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Composition Technique: Creating the Illusion of a Larger Moon

Have you ever tried to incorporate the moon into your landscape photography, only to realise that it appears more underwhelming than expected? Here are a couple of quick tips on how to compose your shot so that the moon has a stronger presence. (Reported by: Toshiki Nakanishi, Digital Camera Magazine)

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM/ FL: 380mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/11, 1 sec, EV -1.3)/ ISO 400/ WB: Daylight


Step 1: Use a super telephoto focal length

Your choice of lens is the first step. The moon will always appear tiny if you shoot wide angle. On the other hand, the perspective compression effect of a super telephoto lens brings objects in the distance closer and makes them look larger than when viewed with the naked eye.

For this shot, taken before dawn as the moon was setting, I wanted to capture the full moon together with the snowy slopes in the foreground. So I chose to use a super telephoto zoom lens to have more flexibility with the framing. At close to 400mm, the moon appears big enough to command attention but doesn’t overpower the surrounding landscape.

Shot at 280mm

The moon doesn’t appear as big at 280mm.


Step 2:  Choose a location with a spacious foreground

To make the moon look even more impressive, chose a location with a spacious foreground that extends some distance into the back.  Frame the image to incorporate more of the foreground: gentle slopes like the ones in this shot are good for this purpose! The large foreground gives viewers the illusion that the scene is deeper and the moon further away. This works together with our larger, super telephoto moon to play with our sense of scale, making us think that the moon is larger than it really appears.

Exposure tips
- To capture the details in the moon along with the dim twilight atmosphere, I narrowed the aperture to f/11 and reduced exposure compensation to EV -1.3.
- This will cause the shutter speed to slow, so increase the ISO speed and use a sturdy tripod. You don't want to shoot with a shutter speed that is too slow, not just because of camera shake but also because of the moon's natural movement!

For more techniques and ideas for photographing the moon or in moonlight, see:
Exposure Tips and Gears for Moon Photography
One Location, Two Looks: Photographing a Lighthouse in Moonlight v.s Under the Stars
Sand Patterns in Moonlight: How I Made Night Look Like Daytime


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Toshiki Nakanishi

Toshiki Nakanishi

Born in 1971 in Osaka. After learning photography on his own, Nakanishi moved the base for his photography activities to the town of Biei located in Kamikawa-gun of Hokkaido. While capturing landscapes that focus on light, he also produces works that bring out the figurative beauty of nature. Head of PHOTO OFFICE atelier nipek.