Shooting the Moon

Unlike the sun, the moon rises in a different azimuth (direction) every evening. The azimuth can vary as much as 15 degrees from night to night. Also there is only one or two nights a lunar month when the moon is near the horizon and there is enough light in the sky to record as deep blue and not black or too bright a sky.

The moon rises about 51 minutes later each night. (24 hours x 60 minutes / 28 days) and it travels about 14 degrees per hour. You definitely need a moon program to determine where it will rise if you have to line up things in your shot with the moon rising or low on the horizon. You may get only one chance at it a month when there is the right sky color. The sky will be much darker or black for the same moon height over the horizon on a following night.

If you can use the moon higher in the sky you have more days to get the moon with good sky color. If you can matte in the moon in post production, you have even more latitude. Shoot the moon against black and matte it in. It will have better detail few days from exactly full. Moon transparencies are available from Cal Tech in Pasadena and NASA.

Exposure. The moon is pretty bright. A 1 degree spot meter would not read a whole moon which is only 1/2 degree in diameter, the same as the sun. Reading the moon with a 1 degree spot meter would over expose the 1/2 degree moon by two stops which would be a start for exposure tests if you want detail. If you just want a white disk you can over-expose it a lot.

Also consider that the moon will rise at an angle to the horizon similar to the sun (90 minus your lattitude), but not exactly because of its more erratic motions. (See Sunrise and Sunset Position)

As with all unusual problems I suggest some tests before hand if possible. Video camera tests would be helpful if shooting film.

For a great moon and sun position program, see SKY for Windows Abbey Information Systems or 404-633-7446 or

Here is some great information from Duraid Munajin of Montreal Canada. Thanks. The exposure of the moon is similar to exposure of the earth in daytime. The same light source is hitting it. You can use the "sunny 16" rule as a basis for exposing a full moon on a clear night. Keep in mind the moon is very light and a "sunny 22" rule might be more appropriate. For a narrative film where the moon appears in the shot as a light source it should be over exposed by a stop or two. (This is not moon light on the earth which is very little film and video exposure wise.)

When thin clouds pass the moon this exposure is still OK.

Shooting the moon on the horizon is a different story. You can determine exposure by comparing something else in the scene with a spot meter and judging what brightness the moon should be in comparison. (Remember the 1/2 degree moon size and 1-degree spot meter acceptance angle problem.)

Ron says, don't expect good results without testing your procedures before a critical shoot. Practice. Exposure of sun balls and sunsets also takes practice.

The "sunny 16" rule says. For a bright sun lit scene, set the lens at F 16 and set the shutter speed equal to your film ASA. To determine the "ASA" of your camcorder or digital camera, you need a light meter and know how to use it. Make sure the video camera is set at "0" dB gain. This is time and effort well spent because there is a lot of great material out there about still photography applicable to video and motion picture work.

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.