Top tips for taking photos of our natural satellite at it biggest, brightest and best this year
The moon is a captivating subject for photographers and in 2023 there will be more opportunities than last year to capture its beauty. That’s because in 2023 there will be not 12, but 13 full moons. That’s thanks to the lunar year, which is a few weeks shorter than a solar year, resulting in 2023 of asn extra full moon, a ‘Blue Moon’ – the second of two full moons in a single calendar month – in August.Among the year’s 13 full moons you'll find four so-called ‘supermoons’, which appear larger and brighter than usual due to their closer proximity to Earth. There will also be two slight lunar eclipses, which occur when the Earth passes between the sun and the moon, causing the moon to lose its light.
Aside from lunar eclipses the best time to photograph a full moon is as it rises as a subtly-lit orange orb on the eastern horizon just after the sun has set in the west. That’s a subtly different time to the moment of full moon. It’s sometimes the evening on the day of the full moon (which depends on what timezone you’re in), but in practice can be the evening before or after – or both. It’s impossible to provide times for all global locations because the sunset and moonrise times are heavily dependent on latitude, so this guide is for Western Europe and North America (though you can easily find out the exact time of moonrise for your location). Here’s everything you need to know about photographing the full moon in 2023:
1 January’s ‘Wolf Moon’
Date of full moon: 6 January, 2023
Best photographed: evening moonrise on 7 January, 2023
Named after the howling of wolves on winter nights (though surely wolves howl every night?!), but also called the ‘Long Nights Moon’ and the ‘Quiet Moon’, this first full moon of 2023 will be best photographed the evening after it turns full if you want to also capture the surrounding environment still in twilight. This full moon is actually the year’s smallest; the moon’s orbit of the Earth is slightly elliptical, so sometimes it is relatively close to Earth when full and other times it's relatively far away.
The moon is a very bright subject and can cause problems for autofocus, so switch to manual focus for maximum sharpness.
2 February’s ‘Snow Moon’
Date of full moon: 5 February 2023
Best photographed: evening moonrise on 5 February, 2023 (North America)/6 February 2023 (Europe)
If its name is predictable and easy to understand, knowing when to photograph this full moon is a bit more complicated. Exactly when the moon rises in relation to the time of sunset depends on your exact location. For North America the Full moon will rise shortly after sunset on 5 February, while in Europe the closest match is the following evening.
Use a tripod and a shutter release cable to keep your camera as still as possible and the lunar surface looking as sharp as it can.
3 March’s ‘Worm Moon’
Date of full moon: 7 March 2023
Best photographed: evening moonrise on 7 March 2023
Named after the appearance of worms in spring, March’s full moon will be best photographed on the day it becomes 100% illuminated. In North America the moon will rise around 20 minutes after sunset, while in Western Europe it will happen at almost exactly the same time as sunset – the sun and moon in perfect alignment!
There are generally two ways to shoot a full moon – a close-up where it’s the only subject or as part of a wide-field landscape composition.
4 April’s ‘Pink Moon’
Date of full moon: 6 April 2023
Best photographed: evening moonrise on 6 April 2023
April’s full moon will be best imaged on the night of full moon when it rises soon after sunset. It’s name, while iconic, is a little too North American for some (it comes from the blooming in April of wild ground phlox flowers).
Use photo editing software to adjust the exposure, contrast, and color of your moon photos. To help you do that always shoot in raw.
5 May’s ‘Flower Moon’ penumbral lunar eclipse
Date and time of full moon: 5 May 2023
Best photographed: evening moonrise on 5 May 2023
Every now and then the full moon passes through part of Earth’s shadow in space. When it travels through the centre of the shadow turns of blood red colour – a total lunar eclipse. However, what happens tonight is a fainter penumbral lunar eclipse, in which the moon will pass through Earth’s fuzzy outer shadow and thus lose its brightness. Not very exciting? Perhaps not, but its lack of brightness does make tonight a great time to take a photograph of the moon without having to battle lunar glare. Anyone can capture the rise of the ‘Flower Moon’ at dusk on 5 May 2023, but only those in Asia and Australia will be able to capture this slight eclipse.
For a frame-filling image of the lunar surface being eclipsed use a lens with a focal length of 300mm or more.
6 June’s ‘Strawberry Moon’
Date and time of full moon: 4 June 2023
Best photographed: evening moonrise on 3 June 2023
Named after the ripening of the berry in summer, the ‘Strawberry Moon’ will this year be best photographed the day before it turns full. In fact, in Europe and in North America the moment of sunset and moonrise will be virtually the same, though those on the west coast of the USA will experience the relatively rare phenomena of a moon rising almost at the exact time it becomes 100% full.
The sun may be as high as it ever gets in June as seen from the northern hemisphere, but it’s the opposite case for a full moon, making June's strawberry moon low-hanging fruit for photographers.
7 July’s ‘Buck Supermoon’
Date and time of full moon: 3 July 2023
Best photographed: evening moonrise on 2 July 2023
Another perfect alignment of sunset and moonrise for both Europe and North America, July’s ‘Buck Moon’ – named after the growing of new antlers on male deer – will be, technically speaking, the first ‘supermoon’ of 2023. However, it's will actually be the smallest of the four and, in practice, it's not going to be much bigger or brighter than June’s full moon.
A high f-number – f/11 through f/16 – will help keep the entire moon in focus.
8 August’s ‘Blue Supermoon’
Date and time of full moon: 1 August 2023
Best photographed: evening moonrises on 31 July and 1 August 2023
The second-largest ‘supermoon’ of 2023, this month’s first of two full moons is without a name, so is just called a ‘Blue Moon’ by astronomers. Ironically, though it turns full on 1 August, it will be best imaged at moonrise on 31 July 2023, making is not a ‘Blue Moon’ at all for photographers. However, the following evening is also a great time to photograph the moonrise, which again occurs close to sunset.
The moon’s brightness means you may have to experiment with a longer shutter speed or lower aperture to properly expose it.
9 August’s ‘Sturgeon Supermoon’
Date and time of full moon: 31 August 2023
Best photographed: evening moonrises on 30 August and 31 August 2023
This will be the biggest full moon of the year and an excuse, if you need it, to get yourself in place for the most dramatic moonrise of 2023. You actually get two chances, with both August 30 and August 31 seeing the moonrise shortly after sunset. It will be about 10% larger than the average moon, but likely look enormous as it appears on the horizon.
Photos that make the full moon look huge – a good tactic for this month’s full moon – are taken using superzoom telephoto lenses positioned at least a mile away from a foreground image, which is used for scale.
10 September’s ‘Harvest Supermoon’
Date and time of full moon: 29 September 2023
Best photographed: evening moonrise on 29 September 2023
The third biggest and final ‘supermoon’ of 2023, the ‘Harvest Moon’ is perhaps the most famous of the year. It’s so named because the light from a full moon – which shines all night – used to provide farmers with enough light to get their crops in for 24 hours. It will be best captured at moonrise on 29 September 2023.
Try shooting 5.1 bracketed set of lunar images to create an HDR image – it can improve the contrast.
11 October’s ‘Hunter’s Moon’ partial lunar eclipse
Date and time of full moon: 28 October 2023
Best photographed: evening moonrises on 28 October and 29 October 2023
Occurring just before Halloween and with a spooky-sounding name, this full moon is likely to get a lot of media attention. What's more, there are two chances to photograph it. On 28 October it will have just risen when the sun sets while on 29 October it rises soon after sunset.
The ‘Hunter’s Moon’ will be partially eclipsed as seen from Europe, Africa and Asia. Just 12% will turn reddish, which will make it something quite rare to capture.
12 November’s ‘Beaver Moon’
Date and time of full moon: 27 November 2023
Best photographed: evening moonrises on 27 November 2023 (North America) and 28 November 2023 (Western Europe)
Named after beaver-trapping season in North America, but called the ‘Dark Moon’ in Western Europe, November’s full Moon will be best captured at different times according to your continent.
A low ISO such as 100, 200 or 400 can help reduce noise and grain in your images.
13 December’s ‘Cold Moon’
Date and time of full moon: 27 December 2023
Best photographed: evening moonrises on 26 December 2023 (North America) and 27 December 2023 (North America and Western Europe)
‘Oak Moon’, ‘Bitter Moon’ and ‘Moon before Yule’ are all alternative names for December’s full moon – 2023’s thirteenth and final – which will be at its most dramatic on two successive Christmas nights in North America.
December’s full moon is the highest of the year. Just as the sun is highest in June so the moon – which when it’s full is directly opposite – must be the highest six months later.