon is bright and easy to spot, making it the obvious target for a beginning attempt at astrophotography. But you’ll need a telephoto; the Moon is smaller in photographs than you might expect. Experiment! Play around! And if you get nice results, link to ’em in the comments. Let’s see what you’ve got.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, IYA, Pretty pictures

Comments (40)

  1. DebG

    Definitely a pretty picture. Your brother has talent.

  2. What a gorgeous shot!

    I agree it’s easy to push the button on a camera. What’s not so easy is capturing a perfect scene at the right time. Your bro-in-law seems to have that down pat. :-)

  3. Jardmonkey

    Here is a good one I took. I’ll post more links to my moon photos in a bit.

  4. RawheaD

    Here’s a pic of the last waxing gibbous.

    Waxing Gibbous  (244/365)

  5. Jardmonkey
  6. Here’s my image of the lunar eclipse last year:

    I particularly like how the shadow of the Earth shows the relative size of the 2 bodies.

  7. Totem

    Did he use HDR (high dynamic range) in this photo? We’ve played around with that and it produces beautiful photos such as this.

    For those who don’t know, HDR is useful when different areas of the photo require much different exposure times to make it all look right–no blown out lights or shades too dark.

  8. Rob G.

    Here’s one of the images I took of the Feb. 20th/08 lunar eclipse. This was taken with a simple point-and-shoot Minolta DiMage z10 on a tripod.

    NOTE: The bright spot in the lower left corner is Saturn and the bright spot above the Moon is the star, Regulus.

    Lunar Eclipse 2008 05

    Be sure to check out my other astro photos on Flickr.

  9. Dan I.

    Very cool shot, wish it was in a more “desktop” friendly resolution. Can’t stretch that to cover the whole desktop and still make it look good.

    Still though, awesome shot.

  10. Charlie Young

    I’d love to get the photo info on these shots. ISO, f stop, shutter speed, lens or telescope, shooting RAW or JPEG, post production alterations in Photoshop, etc. This is really helpful when you’re not trying to start from scratch. Also, haven’t used HDR. I’ll have to get busy on Google.

  11. Charlie Young

    HDR looks like a Photoshop technique. Are there ways to do this on a camera with multiple exposure?

  12. Rob G.

    Charlie Young: Basically, you use the exposure bracketing feature on your DSLR. Sorry I can’t be more specific. I’ve read lots about creating HDR images but never actually tried it.

  13. Charlie Young

    Sounds a little like dodging and burning in a darkroom, that HDR does.

  14. Here’s one from a trip to Bolivia last year. Incredible star gazing over the high desert of the Altiplano. For those who are interested this was made with a Canon 500mm f4 L IS, tripod mounted, with a Canon 40d. I can’t recall the ISO, shutter speed, or f stop but I can dig up the info if anyone is really interested. You can check out some more of my photography if you click my name, or go here:

    Bolivia moon

  15. Jason A.

    HDR is both an exposure and software technique. You need multiple exposures so that everything is exposed properly at least once, then the software (photoshop can do it but there are other programs that are better) basically compares relative brightness among all the objects in all the exposures and maps it into a single (32 bit) image. Then you have to tone map it down to 8 bit to get something that can display on a monitor. Essentially you’ve mapped a total brightness range that stretched over multiple images down to 1 image. You end up with an image that looks more like the way your brain sees it rather than the way the camera sees it. The key is to be pretty conservative with your tone map settings if you want a final image that doesn’t look computer generated or just overprocessed.

    There’s a way to do it with a single RAW exposure but I’ve never tried that.

  16. Daniel

    Here’s my entry, taken with a small telescope.

  17. LouisS

    Kudos to your Bro-in-law for taking an exceptional picture. Great color sky and clouds too! Here’s a photo of a waxing crescent between clouds that I snapped on 9/21.

  18. minusRusty

    Hmmm. It’s easier to see the man in the moon on the small shot than the larger one.

    BTW, Phil, do you ever check your mail??!?


  19. From the first google hit.
    Hmm. Interesting, but not suprising- you lose 4 bits:

    Image sensors in high quality digital cameras have a bit depth of at least 12; they have 212 = 4096 discrete tonal levels. Standard 24-bit color files have a bit depth of only 8; they have only 28 = 256 discrete tonal levels. Tonal levels are lost in the conversion.

  20. I got a couple of the crescent Moon Tuesday night you can see at

    From last Friday night, I got the Milky Way over the 2.3 meter dome at Kitt Peak and a shot of Tucson from Kitt peak you can see at

    I need to brush up on how to embed images here!

  21. Keith (the first one)

    That’s very nice. I like seeing the moon during the day. Makes it seem more welcoming for some reason.

  22. Totem

    As Jason said, it’s a combination of multiple shots and use of software. I typically use Photomatix. It has good defaults so you don’t need massive understanding of the tone mapping to get started, though you can certainly tweak just about anything.

    The typical way to get the multiple exposures is to use ‘bracketing’ on your camera. That’s where you tell the camera to take 5, 7, or 9 shots in a row, best done from a tripod. Each shot in the series has a different exposure, so as it goes through them, the first shot may be really fast to expose the bright objects. It will get slower with each shot so the last one may be really long to expose the shadows. (The exposures may not be in that order, but you get the idea).

    Here is an HDR shot we took a while back…sorry, it’s not of the moon! It used 9 bracketed exposures. With a typical single shot, the sun would be way overexposed, or the building and sky way underexposed.


  23. @ 9 Dan I.

    Just turn your monitor on it’s side.

  24. Buzz Parsec

    BA said “It’s not hard to get nice shots of the Moon, even during the day”

    I disagree! It *is* hard to take really nice pictures of the Moon, mostly because it’s so small. These are terrific!

  25. I haven’t had much luck getting good photos of the Moon with my inexpensive digital camera, though I have some “decent, considering” type images. :-)

    My contribution to IYA 2009 is getting people to look at the night sky. Tonight’s assignment — the ISS is passing overhead (max 82 degrees elevation) at 8:04PM tonight. With “nautical twilight” at 7:48PM, the sky should be pretty dark, and the ISS still in sunlight. (And, unlike two weeks ago, I’m taking my binoculars. And, unlike two days ago, the sky is clear.) Hopefully, some of the kids at my kids’ karate class will be interested.

    BTW, what are “civil twilight”, “nautical twilight”, and “astronomical twilight”?

  26. @Ken B:

    Morning civil twilight begins when the geometric center of the sun is 6° below the horizon (the point of civil dawn), and ends at sunrise. Evening civil twilight begins at sunset and ends when the center of the sun reaches 6° below the horizon (the point of civil dusk).

    Nautical twilight is defined as the time between when the geometric center of the sun is exactly 6° below the horizon and when the sun’s center is exactly 12° below the horizon.

    Astronomical twilight is defined as the time between when the geometric center of the sun is exactly 12° below the horizon and when the sun’s center reaches exactly 18° below the horizon

    (from Wiki)

  27. Kevin
  28. This one came in second place in the MyMoon contest by the Lunar and Planetary Institute :

    Fireworks and Moon

    More details:

  29. Martin Lessem, J.D.
  30. Stephen

    Here’s all of my shots of the moon. The big shots were taken with the camera coupled to a f/5.6 70mm TeleVue Ranger (I love this little scope!).

  31. Marcello

    here are a couple of shots i got this summer :)

    I especially love the second one, seen the moon rise behind the dark hills every night was wonderful! (i was on vacation on a tiny island, with much less light pollution that i’m used to…)


  32. Nigel Depledge

    In case people want to know more about exposure, f-stop etc., most digital photos come with EXIF data that includes this information and sometimes a lot more (although sometimes this is lost in post-processing). All you need to see this information is either a suitable digital-photo-viewing application, or a photo-sharing website such as Flickr (where, unless the photographer has denied access to the EXIF data, you can see it by clicking on the “More properties” link towards the bottom right of the photograph’s main page on Flickr).

    Here are a couple of pics I’ve taken of the moon:

  33. bob

    HDR? Cheating a bit. Also HDR is becoming cliched very fast.

  34. Not HDR, straight RAW from the camera and adjusted in Lightroom taken with a Micro Nikkor 105mm 1/160 sec at f/8.0. All of the settings and Lightroom adjustments are listed under the photo data on flickr.

  35. misstcalia

    Booteefull!! Very nice photograph.
    Embiggen.. good word.. I can’t wait for the chance to use it!

  36. Awesome image, I have never had much luck with imaging the moon.
    I have had better results imaging the deep space objects.

  37. Charlie Young

    One thing I also didn’t take into account until I thought about it last week: most modern DSLRs have APS sized sensors or smaller so you get a magnification effect when using the same lenses you used for 35mm photography (typically 1.5 to 1.6x). I have been taking photos with my D700 with a full 35mm frame sensor and am not getting the reach I would like with a 300mm lens. I will try some photos with my D200 to see what comes of it. Thanks for all the pointers.

  38. Wow, all very cool stuff! looks like I’ll have to experiment with HDR myself in the near future. Here’s a few shots of a very pink, then yellow, moonrise from atop Squaw Peak in Phoenix, with the sun having set just behind me. I used a Canon EOS 40D for these shots, and I did have to adjust the contrast and gamma a bit to clear up some of the haze – yes, there was a LOT more originally!

    And with only a small point-and shoot, I took these shots of a setting full moon over the rather lunaresque landscape of White Sands in New Mexico… doubly appropriate since I was there to see the Lunar Lander Challenge at the 2007 X-Prize Cup :-)


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