The moon is a photographic tease. It hangs up there in the sky, all big and bright. Then you try to take a picture of it and you get a pathetic white blob floating in a sea of digital noise and darkness. It’s frustrating, especially when you’re experiencing a super moon, or a blood moon, or a harvest moon, or any of those other moon phenomena that don’t really mean anything, but are extremely good at helping websites rack up page views and Instagram users gather likes.

But, while the moon can be a pain to photograph, the results can be rewarding. Here are some tips for photographing a full moon, no matter what kind of camera you have, or what kind of media hype that particularly moon brings with it.

1. Plan your shot

Let’s start with the bad news: Stumbling across a beautiful moon and expecting to capture it with your smartphone is extremely unlikely to happen. In fact, you’ll probably end up with something like this mess.

Bad Moon Photo

Not good right? That’s because your smartphone, at least on its own, isn’t designed to snag a shot this kind of shot. The lens is too wide, the sensor generates too much digital noise, and the lens is often smudged from your pocket. So, it’s worth it to visualize the shot you want, and that will help determine the gear and technique you’ll want to use.

2. Use a dedicated camera

Your best bet for shooting the moon is an advanced camera with exposure controls and a long, telephoto lens.If you don’t know anything about the numbers associated with zoom lenses, 600mm is extremely long. In fact, it’s longer than most of the big, white lenses you’ll find on the sidelines of pro sporting events. Luckily, you don’t need $10,000 worth of gear to make a solid shot happen. Any modern interchangeable lens camera with access to a zoom lens will do the trick. Even a compact camera with a long zoom lens built in can work, although if it does make things a little trickier.

Pick your longest telephoto lens. If you’re not sure which is which, you’ll want to check the focal length of the lens, which is typically noted as a range, like 18-55mm or 70-200mm. The higher the number, the more zoomed in your view will be.

3. Setting up your gear

You’ll want a tripod for this shot, not because it’s dark, but because telephoto lenses are a lot harder to keep steady and free of motion blur without a sturdy base.

Pick a spot with a clear view of the moon—going out the night before to track the rough path across the sky can help you get an idea of when everything will fall into place.

If you want a shot of just the moon, location doesn’t matter as much, but adding some foreground can help give the moon some context that helps it feel as big as it looks, or even bigger.

Sometimes the time you shoot will be determined by a specific event, like an eclipse, but otherwise, you can pick the time that works best for your composition. Shooting a moon as it comes up over the horizon, for instance, will make it look huge, especially in a “super moon” situation.

4. Set your camera

If you’re not familiar with camera exposure modes and terms, you’ll want to switch your camera to program mode, which is typically represented by a “P” on the mode dial. This is an automatic mode, but it allows you to adjust exposure using something called “exposure compensation.” You’ll have to look up the exact method for using exposure compensation on your specific camera, but chances are, you’ll have to reduce the overall exposure by -2 or even more.

Moon shots often trick camera light meters because it tries to average out the bright celestial body with the dark sky. You can usually tell when you’re getting it right because you’ll start to see some actual detail in the moon.

If you do know about camera settings, start with a low ISO setting—even 100 will work to start. Choose a small aperture like f/8 or f/11 to get the sharpest performance out of your lens and start with a shutter speed around 1/125. This might be too dark, depending on your location, but you can adjust as you see fit.

5. Shoot the photo

Focusing on the moon should be pretty easy if your lens is long enough. If your camera lets you zoom in when using the back screen to compose a shot, that’s a great way to carefully check that everything is sharp. You can use the camera’s autofocus system, but if you find that it’s constantly zipping back and forth, looking for its subject (photographers call this “hunting”) then manual focus might be a better bet.

Once you’re ready to take the picture, use your camera’s self-timer mode to actually fire the shutter.
Don’t take just one. Take multiple photos.